Mind their Senses! – Kids with Autism

Doctor: Natasha Tungare

Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD) is characterized by deficits in communication, social interaction, failure of back-and-forth conversation, reduced sharing of interests and emotions, abnormalities in eye contact, and understanding of body language as per DSM-5 diagnostic criteria. Due to these, it becomes difficult for a child to engage with family members, and peers and to initiate group play. These difficulties occur because the child is unable to integrate and produce the sensory inputs from the environment. About 95% of children with autism show deficits in sensory processing. So which sensory systems are exactly affected in ASD children?

  1. Auditory System: This is one of the most commonly affected systems in children with ASD. The interesting fact is, even if the hearing is normal, still the child is unable to produce speech and tends to ignore when called. Kids show traits such as discomfort with hearing loud noises, whistles, and sounds of electrical appliances. At times they tend to enjoy certain sounds.
  2. Visual System: Vision is rarely affected in ASD kids but giving appropriate eye contact during interaction is a major challenge they encounter. They show fleeting eye contact which reduces their span of attention.
  3. Oral System: Children with ASD show concerns in regard to oromotor and orosensory systems. They tend to dislike certain textures of foods and tastes of food. These kids, many times try to put non-food objects in their mouth by licking or biting.  This might be mistaken as the misbehavior of a child but the concern is because of the oral system affection.
  4. Touch System: The touch or tactile system is another frequently affected system in children with ASD. Either children show hypersensitivity towards the touch and become apprehensive towards certain textures or they show an excessive need to touch objects around them.
  5. Movement System: Kids with ASD usually tend to show an excessive need for movement because their vestibular system is constantly firing and thus their attention span is reduced. These kids easily get distracted and find difficulty in completing an entire play activity. Sometimes they also show risk-taking behaviors like jumping from a bed or stepping without being aware of the depth perception.
  6. Body position and Self-awareness: At times, children show lethargic behavior and need to seek deep pressure by wrapping themselves in blankets and curtains. In these children, the Proprioceptive system which is responsible for body awareness is affected. Children are unaware of the position of their bodies in space and need constant input from environmental objects.
  7. Behavior and Emotion: Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder tend to show stereotypes or repetitive patterns of movement and behavior. Stubbornness, difficulty in showing and interpreting facial expressions, and emotional dysregulation are quite commonly observed in these kids. They tend to throw more tantrums or over-excitement because they face difficulties in expressing emotions like sadness, joy, anger, or fear.

Not every child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder will show traits of affection for all systems. Some children may show affection with respect to touch, movement, behavior, and conduct and on the other hand, some may show affection in auditory, oromotor, or body position and self-awareness. There can always be permutation and combination! Through pediatric rehabilitation, the problems in these sensory systems can be tackled and help the child function better.

Dr Natasha Tungare
Consultant – Pediatric Physiotherapy
Wockhardt Hospitals, Mira Road

To book an appointment call: +918108101104

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