Sensory Issues And Autism

This extensive guide is designed to delve deep into the complex relationship between sensory processing difficulties and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). From hypersensitivity to hyposensitivity, the sensory experiences of individuals with ASD cover a broad spectrum.

In this resource, we aim to provide a thorough understanding of these sensory challenges, the latest research findings, available treatment options, and supportive strategies, among others.

Navigate through our “Sensory Superpage” to gain an understanding of sensory issues in autism and arm yourself with the knowledge and tools to make a positive difference.

What percentage of people with autism have sensory issues?

The prevalence of sensory issues among individuals with autism is considerably high. Although the specific percentages can vary depending on the studies, it’s generally agreed that most individuals with autism experience some form of sensory processing difficulties.

Research studies suggest that this figure is over 90%.

These sensory issues can manifest as hypersensitivity (over-responsiveness to sensory stimuli) or hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness), affecting how individuals experience sensory inputs such as touch, sound, taste, and light. Research by Leekam et al. explains these manifestations in more detail.

Therefore, understanding and accommodating these sensory sensitivities is critical to providing effective support and care for individuals with autism.

Sensory Sensitivity

Sensory sensitivity refers to how a person’s senses react to stimuli. In individuals with autism, sensory sensitivity is often heightened. They may experience sounds, textures, tastes, and smells more intensely than others. This heightened sensitivity can lead to difficulties processing and responding to environmental information and can significantly impact daily life.

What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition where the brain has difficulty processing information taken in through the senses. Recognized initially in the 1960s by occupational therapist and psychologist A. Jean Ayres, SPD is sometimes seen as a standalone disorder but is also commonly associated with autism. People with SPD may be oversensitive or undersensitive to sensory input or both. They can find it challenging to process and act upon information received through the senses, which can affect daily functioning.

Types of Sensitivities


Hypersensitivity is when an individual experiences an exaggerated or intense reaction to sensory stimuli. This can cause discomfort or even pain. For those with autism, hypersensitivity can make everyday environments feel overwhelming, leading to anxiety and difficulties with social interactions.

Food Sensory Issues

Food sensory issues can be particularly challenging for those with hypersensitivity. Tastes and textures that seem normal to most people can be perceived as extreme and even unbearable. This can lead to a very restrictive diet and nutritional challenges. Coping strategies may include introducing new foods slowly and using behavioral techniques to increase tolerance gradually.

  1. Hypersensitivity to Textures:

    Certain textures can be highly aversive for individuals with food sensory issues. This might include foods that are crunchy, slimy, or have a mixed texture. This texture aversion can lead to avoidance of a wide range of foods, often making the diet less varied.

  2. Taste Sensitivity:

    Hypersensitivity can also be related to tastes. Some individuals might find specific tastes particularly strong or aversive. This can include an aversion to bitter foods, very sweet foods, or foods with a strong flavor, like garlic or onion.

  3. Smell Sensitivity:

    The smell of foods can also be a sensory issue. Some individuals are incredibly susceptible to the smell of food, and strong odors can cause distress or avoidance.

  4. Visual Sensitivity:

    For some, the visual appearance of food can be a factor. This might include a preference for foods of a particular color or a dislike of mixed foods.

Clothing Sensory Issues

People with hypersensitivity may find certain clothing materials and tags extremely irritating. The texture and fit of clothes can cause discomfort or pain.

  1. Texture Sensitivity:

    One of the primary aspects of clothing sensory issues is sensitivity to textures. Materials that may feel soft and comfortable to most people can feel extraordinarily rough or scratchy to someone with hypersensitivity. Some individuals may prefer certain fabrics like cotton and avoid others like wool or synthetic materials.

  2. Tags and Seams:

    One of the primary aspects of clothing sensory issues is sensitivity to textures. Materials that may feel soft and comfortable to most people can feel extraordinarily rough or scratchy to someone with hypersensitivity. Some individuals may prefer certain fabrics like cotton and avoid others like wool or synthetic materials.

  3. Fit and Tightness:

    One of the primary aspects of clothing sensory issues is sensitivity to textures. Materials that may feel soft and comfortable to most people can feel extraordinarily rough or scratchy to someone with hypersensitivity. Some individuals may prefer certain fabrics like cotton and avoid others like wool or synthetic materials.

  4. Temperature Regulation:

    Sensitivity to the temperature and the weight of the fabric can also be a concern. Some individuals might be very sensitive to being too hot or cold and have strong preferences regarding the weight and warmth of clothing.

  5. Sensory-Friendly Clothing:

    Individuals might prefer wearing soft materials and avoiding clothes with tags or tight elastics to cope. Some brands specialize in sensory-friendly clothing. These garments often feature flat seams, tagless designs, and soft, stretchy fabrics.

Texture Sensitivity

This form of sensory hypersensitivity involves an intense reaction to the feel of different surfaces and materials.

  1. Broad Range of Textures:

    Texture sensitivity is not limited to just fabrics or food but can extend to any tactile experience, including surfaces like carpet, sand, grass, or even the pages of a book.

  2. Intensity of Reaction:

    For someone with texture sensitivity, textures that seem benign to others can cause extreme discomfort or distress. This might range from a mild annoyance to feeling overwhelmed or in pain.

  3. Impact on Social Interaction and Learning:

    Texture sensitivity can impact social interactions and learning, especially for children. For instance, a child might avoid playing with certain toys or participating in arts and crafts, which can be isolating and limit learning experiences.

  4. Sensory Integration Tools:

    Sometimes, sensory integration tools like brushes can help desensitize the skin and improve tolerance to different textures.

