Many people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulty processing everyday sensory information such as sounds, sights and smells. This is usually called having sensory integration difficulties, or sensory sensitivity. It can have a profound effect on a person's life.
Here, we look at:
How our senses work
Our central nervous system (brain) processes all the sensory information we receive and helps us to organise, prioritise and understand the information. We then respond through thoughts, feelings, motor responses (behaviour) or a combination of these.
We have receptors all over our bodies that pick up sensory information, or 'stimuli'. Our hands and feet contain the most receptors. Most of the time, we process sensory information automatically, without needing to think about it much.
People with sensory integration difficulties - including many people with an ASD - have difficulty processing everyday sensory information.
People who struggle to deal with all this information are likely to become stressed or anxious, and possibly feel physical pain. This can result in challenging behaviour.
If I get sensory overload then I just shut down; you get what's known as fragmentation...it's weird, like being tuned into 40 TV channels.
Our seven senses
We have seven senses:
sight sound touch taste smell balance ('vestibular') body awareness ('proprioception').
People with an ASD can be over- or under-sensitive in any or all of these areas. You may hear this referred to as being 'hypersensitive' or 'hyposensitive'.
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