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Sensory Traits of Children on the Autism Spectrum

Parents and teachers who interact with kids and teens who have Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) often observe unusual sensory responses. For instance, these young people are often hypersensitive to certain visual stimuli (e.g., fluorescent lights) and certain sounds (e.g., echoing noises in a school gym). This sensitivity can cause agitation and behavior problems.

Some children with AS and HFA have been reported to have a high tolerance for physical pain. In addition, kids on the spectrum commonly engage in self-stimulatory responses (e.g., obsessive object spinning, light filtering, etc.) and other unusual stereotyped patterns of behavior. These behaviors are most often displayed when the youngster is under stress or when he experiences fatigue, sensory overload, etc. The sensory issues of kids and teens with AS and HFA appear similar to those with autism; however, their reactions to sensory issues seem more overt than those seen in children with autism.

Hypo-sensitivities (i.e., low sensitivity) to sensory input may include:
  • A constant need to touch people or textures, even when it’s inappropriate to do so
  • An extremely high tolerance for - or indifference to - pain
  • Clumsy and uncoordinated movements
  • Doesn’t understand personal space even when same-age peers are old enough to understand it
  • Enjoys movement-based play (e.g., spinning, jumping, etc.)
  •  May be very fidgety and unable to sit still
  • Often (unintentionally) harms other children and/or pets when playing because he doesn’t understand his own strength
  • Seems to be a “thrill seeker” and can be dangerous at times

Hyper-sensitivities (i.e., high sensitivity) to sensory input may include:
  • Avoids hugs and cuddling, even with parents
  • Avoids standing in close proximity to others
  • Doesn’t enjoy a game of tag
  • Doesn’t like her feet to be off the ground
  • Extreme response to - or fear of - sudden, high-pitched, loud, or metallic noises (e.g., flushing toilets, clanking silverware, other noises that are not offensive to others)
  • Extremely fearful of climbing or falling, even when there is no real danger
  • Fearful of surprise touch
  • Has poor balance, and may fall often
  • May notice and/or be distracted by background noises that others don’t seem to hear
  • Overly fearful of swings and playground equipment
  • Seems fearful of crowds

Researchers have conducted studies on sensory issues with AS and HFA children. The vast majority of subjects who participated in the studies had impairments in the following areas:
  • emotional reactive
  • inattention/distractibility
  • low/endurance tone
  • oral sensory sensitivity
  • poor registration
  • sedentary

More than 75% of these subjects demonstrated behavioral problems when sensory issues were violated. The researchers concluded that AS and HFA children have a sensory profile distinctive from “typical” children and are apt to demonstrate disruptive behaviors when they encounter sensory problems.

Addressing sensory issues requires looking beyond the behavior to interpret its reason before designing an intervention. As in all interventions, a team approach works best (i.e., parents, teachers, and other caretakers working together). Furthermore, when dealing with sensory issues, an occupational therapist or other professional trained in sensory integration can be a valuable multidisciplinary team member.

Many of the interventions are easy to implement at home and school. Nonetheless, parents and teachers should work together as a team to pinpoint the behavior a youngster exhibits (i.e., incident), its cause (i.e., interpretation), and practical solutions (i.e., intervention).

A programmatic technique for responding to sensory issues is often beneficial to kids and teens on the spectrum. One program, the visually-based “How Does Your Engine Run: The Alert Program for Self-Regulation,” seems particularly well-suited to the needs of these “special needs” kids. This program was designed to help these children recognize their sensory needs. It helps them to recognize their level of alertness and compare it to task demands. If the two do not match, the youngster (after completing a series of lessons) is taught to adjust her arousal level to match task demands. To accomplish this, there are a variety of interventions grouped into 5 categories: aural, movement, oral, touch, and visual. The program is designed for occupational therapists to use in conjunction with parents and teachers.

As any one behavior may have many sensory causes, it is difficult to set forth a series of universally applied recommendations that can be implemented at home and school. Intervention is effective when it directly addresses the function of the behavior.

Here are some videos that look at the sensory challenges that many children and teens on the autism spectrum must face:

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Behavioral Interventions for Children with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism

 "We're trying not to use the same discipline methods with our autistic child (high functioning) that we use with the other two children, but we fall back into old habits and end up using traditional methods that usually backfire. Any suggestions?"

