The sensorial world of an autistic child.
Every day we all use our senses and do so to a great extent subconsciously. We look, we listen, we taste, we smell and we touch. We also use our sense of balance and proprioception, or deep feeling. All this happens harmoniously and one could say „painlessly“.
The autistic child also uses all these „tools“ so that the brain can gather the information needed to function. However, in people with autism, the perception and tolerance of the stimulus is divergent – it is lowered or elevated. Therefore, the brain does not accumulate, organize and process properly. Impulses that reach the brain are either too strong and too numerous, or too weak to be used properly. Consequently, children’s reactions are inadequate and their irrational behavior sometimes leads to alienation.
How autistic children can receive impulses from the outside?
Sounds – Autistic children’s hearing can be either too sharp or dull. As a result, hypersensitive children run away from the sound, such as clambering or murmuring to muffle overwhelming noises. Children with reduced sensitivity may seek hearing impulses, so they do not shy away from loud sounds, screams, etc.
Images – Scientists believe that autistic children have an atypical eye gaze – they are three times more intensive than the average person. They also have the unusual ability to distinguish objects against complex patterns. People with autism often focus on lines, angles, patterns, flying and spinning objects. On the other hand, the problem is focusing on the other person’s face. At the end of the last century, studies have been conducted to show that the sight of a loved one’s face even produces feelings related to anxiety or anger.
Flavors – Autistic children often have trouble eating, some of them do not want to eat certain foods, and others are very eager to eat foods rich in flavors, highly seasoned. It is assumed that the source of aversion to food may be the consistency or taste of dishes, but Dr. Temple Grandin (referred to as the „out“ of autism) in her book; „The Brain of an Autistic Journey into an Extraordinary Mind“ seems to adhere to such a simplistic explanation. After all, the repulsion of undercooked egg whites or „aversion“ of fish (with characteristic odor) is quite common and is not a sign of autism. Fragrances – excessive or insufficient sensitivity to sense of smell is another cause of untypical behavior of people with autism. Children who do not smell odors can look intensely at their sources. Children with hypersensitivity stay away from the odor surrounding them, and it is worth noting that although we do not see each other every day, each of us carries on us dozens of different smells (soaps, shampoos, dishes, moisture, washing powder, perfume, natural skin oils, etc. Also location-specific fragrances, such as the smell of flowers, dust, smoke, gas, cleaners and much more can trigger reactions.
Touch – Children with autism can avoid touching, reluctantly hugging loved ones, or changing clothes, combing or washing. Touch is often an uncomfortable and painful experience for them. With the slightest touch, children can react in gnawing, beating, or scratching.
There are two more senses, which we usually use less consciously. Its balance and deep feeling. The functioning of these senses may also be subject to disturbances.
Proprioception – Children with impaired proprioception like to cuddle, wrap themselves with heavy weighted blankets, squeeze through tight tunnels, chew, clap, jerk, etc. All this is to provide themselves with strong, determined oppression.
Autism is often accompanied by imbalances. Uncertainty of steps, falls, instability, reluctance to walk on curbs, inability to ride a bike, or scooters are some of the behaviors and traits caused by these disorders, or more precisely hypersensitivity to the vestibular system. Hypersensitivity can also lead to avoid tilting or turning the head. With insufficient sensibility of balance, the child is willing to jump, spin, laugh, etc.
Effects of sensory disturbances
Many people do not understand autistic behavior. On the other hand, children affected by this disorder do not understand why other children laugh, cry, and perform different gestures and activities. In this way, a wall is formed between an autistic child and the remaining group; as a result, autistic children close themselves in their world. They avoid new play, take unknown actions, seek new sensations, and even live according to new (disordered) mode of the day. In their reality, everything is predictable, schematic, routine and safe. Such a retraction causes no barrier to be broken and progress is impossible.
Sensory integration therapy
The interruption of isolation during sensory integration therapy can help stimulate development. There may be social education campaigns for autism that are adapted to integrate children with autism into the pre-school and the school system, but fall short on attending to the developmental needs of the child. Therefore, the need to work on the development of autistic people, i.e., sensory integration therapy, is a necessity. This type of therapy is largely based on continuous observation of the child. In the first phase, the therapist locates the source and depth of the disorder. This is possible thanks to a well thought out therapeutic plan, tests and various exercises. The behavior of a child (avoidance or search for specific sensations) is an indicator of the course of treatment.
Therapeutic sessions require the use of special equipment (mattresses, swings, skateboards, ladders, waistcoats and bed linen, etc.). This equipment is intended to help the proprioceptive, atrial and tactile systems to properly receive and process various stimuli.
Exercises are tailored to the child’s abilities so that they are neither too difficult nor too easy for them. They are also often varied, and their collection is corrected and widened, allowing the child to develop skills.
Therapy cannot be tedious or disingenuous. Both the choice of exercise and the personality of the therapist and their ability to connect with patients is important. The greater the openness between them, the more likely it is to diagnose disorders and work better on improving the condition of the child.
The fact that sensory integration therapy has a profound meaning and has convinced the increasing majority of therapists, researchers and patients themselves. Among the latter certainly worth mentioning is Dr. Mary Temple Grandin, an autistic person who has earned the title of animal science professor at Colorado State University. She is the author of books translated into many languages. In 2010, Prof. Grandin was recognized as one of the most influential people according to Time magazine. In her work she described many of her own observations on the life of autistic people, including, the need for deep oppression and the ways and effects of its satisfaction.
A Polish therapist who describes the influence of sensory integration on the functioning and development of children with autism is Zbigniew Przyrowski, a member of the Polish Society of Sensory Integration Therapists. In 2001, he applied weight vests to 31 patients who had autism, ADHD, or gravitational insecurity. Everyone has seen positive changes.