Getting a sense of the world with Autism

Dr David Preece, Senior Lecturer blogs about the impact of Sensory issues and sensitivities for people with autism.

Sensory issues and sensitivities weren’t included in the diagnostic criteria for autism until recently, but most (if not all) people with autism I’ve ever known have had some difficulties or differences with how their senses work. As Ellen Notbohm writes in her great book ‘Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew’, people with autism’s senses are ‘out of sync’.

This can mean that ordinary sounds, sights, tastes and smells — that most of us might not even notice — can be overwhelming for them. The flickering of a fluorescent light, the sound of a distant car alarm, shouting echoing around the gym, the smell of cooking wafting into the classroom (or walking past the school toilets): all of these experiences can overwhelm the person’s senses, making the everyday world feel an unfriendly and hard place to be in.

We all experience the world through our senses, and it’s hard to imagine how something that we hardly notice can be such a problem to someone else (it wasn’t till I got a hearing aid that I suddenly noticed how noisy the freezer section in the supermarket became with my new, hypersensitive hearing).

“Everyone with autism is different, so what will be problematic to one person may not bother another.”

As ever, work with the individual and assess what works for them; and then do what you can to make the sensory world a less difficult place for them.

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