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What is Physical Autism?

Physical autism, also known as sensory processing disorder, is a condition where an individual has difficulty processing sensory information. This disorder can manifest differently in each person.

Understanding Sensory Issues in Autism

For individuals with autism, sensory issues play a significant role in their daily experiences. These issues can have a profound impact on how individuals perceive and interact with the world around them. Understanding sensory issues in autism is crucial for parents and caregivers to provide appropriate support and create a sensory-friendly environment.

What are Sensory Issues?

Sensory issues refer to atypical responses to sensory stimuli that individuals with autism may experience. The sensory system involves the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste) as well as the proprioceptive and vestibular systems, which provide information about body position and movement.

In autism, sensory issues can manifest in two primary ways: hyper-sensitivity and hypo-sensitivity. Hyper-sensitivity refers to an increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli, while hypo-sensitivity refers to a decreased sensitivity or seeking of sensory input. These sensory processing differences can impact how individuals with autism perceive and respond to their surroundings.

The Impact of Sensory Issues in Autism

Sensory issues in autism can have a profound impact on various aspects of an individual's life. These impacts may vary from person to person, but some common effects include:

  • Emotional and Behavioral Responses: Sensory issues can trigger emotional and behavioral responses in individuals with autism. For example, a loud noise may cause anxiety or distress, leading to behaviors such as covering ears or seeking a quieter environment.
  • Communication and Socialization: Sensory issues can affect communication and socialization skills. For instance, sensitivity to eye contact or physical touch may make it challenging for individuals with autism to engage in typical social interactions.
  • Daily Functioning: Sensory issues can impact an individual's ability to engage in daily activities. For example, sensitivity to certain textures may make it difficult to tolerate certain clothing materials or food textures, affecting self-care and eating habits.
  • Academic Performance: Sensory issues can also affect academic performance. For instance, sensitivity to visual stimuli may make it challenging to focus in a visually stimulating classroom environment.

Understanding the impact of sensory issues is crucial for parents and caregivers to provide the necessary support and accommodations for individuals with autism. Sensory integration therapy and developing coping strategies can help mitigate the challenges associated with sensory issues.

By recognizing and addressing sensory issues, parents and caregivers can create a supportive environment that promotes the well-being and development of individuals with autism. It is important to seek professional guidance from occupational therapists and other experts in the field to better understand and support individuals with sensory issues.

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Types of Sensory Issues

Sensory issues are a common characteristic of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Individuals with autism may experience sensory processing difficulties, which can manifest in two distinct ways: hyper-sensitivity and hypo-sensitivity.


Hyper-sensitivity, also known as sensory over-responsivity, refers to an increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli. Individuals with hyper-sensitivity may have a heightened response to sensory input, causing them to feel overwhelmed or distressed. This can lead to an avoidance or aversion to certain sensory experiences.

Hyper-sensitivity can manifest across various sensory domains, including:

Sensory Domain Characteristics
Visual Extreme sensitivity to bright lights, busy visual environments, or specific visual patterns.
Auditory Overwhelming responses to loud sounds, background noise, or certain frequencies.
Tactile Intolerance to certain textures, clothing fabrics, or light touch.
Olfactory Heightened sensitivity to smells, including those that may be imperceptible to others.
Gustatory Strong reactions to certain tastes, textures, or temperatures of food and beverages.
Proprioceptive Heightened awareness of body position and movement, leading to discomfort or difficulty with coordination.
Vestibular Strong reactions to movement, such as swings or elevators, which may cause dizziness or disorientation.

It's important to note that individuals with hyper-sensitivity may exhibit different combinations of sensitivities across these domains. Understanding and addressing these sensitivities can help create a more comfortable environment for individuals with autism.


Hypo-sensitivity, also known as sensory under-responsivity, refers to a decreased sensitivity to sensory stimuli. Individuals with hypo-sensitivity may have reduced awareness or a diminished response to sensory input. As a result, they may seek out intense sensory experiences to compensate for the decreased sensitivity.

Similar to hyper-sensitivity, hypo-sensitivity can manifest across various sensory domains, including:

Sensory Domain Characteristics
Visual Reduced response to visual stimuli, such as not noticing visual details or being less affected by bright lights.
Auditory Difficulty noticing or responding to sounds, leading to challenges in distinguishing important auditory information.
Tactile High tolerance for touch, including a preference for deep pressure or seeking out intense sensory experiences.
Olfactory Reduced sensitivity to smells, potentially missing certain odors or having a decreased response to strong scents.
Gustatory Reduced sensitivity to tastes, resulting in a preference for strong flavors or a limited diet.
Proprioceptive Reduced awareness of body position and movement, leading to challenges with coordination and motor skills.
Vestibular Decreased response to movement, potentially seeking out intense or repetitive movements for sensory input.

