Understanding Sensory Needs in Children with Autism

By Michelle Beers


Addressing sensory disorders in the classroom and at home means understanding what triggers them and how to provide our kids with opportunities to cope with them. As a caregiver to a child with autism, you might not know all the formal lingo, but you can probably connect with some of the descriptions of sensory disorders listed below. 


Your child may present sensory avoidance behaviors. They are overly responsive or extra sensitive to certain sensory input like sound, touch/texture and balance and they often have a negative response when trying to cope with overstimulation.

My 6-year old is extra sensitive to the vibrations of a vacuum cleaner or when he’s holding the shopping cart in the parking lot. He has sensory avoidance behaviors to them, covering his ears and stimming to avoid meltdown. But he shows sensory seeking behaviors with toys that make noise. He holds them up close to his ear and tries to get as much input and stimulation as he can, making the sound repeat over and over and turning it to the perfect volume for his sensory needs. 


Like my son, your child may have developed or be working on some coping mechanisms to make sure they can control their sensory environments. Since so many families are navigating the virtual, home-schooling environment right now, I’d love to share a few ideas for fall-themed sensory activities that can help your kid learn, feel calm, engaged and meet their own sensory needs at the same time! Please visit the autism page to find the activity. 

They might be sensory seeking, meaning they are hyposensitive - or not processing enough sensory input - so they look for a way to get more stimulation and can’t focus on much else until they have more than average. They may be clumsy, they may have volume control issues or fiddle with objects or play a little rougher than appropriate. This behavior is their way to help stimulate them when they’re unfocused or help calm them when they’re overstimulated.


All of these processing behaviors can look different in each kid. And people with autism often have a combination of seeking and avoidance behaviors with different systems.