Of the children diagnosed around the world with autism, almost all of them are diagnosed with other disorders as well. Since autism is a spectrum disorder, one or more disorders on the same spectrum can also present with autism.
Some of those disorders include ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder), ADD (attention deficit disorder), OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), CAPD (central auditory processing disorder), dyslexia and sensory dysfunction, just to name a few.
Sensory dysfunction is one of the more misunderstood disorders for families of autistic children to grasp. It can cause high pain tolerance, which means the child can get hurt and not realize it because they don’t feel pain the way other children do. It can cause a gentle touch to cause actual physical pain, while a firm grasp feels comforting and soothing to the child.
Sensory dysfunction can also cause a child to have a strong aversion to certain textures in food. For instance, a child with SD might throw a fit if you try to get them to eat pudding, Jell-O or hard-boiled eggs. The smooth texture is incredibly disagreeable to them, but in many instances, they have no way of letting you know this. Their only option is to do everything they cannot to eat the offending food.
Children can also have strong reactions to light, color and sound with sensory dysfunction. One autistic man, when asked what it was like for him to experience it, said that fluorescent lights and the color yellow hurt very badly, causing him to go into sensory overload.
Sensory overload often happens to children with sensory dysfunction, and it is a very real situation for them. It can cause pain, confusion, changes in vision and hearing and more. In essence, sensory overload can cause the child’s senses to systematically shut down. The only way to handle this is to remove the child from all stimuli until they are better.
If a child has sensory dysfunction and the parents and caregivers do not know it yet, it can cause a great many problems. Like so many other behaviors the autistic child exhibits, it can appear more as a behavior problem than anything else.
It is very important to keep the possibility of sensory dysfunction in mind if your child has received a diagnosis of autism. The better and faster we understand what is going on in our child’s world, the better able we are to make them comfortable in it.