Touch Sensitivity

Touch sensitivity, or tactile defensiveness, refers to an unusual or increased sensitivity to touch or physical contact. Touch sensitivity can cause normal sensations, like a light touch on the shoulder or a tag in a shirt, to feel uncomfortable or even painful. This overreaction can be mild or severe, and the contact that triggers it can be from a person, an object, or even the individual’s own movements. This condition can significantly impact daily routines and quality of life.

  1. Physical Manifestation:

    Individuals with touch sensitivity can have a variety of physical reactions, ranging from withdrawing from touch to experiencing an emotional meltdown or feeling physical pain.

  2. Impact on Daily Life:

    Touch sensitivity can affect many aspects of life, such as personal hygiene, clothing, and social interactions. Individuals might have difficulty with tasks that involve touch, like brushing teeth or hair, bathing, or being in crowded spaces.

  3. Impact on Relationships:

    Touch sensitivity can also affect relationships, as individuals might withdraw from affectionate touch or avoid physical contact, making interpersonal relationships challenging.

  4. Coping Strategies:

    Coping strategies for touch sensitivity can involve managing the environment and building tolerance. Managing the environment might include using special clothing, adjusting the room temperature to avoid sweating or shivering, or even avoiding crowded spaces. Building tolerance often involves a gradual exposure approach, where the individual is slowly introduced to different types of touch in a controlled, non-threatening way. Some prefer deep pressure to light touch and may benefit from pressure garments or weighted blankets.


Noise hypersensitivity, or hyperacusis, refers to an increased or abnormal sensitivity to ordinary environmental sounds. Loud or sudden noises can be particularly distressing for individuals with hypersensitivity. Ordinary sounds, like the hum of a refrigerator, traffic, or people talking, are perceived as uncomfortably loud or even painful. Some individuals might also have difficulty filtering out background noise, making it hard to focus on a single conversation or task.

  1. Physical and Emotional Reactions:

    Physical reactions to noise hypersensitivity can range from covering the ears to experiencing pain. Emotional reactions can include anxiety, agitation, and even panic attacks. Over time, the anticipation of loud noises can lead to heightened anxiety and avoidance behaviors.

  2. Impact on Daily Life:

    Noise hypersensitivity can affect many aspects of life, from school or work performance to social interactions. Individuals might avoid noisy environments like restaurants, school cafeterias, or busy streets, which can lead to isolation. The sound of a vacuum cleaner, a dog barking, or a car horn can cause anxiety or fear.

  3. Coping Strategies:

    There are several strategies for managing noise hypersensitivity. These might include using noise-canceling headphones, creating quiet spaces at home or school, or gradually desensitizing to certain sounds. Even soft or high-pitched sounds can be intense and distressing for those with sound sensitivity. Sound therapy, which involves listening to certain sounds to help the brain improve its processing of auditory stimuli, can be beneficial.


Light hypersensitivity, or photophobia, is a condition in which individuals are sensitive to certain types of light or brightness levels. Light hypersensitivity involves discomfort or pain from exposure to light sources that most people would find normal or tolerable. This could range from sunlight to fluorescent light, from the glow of a computer screen to the harshness of a headlight. It may lead to severe migraines, eye strain, or other physical discomfort.

  1. Impact on Daily Life:

    Light hypersensitivity can significantly impact daily life. It may lead to avoidance behaviors, such as shying away from outdoor activities during daylight hours, working in dimly lit spaces, or avoiding places with fluorescent lighting, like supermarkets or classrooms. This avoidance can, in turn, impact social interaction, school performance, and overall quality of life.

  2. Coping Strategies:

    Strategies for coping with light hypersensitivity often involve modifying the individual’s environment to reduce exposure to problematic light sources. This might include wearing sunglasses or hats outdoors, using light-dimming screens on electronic devices, or replacing fluorescent lights with softer, indirect lighting. Sunglasses, hats, and natural light can help alleviate discomfort.


Visual hypersensitivity, or hypersensitivity to visual stimuli, can significantly impact how individuals perceive their environment and interact with others. Visual hypersensitivity involves an intense reaction to visual stimuli, such as bright lights, rapid movements, or visually complex environments like crowded rooms or patterned wallpapers. Individuals may be susceptible to specific colors or have difficulty filtering out irrelevant visual information, making it hard for them to focus on the task at hand.

  1. Impact on Daily Life:

    This sensory issue can influence many aspects of daily life. For example, individuals may find it hard to concentrate in visually busy environments, have difficulty with tasks requiring visual discrimination, or be easily overwhelmed by rapid visual stimuli, such as action-packed movies or video games. This can impact academic performance, social interactions, and leisure activities.

  2. Coping Strategies:

    Strategies for managing visual hypersensitivity may involve minimizing exposure to overwhelming visual stimuli, providing visual breaks throughout the day, and creating visually calm spaces at home or school. Visual schedules or organizers can also help individuals plan and predict their day, reducing anxiety. Creating a visually calm environment, using solid colors, and avoiding patterns, can be helpful.

Water Hypersensitivity (Being Wet)

People with water hypersensitivity have an intense reaction to the sensation of being wet. This might include discomfort or distress when their skin comes into contact with water, whether from rain, bathing, swimming, or even sweat. For some, even the feel of damp clothes or towels can be unbearable.

  1. Impact on Daily Life:

    This sensory issue can influence many aspects of daily life. It can make personal hygiene tasks like bathing and brushing teeth very stressful and cause anxiety about outdoor activities when it’s raining or when there’s a possibility of getting wet. It also has the potential to hinder a person’s ability to learn to swim or participate in water-based activities.

  2. Coping Strategies:

    Strategies for managing water hypersensitivity may involve gradual exposure to the sensation of being wet, starting with brief, positive experiences involving water, such as playing with water toys or using a spray bottle. For bathing, it can help to ensure the water temperature is comfortable, use soft towels for drying, and allow the individual to enter and exit the water at their own pace. Distraction techniques can be helpful, like singing a song or playing a game during bath time. Waterproof clothing and quick-drying fabrics can make rainy days more manageable. Gradual exposure and making the experience enjoyable by adding toys or using a favorite towel can be beneficial.

