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In case you do not have time to watch the video, the most important message is that sensory differences should always be considered as a factor for a child on the autism spectrum, even if the child is not showing any obvious signs of distress. Unrecognized sensory processing differences will cause problems with academic and social aspects of school. I strongly recommend you watch the video because it puts in context everything provided below.

One thing to add to the video that processing differences can involve speed rather than intensity. Each type of input can be processed slower than the others, requiring additional time for the person to get information in and respond.


Beyond the video:

What Tests can be Used to Assess Sensory Processing?

Clinical Observations of Proprioception (Blanche et al., 2012)

Test of Ideational Praxis (May-Benson and Cemak, 2007)

Sensory Processing Measure (Parham & Ecker, 2007)

Sensory Profile 2 (Dunn, 2014)

To get your child assessed, you need to request the evaluation in writing, expressing your concerns in this area. It is one of the areas relevant to the disability of autism and your district should evaluate.

The most common assessment tool used in schools in Sensory Profile. It is a questionnaire that should be filled out both by child’s teachers and parents.

One thing to keep in mind is that Sensory Profile is based on subjective reporting. Teachers who are not trained in sensory integration and processing issues might not see the signs of sensory differences. Parents can be so used to their particular child’s behaviors that, on the contrary, they can sometimes underestimate how unusual or frequent they are. It is something to keep in mind when interpreting the results of this assessment.


Eight Types of Sensory Inputs:

1. Visual (vision)

  • Child can be oversensitive to visual information, which can be very distracting.

  • Child becomes “stuck” on visual stimuli and cannot direct attention to a task.

  • Many children with autism do not function well in visually cluttered classrooms and cannot deal with busy worksheets or other large visual processing demands.

2. Auditory (hearing)

  • Affects ability to prioritize human voice from other auditory inputs (i.e. pay attention to the teacher’s voice when there are noises present in the classroom, such as a clock ticking our noises from the street)

  • Affects ability to register being called by name or register speech that is directed at child

  • Affects echolocation (ability to determine the direction sound is coming from)

  • Increased sensitivity can manifest as discomfort caused by certain sounds (flushing a toilet, electric hand dryer, vacuum cleaner), specific pitches or loud noise in general (school assembly or concerts can be problematic)

  • Child can enjoy mimicking certain noises without it having a communicative function, for example, car's honking or dishwasher beeping

3. Olfactory (Smell)

  • Child can send much time smelling all types of objects

  • Child can be oversensitive to specific smells. For example, I have worked with a boy who could not tolerate smell of onions. Some children cannot tolerate strong smell of food in general. Other smells can also be aversive.

o Can interfere with eating or being in certain spaces where the smell is


4. Gustatory/Oral (Taste)

  • Increased sensitivity to flavors and textures can make certain foods or ingredients aversive

  • Increased sensitivity to textures can interfere with eating. Child can avoid textures or gag on certain textures.

  • Certain flavors and textures can be highly preferred

  • Affects child's diet and ability to participate in social interactions and activities that involve food

5. Tactile (Touch)

  • Ability to distinguish shapes, size, texture through touch without looking

  • Ability to manipulate objects without looking at them

  • Being able to discriminate where touch is on one’s body, and what is touching one’s body

  • Increased sensitivity to touch can affect

o Availability for learning if sensations from, for example, socks or

clothing are uncomfortable

o Wanting to be hugged in a particular way ("side hugs", backing into a


o Need to control touch the timing, location and force of touch

o Tolerating unexpected touch during play and

social interactions

  • Decreased sensitivity to touch can be associated with persistent need to touch people and objects

  • Affects development of fine motor skills, needed for tasks such as holding a pen/pencil, writing, cutting, using zippers, opening lunch containers and water bottles, gluing, threading beads, etc.

6. Vestibular (Sense of head movement in space):

  • Affects ability to register feeling dizzy or nauseous from movement

  • Affects balance

  • Affects ability to tolerate head movement

o Children tend to maintain head vertically at all times and avoid

movements and activities that require change of head position

  • Affects ability to tolerate feet being off the ground (jumping or being picked up)

  • Affects ability to tolerate imposed movement (i.e. being moved by someone else)

7. Proprioceptive (sensations from muscles and joints of body)

  • Affects understanding where own body is in space without looking

  • Affects force gradation -- determining how much force is needed to complete a task (open a door, lift carton of milk, give a hug, child can apply too much force when taking a toy from another child's hand, etc.)

  • Affects ability to perform tasks without excessive looking (walking up and down the stairs, tying shoes, walking in a semi-darkness, using computer mouse, imitating or making gross motor movements)

o Constant need to monitor body visually is demanding on attention

and, ultimately, exhausting

  • Affects ability to make mouth movements needed to speak (oral praxis)

  • Affects ability to use unfamiliar sports and playground equipment

  • Affects ability to move smoothly

  • Affects ability to move without bumping into objects or people

8. Interoception (feedback from our internal organs and processes).

  • Affects ability to recognize own bodily sensations, such as pain and discomfort, feeling nauseous, sense of hunger, need to use a bathroom, being hot or cold, changes in physical state related to emotions (for example, anxiety, fear), etc.


Postural Control and Praxis

Postural control and praxis are two areas in which sensory-based motor challenges occur as a result of sensory difficulties.

Postural control is what it sounds like – your ability to maintain an upright posture to meet demands of daily life. In school, this would involve, for example, sitting in a circle, playing or reading on the floor, and sitting upright in a chair during classes and school events.

Praxis is the ability to conceive of plan, sequence, and execute actions for a task that has never been done before. An example would be to come up with an idea for a structure built out of blocks, figure out the sequence of steps that are needed to build this structure, and be able to engage with sufficient precision in movements that are needed to do the actual building.


Bonus content:

Download a list of accommodations that can be included in your child's IEP and implemented at school to accommodate your child's sensory needs.

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