Saturday, February 26, 2011

Explaining Sensory Integration & ASD....Not so easy!

I was asked “What’s the deal with Sensory Integration ?”.  Yikes! Sensory issues are one of the hardest aspects of ASD to recognize comprehend or explain, but here's how I explain Nicky's sensory issues to newbies. 

Envision a music mixing board, the kind with knobs that slide up and down. Instead of instruments the board has senses; Sight, Sound, Touch, Smell and Taste. Most people have their senses balanced with the knob right in the middle setting. Nicky's mixing board is not balanced; every sense is either pushed up high or low, nothing is just right. It's all out of whack!

Everyone is different, Nicky is:

Under sensitive to Site: He flaps his hands in front of his eyes - he rewinds videos & stands close to the TV - he likes lots of input.

Over sensitive to Sound: The sound of a bell ringing is literally painful for him. He covers his ears when exposed to loud noises. His hearing is keen and he hears everything.  What we consider ambient noise is disturbingly loud to him, in turn he get's over stimulated in loud places like Chucky Cheese.

Under sensitive to Touch: He doesn't feel pain like most of us. This is the scary one. I have to guess what's wrong when he's sick and he doesn't get the usual lessons like "don't touch the stove" because he didn't feel it. I remember he fractured his wrist and it took me days to know, because his brain wasn't getting the "ouch" message. 

Undersensitive to Smell:  He doesn't much care about smells and can't identify them - this includes the smell of fire or bad food. 

Oversensitive to Taste.  Prefers only crunchy textures.   He will touch a food with the tip of his tongue and make his decision to eat it or not. Rice totally freaks him out.

Then there’s the whole body issues. Most of us automatically know where our body is, it’s so natural we think nothing of it.  Nicky can’t quite feel where his body is, so he seeks out ways to find it.  He consistently jumps and swings and he squeezes, squishes and press’s himself  against and between things.  From forcing his way under the sheets and mattress pad on the bed to throwing himself on the sofa or floor. These are all ways of getting input that’s tells him where is body is, and in turn calms him down.

The best explanation for this I’ve ever heard for the whole body thing is was:

Imagine you have to go to the bathroom really bad and you’re sitting in a lecture. You want to listen to the lecture, but the message from your body keeps pulling at your attention. You try to ignore it, but no matter how hard you try, you’re distracted and can’t really hear the lecture, so eventually you give up and go to the restroom.   

Thats what many of our kids with sensory issues feel all the time. Distracted by a message that they need something, and until that need is meet they have trouble focusing and functioning. So many of our kids were weighted clothing and have all sorts of goodies to help them get pressure in socially acceptable ways. 

This is really a simplified explanation, there is sooooo much more.  The book I read on sensory that really helped me was;

The Out-Of-Sync Child

By Kranowitz Carol Stock If you’re interested here’s a link where it’s selling for about 5 dollars.

If anyone can contribute more to this topic please comment!


  1. Before we knew Matthew had Autism, we knew he had SID/SPD. It really (in my opinion) affects just about everything he does. He got in trouble in Art class this year for painting his hand when he should have been cleaning his paint brush. (He got so upset about being in trouble that he threw up). The school therapist said she has tried to explain this to the "specials" teachers (Art, PE, Music, etc) in the past, but they just don't get it.. and they don't spend enough time with each kid during the day/week to feel the need to, apparently. Of course it's not even the sensory stuff.. it's Autism in general. Matthew is very picky- if you mispronounce or misspell something, he will tell you. He corrected his PE teacher for spelling a friend's name wrong, and he got in trouble. Matthew couldn't understand why he was in trouble, so he started crying. He got in even more trouble for not calming down. The teacher's behavior was so inappropriate. He couldn't handle a 7 yr old boy correcting him- not even rudely. I still get pissed about it.

  2. I so understand. I remember being told about a boy who had problems with the smells in the classroom. The teacher would not listen or acknowledge that his issue was real, until the child put his head through a glass window to get air. We have an expectation of our teachers, that is appropriate, yet routinely un met when it comes to our kids. No matter the reasons it still hurts. I'm sorry. Hug Matthew for me.