Introduction lights and objects jump around •


This report is designed to increase your confidence in recognising and becoming more aware of the effects of sensory information on people and how to meet their sensory needs. It also highlights how sensory processing may impact on life skills and behaviour.

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Many people on the autism spectrum have difficulty processing everyday sensory information that we take for granted.

These senses, vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, vestibular (balance) and proprioception (body awareness) may be over-sensitive or under-sensitive, or both, at different times. The person can get overloaded or overstimulated. These differences can affect a person’s behaviour and have an extreme effect on a person’s life.

Sensory Sensitivities

Identifying any patterns in relation to sensory sensitivities helps you build up a picture of the triggers to the person’s reaction. Strategies can then be drawn up to help the person control the amount of sensory information they receive.

1. Vision

Under-sensitivity causes:

• Objects appearing dark or out of focus
• Blurred/magnified central vision
• Sharp/blurred peripheral vision
• Poor depth perception which can cause clumsiness
• Takes more visual information to react
• Likes bright environment, reflective or spinning light

Over-sensitivity can cause:

• Distorted vision, bright lights and objects jump around
• Fragmentation of images, like a kaleidoscope
• Easier to focus on smaller parts of an object
• Sensitivity to light makes it hard to get to sleep
• Distracted by visual information

The use of coloured lenses has been known to assist with some of these issues.
Limit the use of florescent lighting
Using black out curtains or sunglasses to reduce effects of over-sensitivity.

2. Hearing

Under-sensitivity causes:

• Enjoy loud, noisy places
• Bangs objects and makes lots of noise
• Hearing in one or both impaired
• May not be able to hear certain sounds

Over-sensitivity causes:

• Noises are exaggerated and become unrecognisable
• Talks loudly
• May hear noises in the distance
• Anxious before an expected noise (e.g. school bell)
• Easily startled
• Become distracted by noises leading to lack of concentration

Reduce external noise by shutting doors and windows
Shut internal doors and windows or position person away from them
Give plenty of warning that the place will be noisy
Provide earphones to drown out noise

3. Smell

Under-sensitivity causes:

• May have no sense of smell and cannot identify odours (including theirs)
• May lick objects to find out more information about it
• Underreacting to strong, bad or good smells. Spray strong odours to avoid inappropriate smelling (e.g. faeces)

Over-sensitivity causes:

• Problems with toileting and washing, make sure that the person has a regular washing regime
• Smells people
• Avoidance of people and animals with strong body odours
• Avoidance or overreaction of new smells

Use unscented soaps, shampoos etc.
Do not use strong smelling perfume/aftershave
Provide bland smelling food

4. Taste

Under-sensitivity causes:

• A like for spicy foods
• Cravings for strong tasting food
• Has lots of hard, crunchy food in diet
• Puts into mouth or eats non-edible items e.g. stones, dirt, faeces

Over-sensitivity causes:

• Avoidance of strong flavours
• Textures can cause distress and will eat only soft food e.g. bananas, mash potatoes
• Limit themselves to bland food
• Tastes objects, clothes etc.
• Gags easily

5. Touch

Under-sensitivity causes:

• Requires a firm touch to respond to stimulus
• Sometimes heavy handed
• Over grips objects
• Sometimes too close to others
• Difficulty responding to pain or temperature

Over-sensitivity causes:

• Loves or hates hugs
• Only likes certain textures, clothes, do not like labels on clothes
• Dislikes getting dirty
• Can react aggressively to another person’s touch
• Feels pain and is very sensitive to temperature

6. Vestibular (Balance)

Indicates the position of the head in space and its movements. It consists of sensory neurons in the inner ear and stretch receptors in muscles, so is closely linked to proprioception.
Under-sensitivity causes:

• Difficulty sitting still, always on the go
• Constantly fidgeting or tapping
• Runs rather than walks but not always co-ordinated

Over-sensitivity causes:

• Hates spinning, jumping
• Becomes dizzy easily
• Upset by busy places full of movement
• Avoids taking feet off the ground

7. Proprioception (Body Awareness)

This sense is in our muscles and joints, it allows our limbs to move without looking at them. It helps us to use the right amount of pressure to pick up something heavy or light.

Under-sensitivity causes:

• Bumps into or trips over things or people
• Stands close to others and does not understand boundaries
• Go into small spaces or corners of rooms
• Looks at feet when going down stairs

Over-sensitivity causes:

• Does not like others being too close
• Creates own boundaries, e.g. always has to be at the end of the line
• Will remove themselves from crowded places



• Knowing that sensory difficulties may be the reason for the problem, always examine the environment for upsetting stimulation.

Be creative

• Use your imagination to come up with positive sensory experiences and or strategies.


• Always warn the person of possible sensory stimuli they may experience, e.g. loud noises, crowds, smells etc.

Avoiding a disliked or upsetting sensory experience may help the person calm down and be able to take part in daily tasks.