Understanding the sensory profile of individuals with autism, whether it involves hyper-sensitivity or hypo-sensitivity, is crucial in providing appropriate support and accommodations. Occupational therapy can play a significant role in addressing sensory issues in individuals with autism.

By recognizing and understanding the types of sensory issues experienced by individuals with autism, we can create environments and interventions that promote sensory comfort and well-being.

Common Sensory Triggers

Individuals with autism often experience sensory issues that can significantly impact their daily lives. These sensory issues can be triggered by various stimuli in the environment. Understanding these triggers is essential for creating a supportive and accommodating environment for individuals with autism. Here are some common sensory triggers and their impact:

Visual Triggers

Visual triggers refer to stimuli that affect the sense of sight. Bright or flickering lights, busy patterns, or crowded spaces can overwhelm individuals with autism, leading to sensory overload. It is important to create a visually calming environment by controlling lighting, reducing clutter, and providing visually predictable spaces.

Auditory Triggers

Auditory triggers involve stimuli related to hearing. Loud noises, such as sirens or loud conversations, can be distressing for individuals with autism. They may also struggle with filtering out background noise, making it difficult to focus on specific sounds. Creating a quiet or low-noise environment and using noise-cancelling headphones can help minimize auditory triggers.

Tactile Triggers

Tactile triggers are related to the sense of touch. Certain textures, fabrics, or tags on clothing may cause discomfort or hypersensitivity in individuals with autism. They may also have difficulty with personal space boundaries and may not tolerate light touches or hugs. Providing clothing options with soft fabrics and accommodating sensory-friendly materials can help reduce tactile triggers.

Olfactory Triggers

Olfactory triggers involve smells and fragrances. Strong or unfamiliar odors, such as perfumes, cleaning products, or cooking smells, can be overwhelming for individuals with autism. Managing the environment by using unscented or mild-scented products and avoiding strong fragrances can help minimize olfactory triggers.

Gustatory Triggers

Gustatory triggers are related to taste. Certain tastes or textures of food may be aversive to individuals with autism, leading to selective eating patterns or food refusal.

Sensory issues with taste can also extend to non-food items, such as sensitivity to certain textures in oral care products. Encouraging a varied diet and consulting with a healthcare professional or occupational therapist can help address gustatory triggers.

Proprioceptive Triggers

Proprioceptive triggers involve stimuli related to body awareness and movement. Individuals with autism may seek or avoid certain movements or pressure. They may engage in repetitive behaviors, such as rocking or spinning, to fulfill their sensory needs. Providing opportunities for safe and controlled movement, such as physical therapy or structured physical activities, can help regulate proprioceptive triggers.

Vestibular Triggers

Vestibular triggers are related to balance and spatial orientation. Activities involving changes in head position or movement, such as swinging or spinning, can be challenging for individuals with autism.

They may experience dizziness, disorientation, or discomfort in response to these movements. Incorporating sensory integration therapy techniques and gradually introducing vestibular activities can help individuals with autism manage vestibular triggers.

By understanding and addressing these common sensory triggers, it is possible to create a more supportive and accommodating environment for individuals with autism.

Each individual's sensory needs may vary, so it is crucial to understand their individual needs and advocate for appropriate accommodations. Providing emotional support and guidance can also help individuals with autism navigate their sensory experiences more effectively.

Managing Sensory Overload

Individuals with autism often experience sensory overload, which can be overwhelming and distressing. However, there are strategies and techniques that can help manage sensory overload and create a more comfortable environment for individuals with autism.

Creating a Sensory-Friendly Environment

One of the most effective ways to manage sensory overload is by creating a sensory-friendly environment. This involves making modifications to the physical environment to reduce sensory triggers. Some strategies include:

  • Noise Reduction: Minimize loud or sudden noises by using earplugs, noise-cancelling headphones, or soundproofing the space.
  • Lighting Adjustments: Control the intensity and type of lighting to reduce glare and harsh lighting. Use dimmer switches, curtains, or colored filters to create a more soothing environment.
  • Sensory Spaces: Designate a quiet and calm area where individuals can retreat to when they feel overwhelmed. This space should be free from excessive visual and auditory stimulation.
  • Organization and Structure: Maintain a clutter-free environment and establish predictable routines to provide a sense of order and reduce sensory distractions.

