What are Sensory Processing Issues?
Sensory Processing Issues are one of the issues experienced by children on the autistic spectrum. They find it difficult to process details in their brain. They might be over-sensitive or under-sensitive in receiving information in their brain that even a single task seems difficult for them to accomplish.
What are the Causes of Sensory Processing Issues?
The precise causes of sensory processing issues are yet to be established but recent studies show that genetics might be one of the possible causes. On a 2006 study of twins, they found that hypersensitivity to light and sound may have a strong genetic influence. They respond strongly to stimuli like a stroke on the hand or a loud sound. With the use of brain-imaging techniques, they detected that there are certain areas of the brain that may affect how sensory information is processed.
What are the Symptoms of Sensory Processing Issues?
The symptoms of Sensory Processing Issues could be categorised into either hypersensitivity (over- sensitive) or hypersensitive (under-sensitive).
Hypersensitive children have a strong response to loud noises or sounds. They don’t want to be touched even if they know the person who touched them. They are afraid of crowds and don’t want to play on playground equipment because of the constant fear that they might fall or bump into things. These could cause them extreme anxiety when they grow old if not treated early.
Hyposensitive children are not sensitive to their surroundings. They have an increased tolerance to pain. They are sensory seeking and have a strong urge to touch people or things even when it is not necessary.
Some children with sensory processing issues may manifest both signs of hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity. My son is a typical child who experienced both hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity reactions to certain stimuli. Meltdowns, for instance, may occur if a child goes to an unfamiliar environment. These meltdowns could be quite overwhelming to both parent and child because it might cause a problem in controlling behaviour once it started.
Children who are hypersensitive on the other hand may find themselves constantly running away from the environment that is too stimulating to them. They find pleasure by “Stimming” which is a self-stimulating behaviour or a form of repetitive behaviour that they do in order to provide themselves sensory input.
Examples of these behaviours are jumping, running, tiptoeing, hand flapping, scratching, spinning objects, listening to the same song or noise, sniffing objects or people, chewing on things, repeating words or “echolalia”.
How can you help your child deal with their Sensory Processing Issues?
You can help your child deal with their Sensory Processing Issues by consulting your child’s Paediatrician, for a comprehensive assessment. She might then refer your child to a Specialist for developmental screening. In order to expedite the process, you must ensure that you are ready by taking notes of your child’s behavioural problems, when it all started and what measures you have undertaken at home to help calm your child.
An Occupational Therapist could provide sensory integration therapy to your child through play sessions where both you and your child could participate in.
Ways on How You Can Help Your Child with their Sensory Processing Issues at Home
Reduce Sound Overload
Loud unexpected noises, overlapping voices and high-pitched frequency sounds may cause auditory issues. Speak softly if you have a loud voice. Buy headphones designed to remove background noise. The one below could be extremely helpful in calming your child thus helping him to engage with you.
Reduce Visual Overload
Bright and Fluorescent light, particular colours, patterns and contrasts or a combination of these things can all cause various overload. This is known as Irlen Syndrome. Coloured lens or filters can help some ASD children to process problematic visual experience. Ask your local Optometrist to conduct a Colorimetric test to your child for your child to be tested and fitted with a coloured lens. To help you have a rough assessment of how different coloured light affects behaviour, try buying a LED colour changing light bulb like the one below.
Provide Plenty of Rest
Children should have enough sleep at night and plenty of rest during the day in a quiet and darkened room to lessen their hypersensitivity issues because of tiredness.
Children who experience hyposensitivity should experience deep sensory input at regular intervals during the day to help them feel good about themselves and to prevent them experiencing loss of their sense of self when they grow up to become an adult. Squeeze vests and regular short sessions on a trampoline several times a day would help them experience deep sensory sensations. Some ASD children find the sensation of water very helpful. Having regular baths provide light pressure on their bodies thus help them to feel relax. Swimming provides them with the benefit of a physical exercise because their bodies are in constant motion. This also has a calming effect that would help them with their hyposensitivity issues.
Understanding Sensory Processing Issues are vital for children with Autism. Hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity are the two sensory issues that needed to be addressed and treated early so that the child won’t suffer from extreme anxiety until they reached adulthood.
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Hope you find this article useful. I love to hear from you. If you have any questions or perhaps suggestions on your child’s sensory processing experience, please do share them by leaving your comments below.