Having sensory integration dysfunction is not a clear indicator of having Autism – it is, however, common on the autism spectrum. There are seven sensory areas that can be challenges for children on the autism spectrum that parents and teachers should be aware of in relation to a child’s learning ability.
Sense of Touch – This is an important sense as this can help a person sense if a particular object or place is safe from pain or discomfort. The sense of touch can let a person know if a particular object is hot, sharp, or rough. A person having a problem with this sense will have two distinct issues – the inability to tell the difference between danger or pain, and the inability to tolerate being touched by others and in some cases, not able to tolerate certain clothing fabrics being worn.
Sense of Smell – Problems with the sense of smell can either result in being oversensitive or under-sensitive. A person may smell things that others cannot, or be unable to easily smell things others can smell. Having this problem can cause a person to avoid certain places or people due to odors. If being under-sensitive to smell exists the person can be in danger of consuming bad or expired foods because they cannot smell otherwise clear indicators of bad food.
Sense of Taste – Having problems with oversensitive taste can cause a person to avoid certain foods due to textures or temperatures. Being under-sensitive to taste may cause the person to crave overly hot or spicy foods that a typical person could not consume.
Sense of Sight – Problems with this sense should not to be confused with the ability to see, but the ability to see and comprehend space and distance. This can affect a person in the inability to see objects coming towards them as well as not being able to react to avoid harm. A person can feel overwhelmed by moving objects as they are not able to process what is happening and confused to whether they are in danger or not.
Sense of Balance – A person having this sensory problem may not be able to tell if they are physically moving, or the objects around them are moving. An example of this is driving in a car – confusion in whether they are physically moving, or the car is moving. A person can also be under-sensitive to movement and seek out activities that involve a lot of movement.
Sense of Hearing – This is the ability a person is born with, but understanding sounds is a learned skill. The person can have a problem hearing one sound when other sounds are occurring. An example of this is hearing a person speak when there is music playing in the background. They can be distracted by others sounds in the room.
Proprioceptive Issues – This is the sense of where a particular parts of the body are located in relation to other parts of the body. An example of this would be the inability to walk and clap hands at the same time. This can cause problems with motor skill learning for sports or other activities in school.
Not all senses are affected in someone who has sensory processing disorder, but a parent and teacher should be aware of the sensory challenges and how it can affect a child’s ability to learn as typical children are taught.