Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…
Five Tips for Helping Children with Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism Overcome Sensitivity Issues
Kids with Asperger’s syndrome / autism can be overly sensitive to sounds and textures. Your son may hate something like corduroy because of the way it feels. Or your daughter might go running every time you vacuum, hold her ears when a train passes several blocks away, or cringe when another kid screeches at the playground.
Other common sensitivities are to smell, taste, and light. When any of these are an issue, your child may become irritated and even develop headaches from the overstimulation.
One parent relates a story of her son getting into trouble in school. Her son kept turning off the lights in his first grade classroom. His teacher just thought he was being a trouble maker or wanted attention. It turned out…when he was finally asked why he kept turning off the lights…that they were too bright and hurt his eyes. Oversensitivity to light, smells and noises are all too common. But besides OVERSENSITIVITY your loved one may also be UNDER-SENSITIVE.
It is a common diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome to have sensitivities to light, sound, textures, touch — even how things feel in one’s mouth! Children with autism cope in different ways. One great way to overcome the sensitivities to bright light and sun light is to buy your child a pair of quality sunglasses. I personally like Ray Ban glasses because they have good UV filtering properties. Buy your loved one dark lenses, not light gray.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, we know that some children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome tend to be insensitive to some sensations. You may think that your Asperger’s child is hard of hearing…but this may be due to an insensitivity to sound. Some young children with autism are difficult to toilet train because they do not seem to be very sensitive to being wet.
There are folks with autism who hurt themselves because they are under sensitive to pain and feelings. Sometimes this is referred to as high pain tolerance. They strike themselves or cause themselves pain because this is one way that they feel sensations which normally are lacking.
Sensitivity Issues in Children with Autism Cause Social Problems
Especially during the teenage years, children need to fit in in order to gain acceptance and friends. If your son or daughter dresses in an odd manner or is not conscious of clothing trends, they may become the subject of ridicule or bullying.
Unfortunately, many teens with Asperger’s syndrome wear odd clothing because the clothes that their peers wear are uncomfortable. They may also avoid hugs or physical touch because it is painful or they just hate the feelings. They may only eat odd foods because they cannot stand the smell or texture of the foods that their classmates eat.
Some kids with autism will begin to scream for seemingly no reason as they cup their hands over their ears. In the case of one child, it was discovered that he had a bone condition that made his hearing so sensitive that he could hear very low sounds that most humans do not even hear. And these sounds were so loud to him that he could not stand to hear them. This child would become irritable and grouchy whenever the school’s heating system turned on because he could hear the low rumbling sound of the system…even though it was far from his class room.
Five Tips for Overcoming Sensitivity Issues in Children with Autism
- Look for the source of the problem. Children with autism are still children. Not every irrational or unreasonable action is caused by being on the autism spectrum. Nevertheless, see if you can identify why your child is having problems. Most parents have no realization that the feel of the toppings on a pizza is the reason your child refuses to eat it.
- Recognize that both over and under-sensitivities can cause problems. Many parents are aware that bright lights, loud noises or awful smells send your child into a meltdown. But it is much more difficult to recognize that being under-sensitive can also cause challenges. Look for these things.
- Ask. As in the case of the child who kept turning off the lights in his classroom, ask the child in a calm manner, why he or she is doing what they are doing. And carefully listen to the response. In the case of young children, especially, they may be poor at verbalizing the challenge they are having. They may only say it makes them feel bad or “it hurts”. Recognize that these children are typically telling the truth. Just because lights do not hurt you or you do not hear a sound does not mean that children with autism do not feel pain or hear loud sounds.
- Find accommodations. If your child has difficulty with bright lights, buy them sunglasses. If they feel cold often, buy them gloves. If they have difficulties with clothing because their shirt feels “scratchy” find different materials or buy used clothing (which is often much softer because it has been washed more times).
- Communicate with their teachers. Unfortunately, many teachers or others with whom your child comes in contact are unaware of these special sensitivities that your child has. At the very least, pass this newsletter on to your child’s teachers, their uncles and aunts, grandparents or any other adults who regularly interact with your child. And ensure that they tell you what they observe. Many parents hear little from their autistic child’s teachers about quirky behavior. But these telltale signs can alert a parent to a sensitivity issue that they may not be aware of.
For additional tips and suggestions for helping your child with Asperger’s syndrome live a happy and successful life, check out my books below.