Sensory processing dysfunction is a known symptom of autism. Individuals are either over or under-sensitive to the five senses – light, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Their hyper or hypo reaction to the sensory input make them react indifferently to pain, extreme temperature, adverse response to sounds, smell, specific textures, visual lights, etc.
Sensory Processing Dysfunction
Children with autism, apart from facing challenges in other areas, are sensitive towards noise, light, and touch. This sensory dysfunction in children interferes with their ability to perform many ordinary actions in their daily life. They appear to avoid the screeching sounds made by the chalk when rubbed on the board or evade wearing a shirt of a particular colour. They may at times injure themselves and not even be aware of the pain and body harm. This sensory processing dysfunction can be managed with sensory integration therapy.
The Sensory Inputs
Some of the sensory inputs seen in children with autism are:
- Look beyond a person’s face
- Bump into people or things as they misjudge spatial relationships
- Inability to locate a toy from a cluster
- Runaway from loud noise
- Cover ears in an area where there are many people
- Prefer either very loud music or none at all
- Scared of the noise made by the toilet flush
Touch or Physical Input
- Cringe when being picked up or petted
- Do not react to pain caused by a fall or a cut
- Avoid getting hands or feet messy
- Avoid touching certain textures
- Touch everything when walking
- Do not react to extreme cold or hot surface
Taste and Smell
- Love eating only certain dishes
- Smell everything that they touch
- Hate strong smell
- Breathe through the mouth instead of their nose
Proprioceptive Input (the sense that allows the body to know where it is in space)
- Walk touching walls
- Fall or crashes into things
- Walk with a stiff and uncoordinated gait
- Crack knuckles
- Apply pressure when writing
Vestibular Input (the inability to handle movement)
- They are either ‘thrill-seekers’ or hesitant to take risks
- Have extreme loose or tense grip on objects
- Loose balance when climbing stairs
- Cannot coordinate the movements of the eyes
Sensory Ingegration Therapy For Autism
Sensory integration therapy for autism is based on whether the child is over-or under-stimulated by the environment. The therapy aims to help the brain to process sensory information.
The purpose of the therapy is to help the child overcome the challenges through playful activities (play therapy, drama therapy, occupational therapy). This will make the child want to participate because the activities are engaging and full of fun.
Sensory integration therapy for autism is offered by trained therapists. They plan differently for each child according to their deficits.
Therapy to solve sensory issues involve activities that play an important role in organizing the sensory system. It delivers auditory, tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive inputs. Specially designed recreational equipment is included to provide the needed relief.
- Swinging in a hammock (feel the motion in space)
- Music (sound)
- Playing in boxes filled with sand or pebbles (touch)
- Crawling through tunnels
- Hitting a swinging object (eye-hand coordination)
- Balancing on a plank (poise/stability)
Sensory integration therapy stimulates the brain and improves the sensory processing systems. It also improves the child’s behaviour and maximizes his/her functional ability to perform daily activities. A significant improvement is observed in children in domains including cognitive, communication, motor skills, aggressiveness, and in their occupational performances.