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Sensory Integration Dysfunction

Updated on May 11, 2019

What is it?

Sensory Integration Dysfunction is something that frequently gets diagnosed alongside autism. Sensory integration is something that most people have very little issues with, but with autistic kids magnifies their social problems and outbursts.

Most of you have a specific food you don't like or won't eat, or know someone who has these issues. Frequent offenders are eggs and yogurt, due to texture. It isn't the taste, but the way the food feels in your mouth that makes you uncomfortable.

How many of you cringe at the feeling of touching something slimy or "gross?"

While it could just be an aversion to dirty things, this may also be a manifestation of sensory integration dysfunction.

Photo: Ciphers

What SID affects

Sensory integration dysfunction affects our senses. Notice how I avoided the "5 senses" there. There are actually quite a bit more than 5.

When you consider how many senses the human body has, and that sensory integration dysfunction can affect any or all of them at any given time, and to varying degrees, it makes sense that children with SID can sometimes act odd to seemingly innocuous things.

I am going to give some examples here, focusing on the 5 senses, simply because they are the senses we are most familiar with.

What is it like to have SID?

The best explanation I have heard regarding what it was like to have SID came from one of my son's occupational therapists. She said that someone with SID might feel something much more or much less than what you would expect, or even differently.

For example, a tap on the shoulder might be painful to someone with SID. Tags in the back of clothes could be horribly itchy, and intolerable. The feel of wind over your skin might feel like tickling.

Some textures are also intolerable. If I try to feed my son certain foods, he will gag, and even vomit. Tomatoes and peaches are particularly problematic.

It is a trial and error process trying to get him to eat new things.

Vestibular Dysfunction

My autistic son, Devin really disliked having his head touched when he was younger. As he grew older, he started flicking both sides of his head around the ear area, a sort of stimming act.

I suspect this is some sort of dysfunction of the vestibular sense. Devin has always had problems with movement and balance, and I think this is a manifestation of these problems.

Sensitive to sounds

My son is very sensitive to sounds, especially of echoes. When he was very young, before his diagnosis with autism, I recall going into Sam's Club, which is a membership based warehouse store owned by Wal-Mart.

Devin immediately reacted by covering his ears and crying. It was not particularly loud in there, but the high ceilings created a good bit of echo.

Feedback Sound

This is what I imagine Devin might have been hearing.


Because of all this input that gets jumbled up, kids with SID sometimes have a lot of trouble with life. They might cry, scream, hit, or jump up and down. They might do some very odd things to try to cope with their sensory issues. Forcing the child to do something will almost always backfire. A slow and steady introduction of new things and sensations will pay dividends on the long term.

Devin used to only ever eat grain products on a daily basis. Cereal, pancakes, waffles, et cetera. We have slowly introduced new things to him, and his diet is expanding, though slowly. If we were attempt to serve him something he couldn't handle, then Devin would just go hungry. He would starve himself over eating the new food.

Instead, we took it slow.

First we just put a new food on his plate, but didn't make him eat it. This upset him quite a bit, but after a few days he could tolerate it.

Then, we would have him touch the food to his lips and tongue.

Then, small bites, but not requiring him to swallow.

Finally, he would take bites and even eat some of it.

We've expanded his diet quite a bit this way, and the more new foods you introduce, the easier it will be to get your child to accept other new foods.

These steps we took to introducing new foods can be adapted for every sense to help the child develop more fully and hopefully flourish to be the best they can be.


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