As if the stress of dealing with autism on a daily basis were not enough, there are a number of other conditions that can affect an individual along with the autism. Not all individuals with autism will deal with the same additional conditions, but the stress factor for both the parents and child can definitely skyrocket due to the additional conditions. When a condition exists with another one but is independent of the first, the condition is considered to be comorbid. The condition that I would like to talk about in this article is sensory processing disorder.
Sensory Processing Disorder
Sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell are the five senses that help us to experience the world around us. In an individual with sensory processing disorder, the brain has trouble processing the information that is being transmitted through our senses — some individuals may be oversensitive to the information that is being transmitted and in other cases the information might not be processed at all.
For a person with Sensory Processing Disorder, everyday sounds might be overwhelming or painful because they seem to be louder than they are. Certain types of material might hurt their skin. Or they might not be able to eat certain foods due to the texture of the food.
Other individuals may have problems with bumping into things, being uncoordinated and having trouble playing or socializing with other people. They might not feel pain or may jump away when people touch their hands or arms.
Devin’s Sensory Processing Issues
In Devin’s case, he experienced problems with sounds being amplified when he heard them. Our town tests the storm warning siren every Wednesday evening at 6 pm. We quickly learned that if Devin was not in the house and forewarned that it was time for the siren to go off, he would be making a run for the house screaming as if someone was after him! Sometimes if you whispered something in his ear, he would cover his ear like it hurt! And food textures were a big issue — when we were at family gatherings and all of the other kids were eating fruit salads, Devin would refuse them and instead choose potato or macaroni salad! And if he was really nervous or scared, he would bite himself on the hand or arm hard enough to leave teeth marks, but it was as if he did not feel it at all!
Devin also did not handle changes very well. We soon learned that if something that was routine was going to change, we needed to coach him in advance so he would be expecting it. Even then we often ended up dealing with meltdowns and tantrums because of the change from what would normally be happening.
Many children have issues with some of these things — but those issues are not considered to be Sensory Processing Disorder unless the symptoms affect the individual so much that they impact the ability to participate in everyday activities.
How is Sensory Processing Disorder Treated?
Sensory Processing Disorder is not a medically recognized diagnosis — this makes it hard for those affected to get treatment for the symptoms. Most of the time, treatment comes through occupational therapists who work with the child to help them do things and become used to things that they normally would not be able to tolerate. Quite often, this is accomplished through sensory integration — usually play activities that teach the child to react appropriately and to function as others do.
The most frequently used method of working with the child is called “floor time” — sessions where the parent and child play together on the floor. It usually starts with the parent following the child’s lead and doing what the child is doing in order to establish a bond and trust with the child. Once the child has allowed the parent to participate in their activity, the parent begins to participate in ways that correlate to the issues that the child has. If the child is less reactive to the activities around him/her, the parent will become very energetic and active; if the child tends to overreact, the parent will take on a more soothing role.
Over the years with Devin, we utilized a number of different items to help him with his sensory issues. Some of those items will included in my Resource Reviews in an effort to help parents and children with the sensory issues that they experience.
If you have any comments, questions or ideas to share on this topic, please feel free to leave a comment below! Or maybe you have another area related to autism that you would like me to talk about! Just let me know!