Kids Like Me Blog

Sensory Processing: Connecting with the External World

If you have any involvement or experience within the autism population then the term ‘sensory processing’ has come up more than once.

Sensory processing is how our brain relates information from the external world to the internal world.  This is done via our five senses: vision, auditory, touch, olfaction, and taste, as well as from the sense of movement (vestibular system), and/or the positional sense (proprioception). These brain-external world connections start forming before birth and continue to develop as the person matures and interacts with his/her environment.  Our ability to take in the world around us allows for accurate perceptions of the environment.  When we understand our environment, our protective reactions increase along with and feelings of safety.

Those with sensory processing deficits still receive information from the senses, but the information is perceived abnormally and processed in the brain in an unusual way.  Dysfunctional sensory processing results in hyper- or hypo- sensitivity to external stimuli; meaning those who experience it often encounter over stimulation or under stimulation. For example, a flickering light can seem like a strobe light, the iPod turned to its maximum volume might seem like the only way to understand the music, and certain fabrics may feel like wearing sand paper.  These misinterpretations of the senses can lead to irritability, distractibility, hyper activity, self-injurious behaviors, or stereotyped behaviors.

Sensory processing difficulties are not considered an official characteristic for a diagnosis of autism; however I have yet to work with a client who did not have some degree of sensory processing difficulty.  Most typical behaviors associated with autism are related to meeting the needs of the senses: rocking, spinning, head banging, vocal inflection etc.  Both my office and a majority of the classrooms at our specialized school are designed with sensory processing in mind, from the lighting, to the sound reducing head phones, to the weighted vests, and even the presence of squishy stress balls.

Sensory integration techniques and play with your child can increase attention, awareness, and reduce overall agitation.  Every parent and teacher can create a “sensory diet” specific to each individual child’s needs by increasing or decreasing the surrounding sensory input.   Check out these great links for ideas to create the perfect sensory diet for your child to make their world more enjoyable:

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Contributed by Kids Like Me Assistant Director, Jessica Bernal


Evaluating the Importance of Extracurricular Activites for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

It is no secret individuals who participate in recreational activities are happier and have a higher quality of life.  Whether it is sports, groups, or clubs; movement, engagement, connection, and community are essential aspects of life.  Many individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder experience restrictions in the range of recreational activities in which they are able to participate.  Some difficulties for children on the spectrum include poor motor skills, sensory sensitivity, emotional regulation, and understanding social cues.  For these reasons, children with autism are often left out due to the belief that they are incapable of participating.

Often children on the spectrum may be resistant to sports and other new activities.  Current research shows that modifying and adapting activities can result in more positive experiences.  Through participation of activities, such as art, karate, basketball, tennis, drama, and dance could potentially increase communication skills, improve focus as well as increase social reciprocity.  In addition, children with autism show decreased stereotypies and self-injurious behaviors while engaged in recreational activities.

Children with autism are often teased and bullied, so they are unable to enjoy extracurricular activities.  Participating in specialized activities developed especially for children on the spectrum will increase confidence, self-esteem, and sense of belonging. Parents also receive the opportunity to see their child thrive along with have a community of others parents as their support system.

Healing Thresholds; Collaborating to Support Meaningful Participation in Recreational Activities of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder; M.C. Potvin, P.A. Prelock, L. Snider; September 2009

New York Times: A Can-Do Approach to Autistic Children and Athletics (2006)

Contributed by Kids Like Me Director, Nicole Webb

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