Environmental Distractions and Autism

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Decrease Sensory Distractions

Research estimates that between 65% and 95% of children diagnosed on the autism spectrum have sensory processing difficulties. This means that your child may find it difficult to form an cohesive picture of the world from sensory information or may form a picture of the world that is very different than yours. We are able to function in the world because of our senses. They take in information from the rest of the world in about our own bodies. Our brains then puts all this information together to form a multi-sensory picture of the world. This we take for granted as reality.

There are seven key sensory systems relevant to children with autism:
• The Vestibular system produces our sense of balance and movement from liquids in the middle ear
• Hearing processes auditory input from the ears
• Smell processes olfactory input from the nose
• Taste processes sensations of saltiness, sweetness, bitterness and sourness from the tongue
• Touch processes tactile sensations from the skin
• Proprioception produces our sense of where our bodies are in space from sensors in all our muscles
• Vision processes light entering the eyes
In people with Sensory Processing difficulties the sense organs are usually functioning typically. That is, the eyes, nose, ears, etc. are all receiving information as would be expected. The challenge lies in how the brain processes this information. Many children with autism are either hypersensitive (over-sensitive or register information much more easily) or hyposensitive (under-sensitive require a lot more input to register information) to one or more of these types of sensory input. For example, a child who is hypersensitive to hearing may be very distressed by lawn mowers and by easily overwhelmed in a playground. A child who is hyposensitive to touch may be continually seeking tactile input by crashing into walls and people. The next step in sensory processing that can often be challenging for children with autism is sensory integration, combining all these streams of incoming information into a coherent picture of the world.

Understanding your child's unique pattern of sensory sensitivities is a crucial first step in:
• being able to relate more closely to him or her by understanding his or her world and
• to change the sensory environment to allow your child to more easily be able to handle sensory input and feel easier
• to change the sensory environment to allow your child to be more available to focus on social interaction or other learning activities.
Completing the relate to autismSensory-Social Development Assessment will help you understand which of your child's systems are strong and which systems could use more input and recommend specific activities to help you provide this input. Generate a Sensory-Social Development Assessment report now...

In the meantime you can begin helping your child today by considering all the sensory input he or she is receiving daily. Start with your home as this you can easily adapt. Major sources of sensory overload to consider are often:
• Television, DVDs and radio
• Electronic toys
• Video games and computers
• Bright, colored more moving lights
• Patterns, especially those containing high contrast (e.g. black on white)
• Florescent light bulbs
• Synthetic furnishings, floor covering or clothing
• Unpredictable or uncontrollable noises, movement or touch
• Synthetic odors such as deodorants, lotions, perfumes, fabric softeners,
Become a careful observer of your child's behavior. You are not observing to pass judgment, to think of your child's behavior as good/bad, right/wrong, appropriate/inappropriate. You are observing from a place of acceptance and curiosity. The idea is to learn about your child's world.

Ask yourself these questions:
• when is my child most relaxed? (at what times of day, in which areas of the house, after or during which activities, with which people?)
• when is my child least relaxed? (at what times of day, in which areas of the house, after or during which activities, with which people?)
• when does my child engage most in repetitious, solitary play?
• which sensory systems is my child stimulating with his or her repetitious, solitary play activities?
Also See:
A Different Brain
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