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Understanding the Sensory World of Autism

A great resource to get more information is Autism File Magazine:

For an updated and detailed summary of the research on causes and treatment biomedically for autism please click on:

Sally Burton-Hoyle and Heidi Clopton, OTR/L

Autism is a disorder that impairs socialization and communication and may cause differences in the way information is processed in the brain.

The inability of the individual to regulate their processing of the environment as in their sensory system (smell, touch, movement, tactile, visual and auditory) is the first characteristic that a parent or caregiver may see. The child may not be calmed easily.  They may tantrum for no reason.  They may scream more often than normal.  They may have severe fears. Some sounds that we do not even hear may seem to cause pain to the child's ears.  They may line up toys or repeat patterns of play over and over again, but not do imaginary play.  They may be obsessed with a particular character or cartoon and learn scripts but not have real language.

A child may act as If they do not want to be touched or held, because it may seem to cause them physical pain. A child may not respond to their name or verbal requests.  They may have delayed speech. They may be in constant motion, seeming unable to stop their actions.

Pictures and other visual strategies are generally successful in teaching persons with autism. The recent use of electronic pads like  IPAD's with ASD have shown great success!

Autism is a spectrum disorder in that it effects a wide range of issues from mild to severe. Therefore, difficulties in socialization and communication may not be visible for some children until they are older, and some may have developed language but still have difficulty in playing and relating with others.

Regardless of where an individual is on the autism spectrum, it is best practice to address socialization and communication. If an individual has difficulty verbalizing or gesturing to show you what they want, they may act out with inappropriate behaviors in order to communicate. 

A screaming, tantruming child is just is not the way we want them to communicate.  We have to teach them how to appropriately communicate and give them visuals, signs and words to replace the tantrum.  If we do not support a person in communicating then there are quite often behavioral difficulties.

A very important part of looking at a person's behavior as communication is that each person has the right to communicate and if they are unable to "talk" then we must teach them how to communicate with pictures, words or even objects. If we presume competence in each individual with autism to achieve their full potential then we must not only address their needs, we must also begin to think in terms of the strength that individuals with autism have. The use of IPAD's and apps for ASD are skyrocketing this way of communication so that it is accessbile to most with ASD! 

Heidi's Recommendations for Best Practices for Persons with Autism include the following:

* Use of Visual/Picture/Word Schedules or Aug Comm with the supervision of a qualified speech and language pathologist that can be started VERY EARLY!

 * Sensory Processing Evaluation by a Qualified Occupational Therapist

*ABA therapy can be wonderful for children with ASD

* Communication system available to each person 100% of the school and home day, the same system taken everywhere with them! 

* Tasks broken up into small intervals with sensory breaks as needed.  We have VERY severe clients with ASD that when given smaller tasks, at centers, and given sensory breaks (jumping on a mini trampoline, massagers, calming brushing protocols, weighted vests, compression vests, and other sensory diet activities) they can perform many tasks that before elicited huge behaviors!

* Paraprofessional support with someone they know and trust and work well with, try to see if the assistant can grow with the child and stay with them.

* Remember that a behavior IS communication for those with ASD!

* Presuming complete cognitive abilities no matter how severe the behaviors or lack of language may be!

* Regular exercise and being outside helps those with ASD decrease anxiety, OCD, and self stim.  Aerobic exercise and sunshine for vitamin D is essential for ASD and everyone!  A safety netted trampoline and a mini trampoline indoors can help decrease anxiety, pacing and give them calming sensory diet activities.  A swing indoors and outdoors can be a huge sensory calmer.  Running can be very beneficial.

*Read Autism Revolution and info on the GAPS diet to learn how to support immune, gut, and digestive functioning for optimum treatment.  You have to heal the gut first before sensory issues can be treated completely.  Dr. Martha Herbert and Dr. McBride are in the forefront of finding the cures for ASD with their collegues. 

Emphasize Individual Strengths If we presume competence in each individual with ASD, and provide a way for them to communicate, we will assist individuals with ASD toward finding success. To assist persons with ASD in achieving their needs-we must also think in terms of that individual's strengths. 


Related Topics:

Autism Classroom Helpers

Floortime Engagement Therapies Used in OT

Sensory Sensitivities with Autism

Autism and Gut Brain Connection

Managing Meltdowns

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