Balance (Vestibular Sensitivity)

Vestibular sensitivity, often experienced by individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a heightened sensitivity to movements and changes in head position. The vestibular system, located within our inner ear, helps us maintain our balance and understand our body’s position in space. People with vestibular hypersensitivity may have an intense reaction to movement activities like swinging, sliding, or even simply walking or running. They may also feel overwhelmed by quick changes in head position, such as looking up or down.

  1. Impact on Daily Life:

    This sensitivity can influence many aspects of daily life. Activities that might seem fun and pleasurable to most people, like playing on playground equipment or participating in sports, might feel scary or uncomfortable. It may also affect an individual’s balance and coordination, making them seem clumsy or fearful of certain activities.

  2. Coping Strategies:

    Therapeutic interventions, such as vestibular rehabilitation therapy, can help manage vestibular sensitivity. This form of treatment involves activities that expose the person to controlled movements and changes in head position, allowing them gradually build tolerance and become more comfortable with these sensations. Sometimes, providing alternative options for physical activity that don’t trigger the vestibular system can be beneficial. Yoga or gentle stretching can provide physical activity without triggering intense vestibular responses. Therapies like physical and occupational therapy can help patients build skills in balance and coordination.


Proprioceptive hypersensitivity involves a heightened sensitivity to the sense of body position and movement. The proprioceptive system provides information about the relative position of our body parts and the force we’re applying through our muscles and joints. Individuals with proprioceptive hypersensitivity may find it difficult to gauge the force or pressure required for tasks or struggle to navigate their bodies through space.

  1. Impact on Daily Life:

    Proprioceptive hypersensitivity can lead to clumsiness, difficulty with fine and gross motor tasks, and even unusual posturing. Simple activities like eating with utensils, writing, or playing sports can become challenging. Individuals might appear clumsy, bump into objects more often, or have difficulty judging distances. Those with proprioceptive hypersensitivity might struggle to gauge the force needed for tasks such as holding a pen or hugging.

  2. Coping Strategies:

    Therapy for proprioceptive hypersensitivity often involves providing plenty of opportunities for ‘heavy work’ activities. These activities provide deep pressure to the muscles and joints, such as lifting, pushing, or pulling heavy objects, jumping on a trampoline, or even doing chores like vacuuming or carrying groceries. Using tools like weighted blankets or vests, exercise resistance bands, or chewy toys can help provide the proprioceptive input these individuals need.


Interoceptive hypersensitivity pertains to heightened sensitivity to internal bodily sensations like hunger or the need to use the bathroom. Interoception is the sense that helps us understand and feel what’s happening inside our bodies. This includes sensing hunger, thirst, digestion, temperature, heartbeat, and more. Individuals with interoceptive hypersensitivity may have heightened awareness of these internal sensations, which can lead to discomfort or confusion. Individuals with interoceptive hypersensitivity may have difficulty recognizing or interpreting these inner signals.

  1. Impact on Daily Life:

    Interoceptive hypersensitivity can cause significant distress. It may manifest as anxiety or panic due to the heightened awareness of internal body processes like heartbeat or breathing. It can also lead to difficulties recognizing and interpreting signals like hunger or fullness, needing to use the restroom, or feeling hot or cold.

  2. Coping Strategies:

    Coping strategies for interoceptive hypersensitivity often involve learning to interpret body signals accurately. Individuals can benefit from treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for instance. This treatment helps individuals understand their body signals and manage the associated anxiety. Strategies such as scheduled eating or bathroom breaks can help.

  3. Mindfulness Techniques:

    Mindfulness and grounding techniques can help manage interoceptive hypersensitivity. This can involve focusing on external sensory experiences, like what one can see or touch, to help draw attention away from overwhelming internal sensations.

Sensory Avoidance

Sensory avoidance acts as a coping mechanism for sensory overload. Individuals will often go to lengths to avoid sensory stimuli that they find distressing. This can include avoiding crowded places, loud environments, or specific textures.

  1. Understanding Sensory Avoidance:

    Sensory avoidance refers to behaviors meant to decrease exposure to sensory stimuli perceived as overwhelming or unpleasant. This could involve covering ears to avoid noise, refusing to eat foods with certain textures, or avoiding crowded places.

  2. Impact on Daily Life:

    Sensory avoidance can significantly impact an individual’s daily life. It may limit
    participation in social activities, lead to a restrictive diet, or cause difficulties in settings like school or work where avoiding certain stimuli is not always possible.

  3. Coping Strategies:

    Coping strategies for sensory avoidance often involve gradual exposure to uncomfortable sensory experiences paired with positive reinforcement. This helps the individual to build up tolerance slowly. Sensory tools such as noise-canceling headphones or weighted blankets can also be helpful.

  4. Environmental Modifications:

    Adapting the environment to reduce unpleasant sensory stimuli can also be effective. For example, using soft lighting, minimizing background noise, or creating quiet spaces where the individual can retreat when feeling overwhelmed.


Hyposensitivity is a sensory processing issue where an individual is under-responsive or has a lower-than-average response to sensory stimuli. Hyposensitivity can manifest in many ways. An individual may seem unaware of their surroundings, appear clumsy, or may not respond to pain or extreme temperatures as expected.

They may also have a high pain threshold, not realize when they’re being touched, or not notice certain smells or tastes. They may not react to danger as quickly as others due to their muted response to sensory inputs. For example, they might not pull their hand away quickly if they touch something hot.

