Sensory Sensitivity and Autism

November 21, 2016

The lights are too bright.

Clothes are too itchy.

People make too much noise.

Everything smells funny.

Food with weird textures and flavors are off the menu.


Do these statements sound familiar? If you have a child with sensory sensitivities then you know that environmental stimuli, such as noise, light, clothing, textures or temperature can make life uncomfortable difficult to deal with – to say the least. Children and adults with a Sensory Processing Disorder (also called Sensory Integration Dysfunction) can be so severely affected by their sensory preferences that it interferes with their normal, everyday functioning. Sensory issues are usually defined as either hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to sensory stimuli. This means that a child may over respond to a stimuli or under respond to a stimuli.

Many children and young adults who are on the Autism Spectrum have trouble integrating sensory input. Their senses – sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste – take in either too much or too little information from the environment around them. Types of sensitivities depend on how your child reacts to the environment. The following are included in the sensitivities experienced by people on the spectrum.

  • Taste – People who have taste sensitivities experience food in a different way. He/she may only like certain colors, textures, or temperatures of food.
  • Sight – Vision sensitivities may include an inability to process bright lights, certain colors or patterns and too much visual stimuli going on around them.
  • Touch – This sensitivity revolves around the feel of objects: either wanting to touch something or being bothered by how an object feels such as a tag in an article of clothing.
  • Sound – A sensitivity to sound may include an aversion to loud noises or certain types of sounds.
  • Smell – A child with this sensitivity may smell everything or complain about certain smells.
  • Sense of Position – People with this sensitivity may seem to throw themselves across someone or step on a person’s toes or stand too close to another person.
  • Pain – A person with this sensitivity may ignore injuries or have a delayed response to injury, or he/she might overreact to little hurts.

These are just the more common sensitivities that ASD people deal with on a daily basis. Helping a child or adult with these sensory difficulties will really depend upon what the sensitivity is. For example, a person with sound sensitivity may find comfort in wearing headphones or finding a quiet space to do work. Occupational therapists are trained to help children deal with their environment, including coping with sensory sensitivities, staying on task and developing motor coordination and balance.