Children diagnosed with autism tend to process stimuli from the world around them differently than neurotypical kids might. Often, their senses are hypersensitive. Their sense of touch, hearing, sight, smell, and taste are overwhelmed things in their environment. It’s also possible that autistic children might be hypersensitive in some ways, experiencing less of a reaction than would typically be expected of them to certain stimuli. Keep reading to learn more about this issue and how to prevent sensory overload for autistic kids.
About Sensory Overload and Autism
The sensory systems of people with autism tend to be quite delicate and can easily experience overload. Unlike those who aren’t autistic, these individuals may not be able to ignore certain incoming stimuli. When they are being bombarded by too many sensations, it’s not unusual for autistic children to become overwhelmed.
There are a number of common environmental factors that can cause someone on the spectrum to feel distressed. Sometimes strong smells like perfume, cleaning agents, or particular foods might set a person off. The blinking or buzzing of fluorescent overhead lights can be upsetting to some. Loud noises, especially those which drone on such as lawn mowing or babies crying, are also a common problem for many autistic kids.
In addition, it’s not unusual for someone on the spectrum to be overloaded by specific textures. This might be through taste or touch. Perhaps a clothing item feels too scratchy or a food type seems too slimy. Any of these things could cause sensory overload or difficulties with sensory integration, which is the ability of the brain to integrate and organize sensory input.
Sensory Overload Symptoms
The discomfort that comes from an inability to regulate one’s senses can manifest in a variety of ways. While each child is different and unique, there are some common sensory overload symptoms to be aware of. Knowing these signs can allow you to provide comfort and support for someone experiencing sensory overload.
Autism is viewed on a spectrum because there is such a wide range of severity and symptoms. It’s important to understand that each autistic individual will present uniquely. Autism symptoms may show up early in toddlerhood. You might notice communication problems, unusual patterns of response, or difficulties with social interaction. Behavioral issues also may manifest, such as repetitive actions or fixations.
Some early signs to be on the lookout for can include:
- No words spoken by 16 months
- Do not respond when called by name
- Difficulty with eye contact
- Obsession with lining up objects
- Lack of social response such as smiling
- Loss of language or social skills
And, of course, sensory overload or lack of expected response to sensory input is often displayed in children from a young age. The above symptoms usually occur before the age of three. In order to be diagnosed with autism, a child will need to display several symptoms within a specific timeframe. There is likely no need for concern if only one or two of these signs appear on occasion.
Some symptoms may not be readily apparent at a very young age. That’s because they may be mild and may only be visible as the child develops and matures. They may start to have problems making friends and playing appropriately. As language improves, parents and teachers often note unusual speech patterns. Obsessive routines or rituals may develop, as well.
How to Prevent Sensory Overload
There are a number of ways you can help your kids to prevent sensory overload. One tip is to take preventive measures to notice signs of distress early on before a meltdown occurs. You can then remove the stressor and help your child to calm down. Sometimes toys to help them focus their senses can help. When it comes to autism, trains can be quite soothing. Sometimes tactile toys like squeeze balls or a favorite blanket can be effective.
Teaching your child coping skills, as well as an exit strategy to remove themselves from a stressful situation gives them autonomy and a sense of control. Physical exercise can counteract some of the overloads they feel and allow them to work off pent-up energy. Perhaps adding a pet to the family can provide your child with a way to soothe their overloaded senses.
Handling intense input to their senses is a significant issue for children on the spectrum. You can help to prevent sensory overload for your autistic kids when you have an understanding of the problem.