Sensory Seeking

Sensory seeking refers to behaviors that individuals, especially those with sensory processing disorders, exhibit to satisfy their need for sensory input. Sensory-seeking behaviors are often seen in individuals who are under-responsive or hyposensitive to sensory information. These individuals often crave more intense or varied sensory stimulation.

This means they might constantly touch things, enjoy spinning or jumping, or crave intense flavors or loud noises to fulfill their need for sensory input. Provide safe and acceptable ways for individuals with hyposensitivity to satisfy their need for sensory stimulation.

This might involve using fidget toys, allowing time for physical activities, or incorporating stronger flavors into meals.

  1. Common Sensory Seeking Behaviors:

    Sensory seekers may engage in behaviors like constantly touching things, chewing on non-food items, spinning, jumping, or making loud noises. They might also seek out intense tastes, smells, or textures.

  2. Impact on Daily Life:

    Sensory-seeking behaviors can significantly impact an individual’s daily life. The constant need for stimulation can sometimes lead to difficulties in school, work, or social environments.

  3. Coping Strategies:

    Strategies for managing sensory-seeking behaviors often involve providing safe and appropriate ways to fulfill sensory needs. This could include regular breaks for physical activity, access to sensory toys or tools (like chewable jewelry or fidget toys), or creating opportunities for sensory experiences within daily routines.

  4. Understanding and Patience:

    Sensory-seeking behaviors can be misunderstood as acting out or lack of discipline. However, understanding that these behaviors are a way of self-regulating can help foster patience and create supportive environments for individuals with sensory processing disorders.

Sensory Seeking Type Description Examples of Behaviors Suggestions for Safe Stimulation
Oral Sensory Seeking Hyposensitive individuals might seek oral stimulation. Putting objects in mouths, biting or licking them, enjoying foods with strong tastes. Using chewy toys or snacks.
Tactile Seeking Behaviors Tactile seekers are often looking for touch and texture experiences. Touching everything they see, preferring to walk barefoot, and enjoying digging in the dirt. Providing a range of textures through sensory bins or encouraging activities like gardening.
Visual Sensory Seeking Activities Visually seeking individuals might be fascinated by bright lights, moving objects, or shiny materials. Staring at spinning objects or flicking lights on and off. Providing visually stimulating toys, like light spinners or liquid motion bubblers.
Chewing Chewing is a common sensory-seeking behavior, especially for those seeking oral stimulation. Chewing on clothes, pencils, or objects. Providing chewable jewelry or toys designed for chewing.
Auditory Sensory Seeking Auditory seekers might seek out sounds by creating them or listening to music at a high volume. Banging on objects, listening to music at a high volume. Using musical instruments or listening to music through headphones at a safe volume.

What do Sensory Sensitivities Feel Like?

Sensory-seeking behaviors can be misunderstood as acting out or lack of discipline. However, understanding that these behaviors are a way of self-regulating can help foster patience and create supportive environments for individuals with sensory processing disorders.

Sensory Overload

When people with sensory processing disorders receive too much sensory information, they can experience sensory overload. This might be a loud environment, a crowded space, or a situation with too many different types of stimuli. It can cause severe anxiety, meltdowns, or physical symptoms like nausea or headaches. This is why many people with sensory issues find it beneficial to have a quiet, controlled environment to retreat to when needed.

Difficulty Interpreting Sensory Information

Sometimes, the challenge is not just the intensity of sensory inputs but also their interpretation. Individuals with sensory processing disorders might have trouble determining where a touch is coming from or distinguishing between different sounds in a noisy environment. This could lead to motor coordination, balance, and spatial awareness difficulties.

These sensory challenges can affect social interactions, academic or work performance, and general well-being. They might lead to anxiety or distress, create barriers to participation in typical activities, and even result in social isolation.

What is Stimming?

Stimming, or self-stimulatory behavior, is a term used to describe repetitive body movements or movements of objects, often seen in individuals with autism. This behavior is believed to be a way to self-soothe, manage anxiety, or help focus attention. While stimming is common in people with sensory issues, it’s important to recognize that it is a natural behavior and can be a crucial coping mechanism for them.

Stimming Type Description Examples of Behaviors Suggestions for Safe Stimulation
Vocal Stimming Vocal stimming includes making sounds, words, or noises with the voice. Humming, clicking, or repeating a phrase or sound over and over. This is a self-regulation tool, and no specific alternatives are suggested.
Hand Flapping Hand flapping involves rapidly waving hands or fingers. Waving hands or fingers in front of the face or at the sides of the body. This is a self-regulation tool, and no specific alternatives are suggested.
Rocking Back and Forth Rocking back and forth can be soothing for individuals with sensory issues. Rocking the whole body back and forth while seated or standing. This is a self-regulation tool, and no specific alternatives are suggested.
Hair Stimming Hair stimming might include twirling, pulling, or stroking the hair repetitively. Twirling, pulling, or stroking the hair repetitively. Providing alternative tactile stimming options like fidget toys.
Nose Picking Nose picking, in the context of stimming, is when an individual repetitively picks their nose. Repetitively picking the nose. Address hygiene concerns and gently encourage alternative forms of stimming that are more socially acceptable and hygienic, and promote the use of tissue paper.
Toe Walking Toe walking is a form of stimming where an individual walks on the balls of their feet. Walking on the balls of the feet instead of using a typical heel-to-toe walking motion. This is a self-regulation tool, and no specific alternatives are suggested.

Sensory issues can differ depending on whether an individual is hypersensitive or hyposensitive to sensory input. Stimming is a common way individuals with sensory issues cope with their environment. Family members, educators, and friends need to understand and respect these behaviors as often necessary coping mechanisms. Providing a supportive environment that allows for safe stimming is vital for the well-being of those with sensory issues.