By making these adjustments, individuals with autism can have a more comfortable and manageable sensory experience.

Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory integration therapy is a specialized form of therapy that focuses on addressing sensory issues in individuals with autism. This therapy aims to help individuals process and integrate sensory information more effectively, reducing sensory overload and improving overall functioning.

During sensory integration therapy, a trained therapist uses various activities and exercises to stimulate and challenge the individual's senses. This may include swinging, jumping, brushing, and playing with different textures. The therapeutic activities are designed to help the individual gradually adapt to sensory input and improve their ability to regulate their responses.

Sensory integration therapy is often conducted by occupational therapists who have expertise in working with individuals with sensory processing difficulties.

Developing Coping Strategies

Developing coping strategies is another important aspect of managing sensory overload in individuals with autism. These strategies can help individuals regulate their responses to sensory stimuli and reduce the impact of sensory overload. Some effective coping strategies include:

  • Deep Pressure: Applying deep pressure through activities like weighted blankets, compression garments, or deep pressure massage can provide a calming effect and reduce anxiety.
  • Self-Regulation Techniques: Teaching individuals self-regulation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, visualization, or mindfulness can help them regain control and manage sensory overload.
  • Sensory Diet: A sensory diet involves incorporating specific sensory activities throughout the day to help individuals stay regulated and avoid sensory overload. This may include activities like swinging, squeezing stress balls, or engaging in sensory play.

By implementing coping strategies, individuals with autism can learn to self-regulate and better manage sensory overload. It's important to understand that each individual's sensory needs may vary, so it's crucial to personalize strategies to meet their specific needs.

Supporting individuals with sensory issues requires a comprehensive understanding of their unique needs and challenges.

By creating a sensory-friendly environment, exploring sensory integration therapy, and developing coping strategies, individuals with autism can navigate their sensory experiences more effectively. It's also important to provide emotional support, advocate for accommodations, and seek professional guidance when needed.

Supporting Individuals with Sensory Issues

When it comes to individuals with sensory issues, providing appropriate support is crucial in helping them navigate the challenges they face. Understanding their individual needs, advocating for accommodations, and providing emotional support are key aspects of ensuring their well-being.

Understanding Individual Needs

Each individual with autism and sensory issues is unique, and it's important to approach their needs with empathy and understanding. Take the time to observe and listen to the individual, paying attention to their specific triggers and reactions. By understanding their individual needs, you can better tailor strategies and interventions to support them effectively.

It can be helpful to consult with professionals who specialize in working with individuals with autism, such as occupational therapists. These experts can provide valuable insights and strategies to address sensory issues.

Advocating for Accommodations

Advocating for accommodations is essential in ensuring that individuals with sensory issues have access to an environment that supports their unique needs. This may involve working with schools, workplaces, or other settings to implement modifications that minimize sensory triggers and create a more inclusive atmosphere.

Accommodations can range from simple adjustments, such as providing a quiet space or using noise-canceling headphones, to more comprehensive changes like modifying lighting or incorporating sensory breaks into daily routines. By advocating for these accommodations, you can help create an environment that promotes the individual's comfort and well-being.

Providing Emotional Support

Individuals with sensory issues in autism may experience heightened anxiety, distress, or frustration due to sensory overload. Providing emotional support is vital in helping them manage these feelings and develop effective coping strategies.

Offering a calm and understanding presence can make a significant difference. Encourage open communication and create a safe space where individuals feel comfortable expressing their emotions. By validating their experiences and providing reassurance, you can help them navigate the challenges they face.

Support groups and therapy sessions can also provide valuable emotional support for both individuals with sensory issues and their families. Connecting with others who are going through similar experiences can foster a sense of belonging and provide opportunities for learning from shared experiences.

By understanding individual needs, advocating for accommodations, and providing emotional support, you can play a crucial role in supporting individuals with sensory issues in autism. Remember, each individual is unique, and it's important to approach their needs with empathy, patience, and a willingness to learn.


Physical autism is a complex disorder that can have a significant impact on an individual's life. However, with the right treatment and support, individuals with physical autism can learn to manage their symptoms and live happy, fulfilling lives. If you suspect that you or someone you know may have physical autism, it is important to seek medical advice and explore the available treatment options.


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