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Autism and hyposensitivity sensory problems

Updated on March 23, 2013
Hypovision is just one sensory problems autistic children may face.
Hypovision is just one sensory problems autistic children may face. | Source

My 5 year old son has autism. During his session with the psychologist and based on what we told her, she found him to be particularly hypersensitive to sound and hyposensitive vision. Every sense that we have can either be hypo or hyper sensitive and it can negatively affect how a child perceives the world and how they function in it.

When I’m walking down the street or anywhere in public with my son, he’s always looking back and forth at everything around him. He doesn’t think about any risks to himself and stares at the things that interest him, like the sun or the bright street signs lining the road. Thankfully, he hates not holding onto something or someone so when he falls he doesn’t generally get too hurt. When a car or truck passes by, everything shuts down. He stops walking, covers his ears as tightly as he can, turns in the direction of the sound watching it until he can’t see it anymore then continues on his way. This has caused him to fall and hurt himself a few times, even if he is holding onto someone. He tripped on the sidewalk once because he wasn’t paying attention (one was a little higher than the other) and not listening to us telling him to be careful. But he was so engrossed with trying to minimize the sounds around him that he paid no attention to anyone.

Some of the hyposensitivity issues aren’t dangerous and are more annoyances then anything, but there are a couple that, if your child has them, will make you keep a closer eye on them.

Hypotactility

It’s also known as hypotouch means that their sense of touch is lower than normal and they won’t be able to feel light touches or even pain and temperature extremes. Kids may try to look for opportunities to actually “feel” something so they might bang their heads against the wall, bite themselves or play too roughly with other kids or toys. The danger here is that, if such a child may hurt themselves badly, including breaking bones, and not feel it.

Hypovision

In this case, vision can be impaired to the point that all the person sees is outlines of objects. Symptoms include repeatedly moving hands over objects, touching everything, moving their hands and toys in front of their eyes, loving bright lights or anything else bright (like the sun, colors, etc…), and difficulty controlling their eye movements.

My son has this one. Every toy he has, at some point has gone right up to his eyes like he was trying to see how it worked. If it was a car, it was right next to his eyes as he was rolling it along and he didn’t know how close it was to his face so it would hit his nose all the time. He still does that and now he takes toys (or DVD cases) and moves them back and forth in front of his eyes; he can go the whole day with the same two cases in his hands and move them back and forth and not seem to get bored. At home, and at class, he will sometimes spontaneously stop whatever he’s doing, shake his head, roll his eyes, move them around very fast side to side and blink faster than you can count the blinks.

Hypohearing

If a child has this, they actively seek out any sounds like people talking, or loud sounds like a vacuum or loud music, sirens, etc… They’ll also make loud sounds themselves like banging things together. A hyposensitive child will not understand what you’re saying to them and you will have to say it again to them louder.

Hypotaste

Also known as hypo-oral is displayed by children always having to put things in their mouths and taste it. Basically nothing is off-limits to these kids so you have to be on the lookout for things that shouldn’t go in their mouths and keep a closer eye on them to be sure they don’t put something in their mouths that could cause them an injury. Some kids may suffer from excessive drooling and walk around with their mouths open. Some of them may also regurgitate food or anything else that they may have eaten.

Hyposmell

Kids will generally be drawn to smelly places (both good smell and bad smell places!), like the kitchen if you’re making dinner and they will constantly smell anything and everything around them just to see if it smells and how it smells. They’ll love very strong scented bath soaps or gels simply because of the smell they have.

Vestibular hyposensitivity

The vestibular system is what gives you your sense of balance. Simply put, this is when a child can swing around and around or rock themselves without getting dizzy or nauseous. They can also be unaware of being moved or not even realize that they are falling and won’t be able to protect themselves by putting their hands in front of them if they do fall.

Proprioceptive hyposensitivity

This is one of the dangerous hyposensitive problems. The child has no awareness of where they are or where their body is in space and so they bump into objects, and people, seem “floppy” and lean against people or furniture. They stumble around a lot and they tend to fall quite often. They may not be able to register their own bodily sensations (like hunger and having to go to the bathroom).

Treatment

The best course of action for hyposensitivity is occupational therapy. I’m not sure how it works for other areas, but in my province we’re on two waiting lists. The first is the one for therapists provided by the province and the other is for a private occupational therapist. The waiting period for both is between 9 months and a year for the services. If you are able to get therapy it would be a great help to your child.

You can also buy sensory toys (made for whichever issue your child has) to help stimulate the sense. Allow your child to choose his clothes which would let him pick the kind that they like. Some prefer the heavy or textured fabrics so they feel it when they move while others might prefer lighter clothing. Skin brushing is another way to help; it’s a great way to stimulate their sense of touch and a way to calm them down.

The effects of hyposensitivity can vary between a mild annoyance to a dangerous issue. Knowing which problem your child has is half the battle; knowing how to address it and help them overcome it could help make daily living a little easier for the both of you.

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