Sensory challenges are the root cause of many of the non-typical behaviors you may see a child, teen, or adult on the spectrum exhibiting. Autism and sensory challenges can result in behaviors that are not always controllable. Most parents work very hard to help their children self-regulate, but it is a learning process for the child that takes time.
Here are some behaviors you may see and what they could mean:
- Some babies or toddlers scream every time they are picked up because they are super sensitive to touch, which may feel painful to them.
- Some children may refuse to allow their their hair cut, brushed, or shampooed because their scalp is too sensitive and it feels extremely painful to have any kind of touch there. Ditto with brushing teeth and the sensitivity of gums.
- A child may find it difficult to pay attention to what you are saying. Eye contact is difficult, especially those who can't process what they are seeing at the same time that they are processing what they are hearing.
- A toddler may throw himself on the supermarket floor and exhibit the signs of a temper tantrum. That is what a sensory meltdown can look like in a young child.
- A child or teen may wet his pants in a store, mall, or other public area. Bright lights and too much noise can cause a person to be unable to 'feel' their body, thus not realizing they need to urinate and accidents happen. For some people, sensory overload form sound or light or the combination of both, prevents them from 'feeling' their body. A person may not feel that their bladder is full until it is too late. (I know some adults with Asperger's who set their cell phone to remind themselves to use the restroom at certain intervals when they leave the house).
- If you always wondered why that boy with autism next door can't seem to keep his clothes on even when it is chilly outside, know that it is not a result of bad parenting, it is that everything feels like sandpaper on his skin.
- A student may grab his ears in pain and run out of a classroom or school building after fire drill bells have gone off. Sometimes they may run after the bell that announces the time to change classes has rung- loud sounds or certain pitches can be excruciating for some students and they seek to escape.
- A student may be copying down the homework assignment from a blackboard, but cannot 'hear' the teacher as she starts her lesson, so then looks lost for the rest of the class time - due to being mono-channel.
- A person may flap his hands in front of his face, flick a piece of string, rock back and forth or engage in other self-stimulatory behavior. This may be either to help him stay calm or a sign he is getting overloaded.
- An adult at a social event may not appear to be listening or paying attention to you as you try to converse with him. He may not be able process what you are saying because of the background noise, as he cannot just focus on your voice. Many adults have explained that trying to act socially correct in gatherings such as meeting or parties is really difficult as they are overwhelmed with the light, the crowd and the background noise that are usual in these situations.