Sensory Autism Symptoms in plain English…….
Adults and children with autism often have sensory autism symptoms. They may be underly sensitive or overly sensitive. This will make them either over react or under react to the sights and sounds around them. Problems with the senses are thought to be the origin of stimmimg. Stimming is when you child does something over and over again for instance; flapping their hands, spinning or rocking backwards and forwards. Sometimes the signs of stimming are not always obvious.
The senses that cause this type of behaviour are found in the peripheral nervous system. This system includes everything but brain and the spinal cord. Stimming is thought to come from the central nervous system, which is part of the brain. It often happens when Sensory autism symptoms go into over load. Stimming is a way of calming the brain down. Think of it as a coping mechanism.
The brains job is to mix all the senses together, sending the right signal from the brain to wherever it needs to be.
As the brain mixes the senses together it favours 3 basic senses. Sensory Autism symptoms begin when one or more of the Tactile, Vestibular and Proprioceptive senses are underdeveloped or damaged. These senses start to develop before an unborn baby leaves the womb. They continue to develop and mature as the person grows older and takes an interest in their surroundings. These senses then mix in with the other senses and systems in the brain. Although we like to think we rely on our vision and hearing senses, we could not survive without the other 3.
The Tactile system (Touch, Taste etc)
The tactile system works by reacting to nerves underneath the skins surface and is responsible for us feeling pain, knowing when we are too hot or cold and our reaction to feeling pressure. The tactile system is the one responsible for a child with autism being fussy with food and textures, not liking their hands being dirty and wearing clothing that they feel comfortable in. A child with a tactile system that doesn’t work properly will hate things like having their hair brushed because of the pain it causes.
The Vestibular System (Balance)
The vestibular is located in the inner ear and is responsible for recognising movement and knowing when our head is correctly positioned. When the Vestibular is affected it can cause sensory Autism symptoms and the child will often show a dislike for swings, roundabouts, slides or walking up a hill. Stairs are often difficult both going up and coming down and they may not like walking on something uneven for example a cobbled path. They wont like walking on anything that moves either.
On the flip side of the coin they may look for activities that take this to the extreme such as spinning round or rocking backwards and forwards. This means the child with autism has what is called hypo-reactive vestibular system.
The Proprioceptive System (Body awareness)
The Proprioceptive system is responsible for our muscles, joints and tendons and allows us to be aware of our body positioning and motor skills (see my earlier post here). It is this system, which sends signals to the brain that decide whether we can walk properly, sit upright, ride a bike and use our hands and feet. Children with proprioceptive issues will often have difficulty putting on socks, writing, zips and buttons and tying shoelaces etc.
Is there anyway to improve these senses?
Actually we do this without realising anyway. Doing things like holding your baby in an upright position, rocking and carrying your baby all encourage the vestibular system to work.
Toys that encourage the use of fine motor skills can help a child with sensory autism symptoms. Toys that include turning cogs, building a tower with blocks and learning to dress myself toys will be good for them. Bright colours help to encourage a child visually and things like bells and toy drums can help with audio (not too loud obviously). Seeing your face is just as important as hearing your voice. As your child gets older you may need to enlist the help of your GP or Occupational Therapist.
Practising the things your child struggles with is also good however I do understand that this will quite often cause your child to become frustrated and lead to meltdown. Another way to do it might be to tie it into doing something else. For example getting them to write the shopping list or changing the bed and having to fasten the buttons to keep the duvet from falling out during the night.
You will be surprised how much it helps!
I did all these things and my child still has problems…….
Well, so did I to be honest which leads me back to the vestibular system. The vestibular system can be affected when it is in the early stages of development within the womb. Trauma and stress during pregnancy can affect the vestibular system development, as can a traumatic birth such as a Caesarean section. The vestibular system can also be damaged by middle ear infections of which Alfie had loads of as a child.
Loud noises as a baby can also have an affect on the vestibular system. Alfie used to be absolutely terrified of the sound of the vacuum cleaner and washing machine as a child so he was obviously overly sensitive but it can be the other way around too.
When a child has problems with the vestibular system they might rock, spin or swing (Stimming) all the time especially if they have a vestibular system that is under sensitive. Doing these things helps them stabilise themselves so please don’t try to stop it. It is the brains way of coping. Autism.org suggests using rocking horses, swings, catching a ball, roundabouts and seesaws to help your child develop in this area.
If your child has an overly sensitive Vestibular system they might not be very good at sport, be unable to stop when running quickly, suffer from motion sickness or be unable to cope with activities where the feet are not firmly planted on the ground.
Body Awareness (Proprioception)
Someone who has difficulties with this system will often stand too close to others, invading their personal space or get under your feet when out and about. You may find they also bump into people. They often bump into furniture around the house too.
Alfie is affected by all in all of these sensory autism symptoms. He will often walk so close that he nearly trips me up. He also walk across me, instead of in a straight line. Road safety is hard because Alfie also struggles with distance. He cannot judge how far a car is away from him.
Alfie’s balance is awful. It took him ages to learn to ride a bike. Even now I wouldn’t say he was safe on one. He walks with his head slightly to one side but if he stands still, it returns to normal. This makes complete sense. To others it is not overly obvious but now I blog, I really watch him.
His finer motor skills are the worst. He struggles with the every day things like using a knife and fork, tying his shoe laces, buttons and Zips. However, as long as you give him plenty of time, he copes.
Make a list
It is important that you sit down and work out what your child finds difficult. Make a list. Knowing what causes the problem means you are half way there. Be sensitive to their needs. Find ways to avoid your child being put in a situation that causes meltdown. Remember you child didn’t ask to have these problems! Together you need to work out a way of coping.
It is really important to know the triggers.
Stimming is often a sign that things arent right, so make sure you know the signs.