Many kids and teenagers with Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) are prone to behavior problems, and on occasion, aggression. Even though frequently motivated to be near to – and to socially interact with – peers and grown-ups, young people with AS and HFA are deficient in age-appropriate, reciprocal social interaction skills (e.g., those required to participate in cooperative play and related activities).

A propensity for socially unacceptable behavior and insensitivity to – or unawareness of – verbal and nonverbal social cues makes these “special needs” kids vulnerable to displaying a variety of behavior problems. Accordingly, parents and teachers must provide appropriate instruction and supports for AS and HFA children to progress and experience success at home, school, and in the community.

Traditional discipline may fail to produce the desired results for kids with AS and HFA, mostly because they have difficulty appreciating the consequences of their actions. Therefore, punitive measures are apt to exacerbate the type of behavior the punishment is intended to reduce, while at the same time giving rise to distress in both the parent (or teacher) and child.

The same basic behavior management model that is used with “typical” kids can also be applied when crafting management supports for kids on the autism spectrum. That is, teams of parents and professionals should cooperatively:
  • target socially valid and pivotal responses for change
  • ensure careful measurement of targeted responses selected for change
  • systematically analyze behaviors that are identified for change relative to their functions and environmental and antecedent factors connected to their occurrence
  • select and systematically implement and evaluate appropriate interventions and treatments

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management

Behavioral interventions entail manipulation of antecedent conditions (i.e., what happens immediately prior to the behavior problem) as well as use of consequences for targeted behaviors. Approaches that seem to work best with these young people give them an opportunity to participate in developing and implementing their own behavior management systems. Thus, whenever possible, AS and HFA kids should be involved in their own program development and implementation.

In order to be successful, behavioral interventions should be applied consistently across all areas of the youngster’s life. Also, the longer a particular problematic behavior has been evident, the longer it will take to change it. Therefore, it may take a while for the chosen strategies to be effective. The job for parents and teachers is to focus on the behavior they would like to increase or decrease.

One specific behavioral intervention that has been found to be useful with many kids on the spectrum is cognitive behavior modification. This is a strategy that teaches the child to monitor his own behavior or performance, and to deliver self-reinforcement at established intervals. In this technique, the locus of behavior control is shifted from an external source (e.g., the parent or teacher) to the child.

Cognitive behavior modification can be used to facilitate a variety of behavior changes, including following various specific house and classroom rules, and attending to assigned tasks at home and school. The following is an example of this technique:

One AS teen was assisted in monitoring and changing his "stalking" behavior at school. The teen had become a concern to school officials and his mother because of his serial interest in attractive girls in his school (none of whom he knew personally). His obsession with any one female student typically lasted less than a week. But during this time, he attempted to walk with these girls from class to class, sit with them at lunch, etc., at every opportunity.

Even though the female students protested loudly and did not encourage the AS teen’s interest in any way, it had no impact on his behavior! Furthermore, negative consequences for this behavior (e.g., detention, suspension) only seemed to exacerbate the problem.

However, the AS teen did respond positively to a cognitive behavior management program. His school counselor and homeroom teacher used a videotaped sequence of his stalking behavior to assist him in understanding that his behavior was inappropriate. He then was:
  • instructed to use a self-monitoring system structured by the school's bell system for signaling transitions
  • taught to use a self-recording system related to his contact with his peers
  • taught to use a self-reinforcement system

 ==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

The self-reinforcement he selected was to spend time with classmates who agreed to sit with him at lunch and walk with him during class transitions. Social skill instruction related to his behavior during these peer contacts also proved to be beneficial.

It is crucial that parents and teachers recognize – and plan for – problems related to aggression and violence. Not all AS and HFA children have these problems, and most are not inherently aggressive. Nonetheless, it is important to recognize that problems of aggression in some of these young people do arise from time to time.

The social deficits connected with AS and HFA (e.g., difficulty in engaging in age-appropriate reciprocal play) frequently create problems and frustrations that may escalate into aggressive responses and counter-actions. For instance, one youngster with AS had difficulty interacting with friends as a result of not understanding commonly known and accepted social rules, As a result, he gave the appearance of being rude and unwilling to follow generally understood game rules.

With some planning on the part of parents and teachers – and hard work on the part of the AS or HFA child – social skills can be learned and practiced on a daily basis. It may not come naturally, but it is very possible for young people on the autism spectrum to discover the basic ability in socialize in an acceptable manner.

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

Click here
to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content