What is Sensory Overload?

Sensory overload occurs when an individual receives too much sensory input at once, making it difficult for the brain to process and respond accordingly. People with sensory processing issues or autism spectrum disorder, sensory overload can happen more easily as they might be hypersensitive to certain stimuli.

This could include loud noises, bright lights, or crowded spaces. When in a state of sensory overload, individuals might experience panic, anxiety, irritability, or a strong urge to escape the environment.

  1. Anxiety

    Anxiety is a typical response to sensory overload. When an individual with sensory sensitivities is exposed to too much sensory input, the nervous system often goes into a state of high alert. This can manifest as increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, and feelings of fear or panic. Strategies for managing anxiety might include identifying triggers, using calming techniques such as deep breathing, and gradually desensitizing to certain stimuli through exposure therapy.

  2. Dyspraxia

    Dyspraxia, often associated with sensory processing disorders, is a neurological condition that affects motor skill development and coordination. Individuals with dyspraxia may have trouble with tasks that require movement and coordination, such as tying shoes, writing, or riding a bike. This can be incredibly challenging when combined with sensory sensitivities, as overstimulation can exacerbate difficulties with motor control. Occupational therapy can benefit individuals with dyspraxia, as it helps them develop motor skills and learn strategies for managing sensory input.

What Do Sensory Issues Look Like?

Sensory-seeking behaviors can be misunderstood as acting out or lack of discipline. However, understanding that these behaviors are a way of self-regulating can help foster patience and create supportive environments for individuals with sensory processing disorders.

Understanding the severity and impact of these sensory issues can help provide appropriate support and interventions. These sensory challenges can be categorized into three levels based on the degree of support required by the individual.

This categorization aligns with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), used by mental health professionals to diagnose and classify mental disorders. The DSM-5 categorizes the severity of ASD into three levels, s based on the amount of support required. Level 1, “Requiring Support,” Level 2, “Requiring Substantial Support,” and Level 3, “Requiring Very Substantial Support,” each corresponds to the increasing severity of symptoms and the need for support in social communication and restrictive, repetitive behaviors, which can include sensory behaviors.

Level 1: Requiring Support

Individuals at this level generally have milder symptoms. They can carry out day-to-day activities independently but often struggle with social situations and communication. Sensory issues may manifest as mild discomfort or distraction in response to certain sensory stimuli, but it typically does not interfere significantly with daily functioning.

Sensory sensitivities might involve a preference for certain food textures, aversion to certain sounds or touch, and needing to wear specific types of clothing due to sensitivity.

Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support

Individuals at this level exhibit more pronounced difficulties with social interactions and communication. These difficulties are evident even with supports in place. The sensory sensitivities at this level are usually more intense and can affect everyday life.

For instance, the person might be unable to tolerate crowded places due to noise sensitivity or have a limited diet due to specific food texture aversions. Sensory-seeking behaviors can also be more common at this level, with individuals actively seeking certain sensory experiences for comfort or stimulation.

Level 3: Requiring Very Substantial Support

This level includes individuals with severe symptoms who require significant support daily. Social communication is extremely limited, and engagement in restrictive and repetitive behaviors is high. Sensory sensitivities at this level can be so severe that they significantly disrupt daily functioning.

For example, the individual may become overwhelmed or distressed in environments with unexpected or intense sensory stimuli. Their food preferences might be so limited it affects their nutritional health, or their tolerance for certain materials may limit the clothing they can wear.

The severity of sensory issues can vary significantly from person to person, regardless of their level of autism. Furthermore, these sensory sensitivities can also change over time due to various factors such as age, therapy, and adaptive strategies. An individualized approach that respects each person’s unique sensory profile is critical to effectively supporting individuals with ASD.

Sensory Issues in Adults

While sensory issues are often associated with children, they can persist or even emerge in adulthood. Adults with sensory issues might find specific work environments challenging due to bright lights, loud noises, or the need to wear specific clothing. They might have particular eating habits based on texture or taste preferences.

Coping strategies for adults can include creating a sensory-friendly living and working environment, utilizing sensory tools such as noise-canceling headphones, and engaging in occupational or sensory integration therapy therapies.

Treatments for Sensory Sensitivities

Treatment for sensory issues aims to help individuals manage and cope with sensory sensitivities and to improve their ability to function and participate in daily activities. It’s important to note that treatment should be tailored to the individual’s unique needs and sensitivities. Let’s review the most popular approaches to managing sensory sensitivities: Sensory Integration Therapy, ABA Therapy, hypersensitivity recommendations, hyposensitivity recommendations, and Occupational Therapy for Sensory Processing.

