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Problems with "Sensory Overload" in Children on the Autism Spectrum

Question

My children (3 teens---2 still at home--plus a 3-yr-old) all have ASD (level 1). They have the disability as well as dealing with others (including one parent) who also have ASD. As a result, people are oversensitive to sensory input and comments and, of course, go from 0 to 100 in seconds. I have a great deal of difficulty heading off the mood escalations and defusing the situation once it has started. I need any suggestions for quicker resolution, etc. that will help us function more effectively.

Answer

Children with sensory issues can be taught to understand how they are “wired” and adjust to the blended flood of incoming sensory messages that is their norm. Learning to understand their triggers will help them cope. For some, the labels on their shirts or itchy socks may overwhelm their senses and shut down their ability to listen to parents. Becoming aware of the irritation will enable them to remove the cause, and then better process auditory messages.

Providing a less stimulating environment is the key to helping these children. Many ASD (high-functioning autistic) children outgrow their sensory-overload issues. By adolescence, many of the symptoms are better managed as the child learns coping skills. Helping the child identify his overwhelming sensations and providing quiet spaces can speed the process of understanding his own triggers and enable him to be more functional and better adjusted. 
 

Sensory overload is when autistic youngsters are faced with so much sensory stimuli that they can't process it all, and they then find a way of dealing with that situation that - to them - seems out of control. 
 
For example, if you have your child at the mall and people are coming up to tell you how cute he is and there is background music playing, then you may have a youngster that begins to throw a tantrum – and to you it may seem like there was absolutely no reason for it. But for a child on the spectrum, such a situation is more than he can take. It is too much information for him to try to process, and he breaks down.

As ASD kids with sensory issues get older, they will outgrow some of these problems on their own. Other kids will require the help of Occupational Therapists, and still others will have sensory problems with them for a life time.

The cause of Sensory Integration Dysfunction (the formal term for sensory problems) is not yet known. Kids who have other disabilities - and kids who were born extremely premature - are more likely to have Sensory Integration Dysfunction, but it is also known to be a condition that some otherwise healthy kids have.

Because of the mystery that surrounds this condition (and the limited information), most people aren't accepting or understanding of children who have this problem. Therefore, if you find that your youngster has this condition, you should find a great therapist and have them give you information to share with your youngster's school and other family members so that they are better prepared to help him or her.
 
 


 
Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
 
 

Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Associated Relationship Problems

"Is it common for children with ASD to have a great deal of difficulty relating to their peers in a proper manner? My son tends to burn bridges (so to speak) rather quickly with his friends."
 
ASD level 1 (high-functioning autism) often leads to problems in social interaction with peers. These problems can be severe or mild depending on the individual. Kids with ASD are often the target of bullying at school due to their idiosyncratic behavior, precise language, unusual interests, and impaired ability to perceive and respond in socially expected ways to nonverbal cues, particularly in interpersonal conflict. 
 
Kids on the autism spectrum may be overly literal, and may have difficulty interpreting and responding to sarcasm, banter, or metaphorical speech. Difficulties with social interaction may also be manifest in a lack of play with other kids.

The above problems can even arise in the family. Given an unfavorable family environment, the youngster may be subject to emotional abuse. A youngster or teen with ASD is often puzzled by this mistreatment, unaware of what has been done incorrectly. Most kids on the spectrum want to be social, but fail to socialize successfully, which can lead to later withdrawal and asocial behavior, especially in adolescence. 
 
 
At this stage of life especially, they risk being drawn into unsuitable and inappropriate friendships and social groups. People with ASD often interact better with those considerably older or younger than themselves, rather than those within their own age group.

Young people with ASD often display advanced abilities for their age in language, reading, mathematics, spatial skills, and/or music—sometimes into the "gifted" range—but this may be counterbalanced by considerable delays in other developmental areas. This combination of traits can lead to problems with teachers and other authority figures. A youngster with ASD might be regarded by teachers as a "problem kid" or a "poor performer." 
 
The youngster’s extremely low tolerance for what they perceive to be ordinary and mediocre tasks, such as typical homework assignments, can easily become frustrating; a teacher may well consider the youngster arrogant, spiteful, and insubordinate. Lack of support and understanding, in combination with the youngster's anxieties, can result in problematic behavior (such as severe tantrums, violent and angry outbursts, and withdrawal).

