What is Autistic Spectrum Disorder?

Autistic spectrum disorder is a life-long, non-progressive developmental disorder affecting social and communication skills. The symptoms and characteristics of autistic spectrum disorder can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations, from mild to severe. It is defined by difficulties with social communication and social interaction, and restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours, activities, or interests.

There is much confusion with the terms used to describe this condition and over the years a variety of terms have been used. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) uses the term autistic spectrum disorder, as does the International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision (ICD-11). There is major debate about the use of this terminology.

What sensory processing difficulties are seen in autistic spectrum disorder?

Many autistic children and adults have problems processing sensory information. These has been recognised in the diagnostic criteria in DSM-5 and ICD-11.   NICE guidelines also recognise the significant sensory difficulties in children and adults with autistic spectrum disorder.  Recent research has suggested that up to 95 % of children with autistic spectrum disorder have sensory processing disorder. Temple Grandin, an autistic woman, discusses in her books her sensitivity to light touch and sounds. She tells how she used deep-pressure touch to calm and organise her nervous system and reduce her hypersensitivity to touch.

What are some of the common symptoms of sensory processing differences in autism?

It is important to always get a thorough assessment by a therapist with the appropriate post-graduate qualifications in sensory integration to identify a sensory processing disorder.

Here are some of the possible signs commonly seen in those with autistic spectrum disorder:

  • Avoids touch or being touched by objects and people
  • Dislikes having hair, fingernails or toenails cut
  • Avoidance of certain textures
  • Seeks out all kinds of movement and this interferes with daily routines (eg can’t sit still, fidgets)
  • Spins/twirls self frequently throughout the day
  • Takes excessive risks during play
  • Distress with certain sounds
  • Aversion to certain smells and tastes
  • Unaware of pain
  • Unaware of body sensations such as hunger, hot or cold
  • Lack of attention to environment, people, or things
  • Has coordination problems
  • Has difficulty planning motor tasks

“The little tasks we had to do really made me think how difficult my child might find things.

Jude, Parent

Where can I find out more information?

If you would like to find out more about sensory processing disorder, then why not attend the introductory course, or the more advanced course, sensory processing disorder and autism

“The best training I have accessed in years.  Really inspiring, – we need to take what we have learned and use it to develop our practice”

Lee, Specialist Teacher in Autism

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It's the best course I have ever attended, it's a must for everyone working with autistic individuals

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