  1. Sensory Integration Therapy
    Aspect Description
    History Developed in the 1960s by A. Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist and psychologist.
    Techniques Utilizes a range of sensory experiences in a sensory-rich environment, often called a sensory gym. Techniques include skin brushing, joint compression, and balance and coordination activities.
    Goal-Oriented Typically customized to the needs of the individual, focusing on areas that need improvement.
    Benefits It can improve attention, reduce anxiety, and enhance coordination and motor skills. It helps manage sensory sensitivities that might interfere with daily life activities.
    Controversies and Research While many report positive outcomes, research is ongoing, and not all studies conclusively support its effectiveness. Critics argue that there’s a lack of standardized approaches and measurable results.
  2. ABA Therapy
    Aspect Description
    History Developed in the early 20th century with the work of B.F. Skinner on operant conditioning. Applied to autism treatment in the 1960s by Ivar Lovaas.
    Techniques It uses reinforcement strategies to encourage desired behaviors and discourage undesirable ones. It can be highly structured or more naturalistic.
    Focus on Sensory Issues It can be used to manage behaviors associated with sensory sensitivities, such as avoidance or meltdowns.
    Benefits Can improve various skills, including communication, social skills, self-care, and academics. Some children make significant gains with early intensive ABA intervention.
    Controversies and Ethical Considerations Critics raise ethical concerns about the focus on changing behaviors to fit societal norms. Some individuals with autism have expressed that ABA was distressing or harmful to them.
    Comprehensive Approach Often most effective when part of a comprehensive treatment plan and coordinated with other interventions and supports.
  3. Hypersensitivity Recommendations
    Aspect Description
    Desensitization Therapy Gradual and controlled exposure to the sensory input that causes distress.
    Sensory Diets Customized sets of sensory activities tailored to the individual’s needs.
    Environmental Modifications Adjusting the environment to reduce sensory stimuli.
    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) It can be used to help individuals manage the anxiety and emotional reactions associated with hypersensitivity.
    Occupational Therapy Occupational therapists can help design personalized interventions and strategies.
    Social Stories and Preparation Using social stories that describe what to expect in a new environment and discussing strategies for managing sensory input.
    Medication In some cases, medication might be used to manage the symptoms associated with hypersensitivity.
    Parent and Teacher Education Educating parents, teachers, and others involved in caring for individuals with hypersensitivities.
    Use of Technology Sometimes, assistive technology such as noise-canceling headphones can be employed.
  4. Hyposensitivity Recommendations
    Aspect Description
    Sensory Integration Therapy Involves specific sensory activities, such as jumping, swinging, or using tactile bins.
    Sensory Diets A sensory diet can be created for individuals with hyposensitivity, focusing on providing additional sensory input.
    Environmental Enrichment Modifying the environment to provide more sensory stimulation.
    Use of Sensory Tools Using sensory tools such as fidget toys, chewable jewelry, or weighted blankets.
    Physical Activities and Exercise Engaging in regular physical activities and exercises that provide proprioceptive and vestibular input.
    Social Engagement and Interactive Play Encouraging social interaction and play that involves sensory input.
    Parent and Teacher Education Educating parents and teachers about the individual’s sensory needs.
    Occupational Therapy Occupational therapists can create tailored programs that help the person engage with and process sensory information more effectively.
    Technological Aids In some cases, technological aids can be used to increase sensory input.
  5. Occupational Therapy for Sensory Processing
    Aspect Description
    Individual Assessment Occupational therapists conduct thorough assessments to understand an individual’s specific sensory challenges.
    Sensory Integration Therapy Occupational therapists often use sensory integration therapy as a core component of the intervention.
    Creation of Sensory Diets They often develop personalized activity plans that provide the sensory input a person needs.
    Environmental Modifications Occupational therapists work with individuals, families, and institutions to make necessary modifications to the environment.
    Teaching Coping and Self-Regulation Skills They teach individuals coping and self-regulation skills.
    Parent and Teacher Training Occupational therapists often work closely with parents, teachers, and other caregivers to educate them on sensory processing disorders.
    Adaptive Equipment Recommendations They might recommend using adaptive equipment such as weighted vests, unique seating systems, or sensory chew toys.
    Goal-Setting and Monitoring Occupational therapists work with individuals and their families to set specific goals, and they continuously monitor progress and make necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.
    Social Skills Training They work on social skills training to help individuals engage more effectively with others despite their sensory challenges.

Emotional Regulation and Sensory Processing

Emotional regulation strategies are integral to managing sensory issues. This might involve teaching individuals to recognize their emotional states and use techniques such as deep breathing, taking breaks, or using sensory tools to manage their emotions. Here are eight ways emotional regulation can be managed through sensory processing:

  1. Understanding Sensory Triggers:

    The first step in emotional regulation is understanding which sensory stimuli act as triggers. For instance, some individuals may become anxious or agitated in response to loud noises or crowded places. Recognizing these triggers is the first step toward managing them effectively.

  2. Teaching Self-Awareness:

    Emotional regulation involves self-awareness. Individuals are taught to recognize their own emotions and understand the link between sensory input and emotional responses. For example, they might learn that a particular texture makes them uncomfortable and can lead to frustration.

  3. Use of Calming Techniques:

    Various techniques can be used to calm oneself in response to overwhelming sensory input. This may include deep breathing exercises, counting, or engaging in a preferred calming sensory activity such as rocking or listening to soft music.

  4. Sensory Tools for Regulation:

    Sensory tools can sometimes help emotional regulation. For instance, weighted blankets or vests can provide deep pressure, which is calming for many individuals with sensory processing disorders. Similarly, fidget toys can be helpful for those who need to keep their hands busy to concentrate.

  5. Creating a Safe Space:

    Having a designated safe space where one can go to escape overwhelming sensory input is essential. This space should be tailored to the individual’s sensory preferences and be a place where they can engage in self-regulation strategies.

  6. Building Coping Skills:

    Teaching individuals how to cope with sensory challenges is critical to emotional regulation. This might involve learning how to ask for a break, communicate one’s needs, or use problem-solving skills to figure out how to avoid or modify distressing sensory experiences. Sometimes, emotional regulation involves seeking support from trusted individuals. It is essential to teach people with sensory processing issues how to communicate their experiences and ask for help.

  7. Professional Support:

    In some cases, working with a psychologist or therapist specializing in sensory processing and emotional regulation is beneficial. These professionals can help develop personalized strategies for managing sensory challenges.

  8. Practicing Mindfulness and Meditation:

    These practices can also be helpful for some individuals in managing their emotional responses to sensory stimuli. Individuals can learn to stay present and reduce anxiety through mindfulness and meditation.

