Sensory problems in Autism

Organisation and processing of information from different sensory channels (sound, vision, touch, pain, sense of balance and sense of movement) is important for our day to day living.

We now know that the impairment in sensory processing and organisation is affected in autism.

How do I know if an individual that look after is affected by sensory issues?

The following is a short list of how the sensory problem may manifest.


Individual does not like the hair brushed / washed / cut.

Dislike being touched.

Touch objects or surfaces with face or other parts of the body frequently for no obvious reason.


Constantly touching certain type of surfaces (e.g.: Shiny and smooth surfaces)

Selective about certain type of food with a particular texture (individual may like it or dislike it)

Refusing to wear certain type of clothes or discomfort on wearing new clothes.


Appearing to be less sensitive to pain (e.g.: a child may not cry even when there is an injury)


May react dramatically to bright light (cry or become extremely angry or constantly keep eyes closed in bright light.


Differential response to sound (would not hear if called loudly but would respond to a soft sound).

Fascination with certain sounds or strong reactions to certain sounds.

What can be done about it?

Understanding the sensory profile of the individual will help the carers to link that to the behaviours and thereby manage the behaviour by avoiding certain types of sensory experiences. Building a sensory ladder is often used to understand the degree of arousal level associated with different sensory stimulations.

Sensory Integration is an approach often used by experienced occupational therapists to help individuals with autism to interact with sensory experiences. If used consistently over a period of time, this can reduce excessive sensitivity to certain sensations and help the individual to integrate the sensory experiences better. More information on sensory integration can be found in the sensory integration network web site.

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