April is autism awareness month.
Day 4: Sensory processing issues
Sensory processing issues impact on all aspects of Dylans day. In fact it’s often difficult to tell where autism stops and the sensory processing element of him begins.
Growing up with sensory processing difficulties you tend to find a range of coping or avoidance strategies to be able to get by. The image below labels a lot of the characteristics of SPD (sensory processing disorder). It’s strange how only when seeing it like this in black and white can you appreciate just how huge these difficulties are in everyday life.
Dylan will now wash his own hair but won’t ever brush it.
We had many tears for many years with haircuts at home (from him and me!). Only with the help of an ABA programme for hair cutting we gradually helped Dylan become desensitised to scissors or clippers near his hair. It took many months but Dylan is now thankfully able to attend a public barbers for his hair to be cut. He still whines and wimpers; it is clearly very uncomfortable for him. But he is confident that the discomfort is shortlived and he appears to feel better when his hair is shorter.
2- Shield eyes from bright light or stare at bright lights .
Dylan won’t set foot in the bathroom with the light on. He requests ‘off’ before he has his turn in the bath. We have downlights in the bathroom and yes it’s bright but it clearly affects Dylan to the point where he can’t go in the room until the lights are off.
On the flip side of this, when much younger he would walk up to the tv and press his nose on the screen staring absolutely fixated by the bright lights from the images on the screen. Thankfully this has settled now. Before I knew of or understood SPD I was so worried about how he was damaging his sight.
3- Oversensitive to loud sounds.
**Hand dryers in public toilets.
These sounds all send Dylan over the edge. He becomes incredibly anxious and clingy with these noises. We have started to use ear defenders to reduce Dylans anxiety with these noises. He won’t independently use the defenders but if we see he is unsettled we suggest them and he’ll get them out of his bag and put them on. They seem to help.
**Loud christmas singing decorations
These sounds over excite Dylan. A baby crying will make Dylan laugh and cackle until he has tears streaming. Again this may be a stress response but it is decidedly different from the more fearful responses to other sounds.
4- Chew on different materials and textiles
Dylan will often chew on his bedding or towels when settling. He will shred them into threads which then get balled up in a big spitty mess that has posed a big choking risk in the past. We try and avoid this as much as possible.
Dylan isn’t often seen without a selection of drinking straws. He had a heirarchy of straw standards and will dump one of when he had the option of a new, unchewed one. This is his biggest pacifier for him at the moment. From the minute he wakes to him going to sleep he needs to know where his straws are.
They’re his favourite toy.
5- Poor fine motor skills
Cutting and buttons both had a designated ABA programme to teach them as functional skills. Handwriting is improving but still very large and messy and requires ongoing prompting and support with pen control.
Only practice I think will develop this.
6-I like to smell food, objects or people.
Offer Dylan a biscuit barrel or food item and he’ll take it, sniff it and if not desired will try to put it back. Sniffing is the decider for if somthing is to be eaten.
Same with new objects. A good sniff will determine if the ball is worth playing with or if the glue will stick.
Dylans smell interest expands to personal hygiene with huge amounts of deodorant and toiletries being used daily. The smellier the better.
7- Difficulty dressing myself
Dylan has been taught to wear t shirts, both the right way around and not inside out. He wears pull on shorts or jogging bottoms. Jeans are too difficult. Shirt buttons are too difficult. All clothes are pull on and off. Shoes are velcro fastened, no laces.
8- Poor gross motor skills
Dylan has just leart to ride a bike, however he struggles with most areas of physical education, sports, balancing and climbing. On struggling with this Dylans anxiety increases resulting in him often becoming emotional or distressed when in these situations.
9- Same shoes.
All the time 😨
In winter or when its wet outside Dylan will wear trainers but this is only encouraged by us putting the crocs away out of reach for the winter. Dylan will always go barefoot as a default but we quickly discourage this. He has had so many sores to his feet from being barefoot, we always remind him to wear shoes.
10 – Walk in tiptoes.
This is a skill we had to teach Dylan as part of occupational therapy. The reflex of walking on tip toes was missing for Dylan so we taught it to him over a month. Also walking on heels on the inside of his foot and the outside of his foot. He just couldn’t do it. All these skills which are deemed as instinctive were missing for Dylan.
11- Clumsy and stumble over things.
Yes. And Dylan is a boy who likes to have his feet firmly on the ground. He will trip over apparently nothing. He often drops things or goes to put a cup on the table but will misjudge it either spilling the drink or knocking the whole cup over. This upsets him and makes him anxious.
12- I can detest being tickled and squuezed or I can adore it.
And at the same time.
Occupational therapists often describe children as being either over or under sensitive to touch. I would sit in these parent training sessions and ask
‘But what if your child is both?’
Dylan would laugh at a tickle for 5 mins then all of a sudden act as if you are tickling him with a red hot poker. No therapist ever answered me.
‘You cant have both’ they would say.
13- Tags on clothing.
Not a problem. I think we just have naturally accustomed to tags or labels being problematic.
14- Selective with food.
Dylan loves his food but will not eat anything soft with something crunchy. For example Dylan will have crumble but no custard. He hates egg. And cheese. He seeks out hot, spicy salty flavours.
Dylan’s diet is not too limited but he definitely has his favourites.
For example; if sitting for a roast dinner Dylan will eat his potatoes first. Then he will ask for everyone else’s potatoes until everyone around the table has eaten all of their potatoes before he will move onto eating his meat. Once his meat is finished he again won’t eat his vegetables until everyone’s meat is also eaten, just incase he gets a little bit more from someone. When everyones meat has gone and there’s no chance of anymore he will then eat his vegetables.
He forever lives in hope of getting some more of his favourite foods 😂😂
So that’s just a quick, non exhaustive, whistle stop tour of Dylan and his sensory needs; needs which intertwine and conflict with one another, causing Dylan confusion and anxiety.
Dylan doesn’t have a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder. It is considered that these sensory needs are incorporated within his diagnosis of autism.