Two traits sometimes found in individuals on the spectrum 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 oneself or others), which reduce the ability to be empathetically attuned to others. Alexithymia in ASD functions as an independent variable relying on different neural networks than those implicated in theory of mind. In fact, lack of Theory of Mind may be a result of a lack of information available to the mind due to the operation of the alexithymic deficit.

A second issue related to alexithymia involves the inability to identify and modulate strong emotions such as sadness or anger, which leaves the individual prone to “sudden affective outbursts such as crying or rage.” The inability to express feelings using words may also predispose the individual to use physical acts to articulate the mood and release the emotional energy.

People with ASD report a feeling of being unwillingly detached from the world around them. They may have difficulty finding a life partner or getting married due to poor social skills. The intense focus and tendency to work things out logically often grants people with ASD a high level of ability in their field of interest. When these special interests coincide with a materially or socially useful task, the person on the spectrum can lead a profitable career and a fulfilled life. The youngster obsessed with a specific area may succeed in employment related to that area. 
 

What is ASD like?
  • It affects individuals all of their lives, but as individuals get older they get better at social and coping skills.
  • Many great scientists, writers and artists are thought to have had Aspergers, including many Nobel Prize winners.
  • Individuals with ASD can do well when others understand the effects of the syndrome on their behavior and learning, and provide a supportive environment.
  • They find it hard to relate to other individuals.
  • Some individuals who are said to be eccentric loners may have ASD.
  • The effects of autism can vary from slightly unusual behavior to quite aggressive and anti-social behavior.
  • They have trouble understanding the feelings of other individuals and they do not seem able to read body language. For example, a person with ASD may not realize when they have hurt someone's feelings, or when someone doesn't want to listen to them.
  • They like everything to be the same, and everything to be in the right place. They can get very upset if something is done 'the wrong way'.
  • They may talk a lot about their own interests, but have problems getting the message across or giving others the chance to talk.

Secondary School—
  • It can seem as though they are really bright because they know a huge amount about something they are interested in, but they might have trouble keeping up with other subjects.
  • Other students get better at interpersonal relationships as they grow older, but it can become more difficult for a student with ASD to be involved in friendship groups. However, they may enjoy groups which follow their special interest (e.g., science clubs).
  • Secondary school can be very stressful for students with ASD because they have a different timetable each day, several different teachers, and have to move between classrooms. These changes can be really stressful for someone who likes everything to be the same.

Teenagers with ASD are usually able to manage stressors better than younger kids, and behavior problems at school may be less of an issue at secondary school. However a teenager on the spectrum  may be so worn out after 'holding it together' all day at school that he or she may 'fall apart' at home.
  • It may be possible to negotiate with teachers to reduce the amount of homework or extend tasks over a longer time.
  • Feeling tired after school is often a problem, and facing up to homework at the end of the day can be very stressful for someone who has already had a stressful day.
  • A school counselor can help to work out strategies for dealing with problems, which might include a place to work alone if things get too hard sometimes.

 
Adult Life—
  • If partners and kids are able to learn more about ASD, they are often more able to understand the behavior and live more comfortably with the person who has autism.
  • Individuals with ASD also need to understand relationships better and learn more about how their behavior and emotions can affect others.
  • Most individuals on the spectrum can form strong bonds with a few friends, marry and have kids.
  • Peer support groups can also be helpful for partners and kids. Check on the internet to see if there are support groups in your area.
  • Their anxieties and difficulties with the subtleties of relationships can be confusing and upsetting to partners and their kids.

Problems for Brothers and Sisters—

It can be difficult if you have a brother or sister with ASD.
  • Parents often have to spend a lot more time with the youngster who has autism, so that you can feel you are missing out.
  • Their behavior can be difficult to live with because they don't relate to others well.
  • They may have frequent tantrums when things don't go their way, and this can be embarrassing to you, especially if your friends are around.
  • You may have to watch out more for your brother or sister to protect them from others, such as protecting them from being bullied.

Understanding more about Autism Spectrum Disorder may help you interact more successfully with your brother or sister.

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