Sensory Matters

We traditionally talk about 5 senses, but the reality is that there are other senses that can negatively impact on autistic people as well as the traditional ones. Above you can see the list and it is important to keep in mind that people can struggle with all of them. This can be in the form of Hyper sensitivity i.e. things being too bright and being so bright that it can cuase headaches or migraines. Or it can be in the form of Hypo sensitivity i.e. the person doesn’t feel as much from the sensation so for example, may not feel cold or feel pain as much as other people. It is estimated that 95% of autistic people face sensory or environmental challenges on a daily basis. This can mean the difference between being able to engage with a community or environment or not actually being able to get out of bed.

Vestibular – This is to do with the person’s sense of balance. If you have an issue with this sense, then it also impact upon your ability to sense where other things or objects are. I regularly walk into the corners of desks or door frames as I don’t judge properly where I am. This is made far worse by cluttered spaces or rooms where there are no real clear pathways through. It adds challenges that can be removed just by thinking about the planning of a room.

Proprioception – Awareness of sensations coming from the body e.g. Muscles, tendons and joints. Some autistic people will unconsciously ‘tap’ their foot whilst sat still, they may not know they are doing it. Another term for this is ‘spatial awareness’ and some people can be described as being like a ‘Bull in a china shop’. This isn’t limited to autistic people, but is often found in autistic people. It is often seen in people who are described as ‘clumsy’ but it must be kept in mind that they can’t help it. People with proprioception issues are not doing things on purpose, they simply cannot help it.   

Interoception – This is related to feelings and senses from inside the body. For most people, if you feel thirsty, then your body sends a message to your brain which translates to an action i.e. “Get a drink”. If you have issues with interoception, then this message might not get through. It is really important if you are supporting somebody with interoception issues, that you keep this in mind. People may need to be reminded to have a drink or something to eat as the sensations of thirst or hunger may not register. Alternatively, other people may not experience the sensation of being ‘full’ so may keep eating until they are sick. It is really challenging and can be distressing for the person, especially if this is centred on the bladder or bowels. For some disabled people, this can be socially challenging especially given the lack of toilet/adult changing facilities available in most cities or venues.

It is important that EVERYBODY keeps this in mind when interacting with autistic people as, you might not mean to, but YOU might actually be the cause of the sensory issues yourself.

Published by neurodiversityacceptance

An autistic man trying to make the world a kinder and more equitable place for all neurodivergent people.

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