Classroom Strategies

Classroom accommodations are as necessary as academic instruction for children with sensory issues. This might include providing a quiet space for breaks, using visual schedules, providing seating options such as stability balls, and incorporating movement breaks. Some of the more common strategies include:

Strategy Description
Creating a Sensory-Friendly Environment Minimize clutter, control noise levels, and ensure adequate lighting that is not too harsh or glaring.
Providing Sensory Breaks Allow children to take breaks from the classroom environment to a designated quiet area to help them self-regulate.
Use of Visual Aids Use visual schedules, charts, and other aids for children with sensory processing issues, particularly visually oriented children.
Alternative Seating Options Provide seating options such as stability balls, wobble cushions, or standing desks for children who struggle to sit still for extended periods.
Incorporating Movement Breaks Schedule movement breaks throughout the day, including stretching, jumping jacks, or simply allowing students to move around the classroom.
Fidget Tools Provide fidget tools for children who need to keep their hands busy to concentrate.
Individualized Instruction Methods Offer varied methods of instruction that cater to different learning styles – visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.
Setting Clear Expectations Set clear and consistent expectations and rules to help reduce anxiety for children with sensory issues.
Collaboration with Occupational Therapists Work together with OTS to formulate and maintain strategies tailored to the sensory needs of specific students.
Social Stories and Role-Playing Use social stories and role-playing to help children with sensory issues navigate social situations.
Adaptive Materials Provide sensory-friendly materials such as pencil grips, paper with raised lines, or headphones.
Positive Reinforcement Encourage and praise children, especially when they use strategies successfully or demonstrate effort in managing sensory challenges.
Teaching Self-Advocacy Encourage students to communicate their needs to help them learn how to ask for their required accommodations.


Diet can play a role in managing sensory issues. Some individuals might have sensitivities to certain foods or find certain textures aversive. Working with a nutritionist to develop a balanced diet that considers these sensitivities can be beneficial.

  1. Sensitivities and Allergies:

    Some individuals with sensory issues might also have food sensitivities or allergies, such as to gluten or casein, which are proteins found in wheat and dairy products, respectively. There is some evidence to suggest that a gluten-free and casein-free diet might alleviate some symptoms in children with autism and sensory processing disorders.

  2. Texture and Taste Sensitivities:

    Certain textures or tastes can be unbearable for individuals with hypersensitivity. This can lead to a very restricted diet, as they might only accept foods with a specific texture or flavor.

  3. Nutritional Balance:

    It must be ensured that individuals receive a nutritionally balanced diet despite the restrictions. Consulting a dietitian or nutritionist familiar with sensory issues can be highly beneficial. They can help devise meal plans that are both acceptable to the individual and nutritionally complete.

  4. Incorporating New Foods Gradually:

    Introducing new foods should be a slow and gradual process for those with sensory issues. It can be helpful to introduce new foods alongside familiar ones in small portions and without pressure.

  5. Sensory Activities Around Food:

    Sensory play activities involving food can sometimes be helpful. For example, having a child help with cooking can expose them to new textures and smells in a non-threatening way.

  6. Consideration of Food Color and Presentation:

    Sometimes, the issue might not be taste or texture but the color or way the food is presented. Paying attention to these aspects might make certain foods more acceptable.

  7. Supplements:

    In cases where dietary restrictions are significant, a healthcare professional might recommend vitamin or mineral supplements to ensure that individuals get the necessary nutrients.

  8. Hydration

    Sometimes, sensory sensitivities can cause aversion to certain beverages; it’s important to find alternatives to ensure adequate hydration.

Gut Health

The connection between gut health and sensory issues, particularly in individuals with autism spectrum disorders, has been a growing area of interest and research. The gut-brain axis, which refers to the bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain, plays a crucial role in modulating behavior and sensitivity to environmental stimuli. Some aspects of this topic include:

  1. Gut Microbiome:

    The gut microbiome comprises trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, that live in our digestive tract. It plays a significant role in digestion, immune function, and mental health. Evidence suggests that the gut microbiome of individuals with autism is different from neurotypical individuals.

  2. Gastrointestinal Issues:

    Many individuals with sensory processing disorders and autism experience gastrointestinal issues such as constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. These issues might exacerbate sensory sensitivities and affect behavior.

  3. Probiotics:

    Probiotics are live microorganisms that aid with digestive health. Some studies have suggested that taking probiotics to promote a healthy gut flora balance can be helpful for individuals with autism and sensory processing disorders, possibly by reducing gastrointestinal issues and modulating the immune system.

  4. Diet and Gut Health:

    As previously mentioned, diet plays a significant role in gut health. A diet that is high in fiber and includes a variety of fruits and vegetables can promote a healthy gut microbiome. On the other hand, a diet that is high in processed foods and sugar can harm gut health. There is some evidence to suggest that improving gut health can have apositive impact on behavior and sensory processing. For example, reducing gastrointestinal discomfort might result in reduced pain and irritability, which could, in turn, reduce sensory sensitivities.

  5. Ongoing Research:

    It’s important to note that research on the gut-brain axis and its role in sensory issues and autism is ongoing. While there is promising evidence, more research is needed to understand the connection fully and to develop effective interventions.


Specific vitamins and supplements have been suggested to have a role in managing sensory issues, especially among individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This is based on the understanding that nutritional components can affect brain function, behavior, and sensory processing. Some supplements to consider include:

  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

    Omega-3 fatty acids, like EPA and DHA, are known for their role in brain health. Some studies have suggested that Omega-3 supplements can improve symptoms of ASD, including sensory issues. These fatty acids might affect neuronal function and reduce inflammation, which could be beneficial.

  2. Vitamin D:

    Some evidence suggests that Vitamin D can play a role in autism and sensory issues. Vitamin D is known to have many functions in the brain, and a deficiency in Vitamin D has been observed in many children with ASD.

