In the world of Autism, senses play a vital role in how individuals on the spectrum connect to their surroundings. It is widely understood that over and under stimulation of senses impact the people on the spectrum on a deeper level.
Raymun enjoys his special education program at school. He likes his teacher and works well with her. One on one time with his teacher is Raymun’s favorite part of the day. But when working on an activity in a big group setting, Raymun tends to mentally and physically close down, cover his ears and gradually move towards a corner of the room. Even when other individuals are talking in soft voices, Raymun cannot seem to handle the noise in the room.
This is an example of being overstimulated by the surroundings. People may be talking softly but for Raymun the noise might be too much and too loud to process.
Hypersensitive (over stimulation of the senses) or hyposensitive (under stimulation of the senses) are the terms you may have come across but today, let's put it into perspective.
Keeping in mind the wide range and the disparity, let's look at both ends of the sensitivities.
The Senses and Autism Spectrum
Hearing - auditory processing for people with Autism or on the spectrum ranges from hypersensitivity to hyposensitivity. Example, the tone of voice, volume of the music in the room, fan spinning, birds chirping, the noise from the laundry machine, etc. All noises impact the individuals differently.
An individual covering their ears when the dishwasher is turned on- Hypersensitivity.
An individual playing a handheld musical instrument extremely close to their ears - Hyposensitivity
Vision - sensitivity to light is yet another sensory example when we speak of people on the Autism Spectrum. Bright lights or a room too dark, the background and the main object being the same color are examples of how vision can impact an individual’s participation in daily activities. It also entails the depth perception of an individual i.e. how far or close something/someone is from them.
An individual seeing fragments of objects because of the bright colors used in the background - Hypersensitive
An individual not being able to catch a ball passed to him due to limited perception of how far/close the object is- Hyposensitive
Touch - individuals on the Autism spectrum respond to tactile/touch in diverse ways. Different textures are responded to differently. Pain threshold can vary for individuals who are hypersensitive and hyposensitive.
An individual disliking any form of physical touch from a caregiver or any object touching his/her feet or toes - Hypersensitive
An individual touching the edges of the door, handles and picture frames on the wall as they pass by - Hyposensitive
Taste - taste buds (main areas- sweet, sour, bitter and salty) can act as another sensory overload or underload for individuals on the spectrum. It could require an extra effort when food intake and medications are involved.
An individual disliking the taste of strawberry (texture or strong taste or the color of the food) - Hypersensitive
An individual chewing on non edible items for stimulation - Hyposensitive
Smell - Sense of smell can impact the engagement of an individual with his surroundings much like other senses. Odours, fragrances, smells could work as a sensory stimulant for some individuals. While others may need extra attention to avoid any situation where they might be over stimulated.
An individual constantly moving away from someone wearing a perfume (even a mild one) - Hypersensitive
An individual being unable to identify odours licks the object to better understand it - Hyposensitive
This list of senses that we have learned from the beginning now includes two more senses i.e. sixth and seventh sense referred to as Proprioceptive and Vestibular senses.
Proprioceptive sense refers to an individual’s understanding of the body movement and position in relation to things or people around you. For instance, an individual moving too quickly around the room or bumping into people/things when walking may have limited use to proprioceptive sense. Being unable to determine how fast he/she is going or how hard they might bump into something are areas that require support and interventions.
Vestibular sense is focused on balance and movement. It relies on the information that is processed through ears and how it coordinates our head and the body. For instance, an individual having difficulty when walking down the stairs due to lack of eye and foot coordination.
Sensory integration at The Owl House
1. Bright lights for individuals requiring more stimulation for vision
2. Sensory room/ Snoezelen room to unwind from overstimulation of senses
3. Sensory activities and playthings to accommodate tactile/ touch/ vision stimuli
4. Facilitating one on one sessions based on individual's sensory perception and needs
5. Integrating strategies to familiarize individuals with different forms of sensory stimulation
6. Facilitating activities like pottery for tactile/ touch sensations while also supporting enhancement of motor skills
7. Music sessions for individuals requiring hearing stimulation
8. Cooking classes for smell, taste, touch and visual sensory perception
9. Gardening for touch, smell, visual sensory needs
10. Sensory wall for individuals requiring stimuli to regulate the sense of touch
At The Owl House, we work together to diminish undesired/ potentially harmful behaviors like eating inedible foods and support individuals to regulate when sensorily overwhelmed. Even just recognizing patterns and sensory needs and supporting it in a positive manner goes a long way. Each sense's need to be regulated is presented in a unique manner by the individual on the Autism spectrum. Being able to identify the purpose of the behavior can drastically improve the way an individual relates to people and things around him/her.
Take a minute to think of the following mock scenarios. Let's distinguish Hypersensitive from Hyposensitive and also which senses are being stimulated in each.
1. Ginny always holds the food item close to her face to smell it before eating it
2. Tobias finds it difficult to focus on the conversation with the educator while there are 7 other people in the room
3. Harry is unable to notice the fragrance when the incense is burning
4. Joe physically hurt his finger but is not in any pain
5. Patrick does not eat any fruit that has tiny seeds in it
6. Smita is working on her school work but seems to be having a difficult time with the bright lights in her room
7. Anand tends to pick up flowers from the garden to eat and check what it tastes like
8. Mayur dislikes when the paint gets on his fingers and palms during art sessions
9. Sara holds on tight to the clothing she wears to the market
10. Devansh likes to work in the garden and plant seeds and herbs
Hyposensitive - Smell,Vision
Hypersensitive - Hearing, Vision
Hyposensitive - Smell
Hyposensitive - Touch
Hypersensitive - Taste, Smell, Touch
Hypersensitive - Vision
Hyposensitive - Taste, Smell
Hypersensitive - Touch
Hyposensitive - Touch
Hyposensitive - Smell, Touch, Vision