  3. Magnesium and B6:

    Some studies have suggested that combining magnesium and vitamin B6 can reduce irritability and improve social responsiveness in children with ASD, which might indirectly affect sensory processing.

  4. Multivitamins and Minerals:

    A general multivitamin and mineral supplement might benefit some individuals with sensory issues, especially if there are any nutritional deficiencies. While vitamins and supplements can be beneficial, having too much of a good thing is possible. Some vitamins can be harmful in excess, and some supplements can interact poorly with other medications or supplements. As always, consult a healthcare provider before starting any new supplements. This is especially true for individuals with sensory issues or ASD, who might be more sensitive to changes in diet or supplements.

  5. Individual Differences:

    There is significant individual variability in how people with sensory issues or ASD respond to vitamins and supplements. What might be helpful for one person might not have the same effect on someone else.

  6. Holistic Approach:

    Supplements should be part of a holistic approach to managing sensory issues, including behavioral interventions, accommodations, and other therapies. While some evidence suggests that certain vitamins and supplements can be beneficial for sensory issues, use them with caution and under the supervision of a healthcare provider. They can be one component of a comprehensive approach to managing sensory issues in individuals with ASD.

INTERESTING TO KNOW: What Are “Super Senses” In Autism?

The term “super senses” refers to the heightened sensory sensitivities and perceptions that many individuals with autism experience. This can manifest as an acute awareness of sounds, lights, smells, textures, and tastes. For example, some individuals with autism have exceptional abilities in terms of hearing and can hear frequencies that are inaudible to most people.

Similarly, some might have an enhanced sense of smell or be extremely sensitive to the texture of fabrics or foods. These heightened senses can sometimes contribute to sensory overload, but in other cases, they can also contribute to exceptional abilities or talents in areas such as music, art, or memory. It’s important to recognize and support these sensory differences in individuals with autism.

The “super senses” that some individuals with autism possess can be both a challenge and an asset. In the context of the workforce, these heightened sensory sensitivities can be channeled into fields and professions where acute sensory perception is an advantage.

  1. Music and Sound Engineering:

    Those with heightened auditory sensitivities, a condition sometimes referred to as hyperacusis, might excel in careers related to music or sound engineering. Their ability to detect nuances in sound that others might miss can be invaluable in composing music, tuning instruments, or refining the audio quality in recordings or live performances. This can also lead to innovative soundscapes and unique musical compositions.

  2. Quality Control:

    Individuals with enhanced olfactory or gustatory sensitivities, known as hyperosmia and hypergeusia, can be excellent in roles requiring quality control, such as in the food and beverage industry. Their ability to discern subtle differences in flavors and aromas can contribute to maintaining high standards for products, ensuring consistency and quality in every batch.

  3. Art and Design:

    Heightened visual sensitivities, or hyper-visual sensitivity, can be particularly beneficial in careers in art and design. An acute awareness of color, texture, and spatial relations can lead to remarkable painting, drawing, graphic design, or photography skills. Some individuals may even experience synesthesia, where when one sensory channel is stimulated, the brain automatically and involuntarily sends signals to the other sensory pathways, such as seeing colors when hearing music.

  4. Textile Industry:

    Those with heightened tactile sensitivities, or tactile hyper-responsiveness, can excel in careers in the textile industry. Their ability to discern minute differences in fabric textures and materials can be useful in quality control, product development, or as fabric and apparel manufacturing consultants. This can lead to the creation of more comfortable and high-quality clothing and textiles.

  5. Data Analysis and Pattern Recognition:

    People with autism often have an exceptional ability to recognize patterns and focus on details for extended periods. This skill, often associated with hyper-systemizing, can be utilized in fields such as data analysis, where scanning large data sets to detect patterns and anomalies is essential. This can lead to significant breakthroughs in data-driven fields.

  6. Memory Competitions and Libraries:

    Some individuals with autism have exceptional memory abilities; a phenomenon sometimes referred to as hyperthymesia. They can use this skill in memory competitions or careers that require cataloging and retrieving information, such as library science. This can lead to more efficient systems of organization and retrieval.

  7. Naturalists and Environment Observers:

    Heightened senses can also be used in environmental or animal studies where observing subtle changes in environments or behaviors is significant. This heightened sense of awareness can lead to more accurate observations and findings, contributing to our understanding of natural and environmental sciences.

We must move toward essential supportive work environments for individuals with heightened sensory sensitivities. Employers and colleagues should be educated about sensory sensitivities, and accommodations, such as providing noise-canceling headphones or allowing for flexible work schedules, should be considered.

What Resources Are There to Help With Sensory Issues?

A wealth of resources is available to assist individuals and their families. Connecting with others through online forums or local support groups can offer firsthand advice and emotional support. Finding local resources for sensory issues can be a valuable step in managing these challenges.

Start by contacting your local health department, schools, and universities, as they often have information about therapists, support groups, and educational resources. Your local library can also be a helpful resource, providing access to relevant books and materials. Online searches tailored to your location can yield additional options, and local support groups can offer firsthand recommendations.

Don’t forget to consult with healthcare providers for their expert advice. Remember, asking questions to ensure the resources meet your specific needs is key.

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    SPD Foundation

    The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation focuses on research, education, and advocacy related to sensory processing disorder, a condition closely associated with autism. SPD Foundation Website

  • 02

    Autism Speaks

    This organization promotes solutions for individuals with autism and their families. They offer a wide range of resources, including toolkits and information on sensory issues. Autism Speaks Website

  • 03


    This website offers resources for learning and thinking differences and has a section dedicated to sensory processing issues. Understood Website

  • 04

    The STAR Institute

    This institute is considered one of the leaders in the treatment, research, and education of Sensory Processing Disorder. They offer occupational therapy services, including a sensory integration approach. STAR Institute Website.

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