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Hypersensitive and Hyposensitive: To Do and Not To Do


Why do Kids with Autism do that?

Autism sensory issues can include both hypersensitivities (being over-responsive) and hyposensitivities (being under-responsive). This is when an individual does not react typically to stimuli, some of which are sounds, smells, and textures. This article will go over what hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity are, and how to better support those experiencing these sensory issues.


To define hypersensitivity in autism, it involves what seems like overreactions to one’s senses. An example is a child feeling the need to block their ears when someone sings. What may seem like a normal sound to most of us may be intolerably loud for a child with sound hypersensitivity. Children with sensory hypersensitivity are more prone to get distressed and may act out with challenging behaviours or meltdowns. Hypersensitivity to various sensory inputs may also make a child appear anxious or hypervigilant, losing focus and getting distracted easily. That is because they are being bombarded with sensory information that most people are not perceiving.


Conversely, hyposensitivity in autism involves behaviours that are under-reactions to one’s environment. An example is not reacting to a loud sound. Children with sensory hyposensitivity are less sensitive and thus less responsive to sensations. Hyposensitivity can manifest itself in several ways which includes a lack of response to sensations such as pain, touch, smell and sound. Sensory hyposensitivity can be harder to detect in children because it may not produce the same challenging behaviour or meltdowns as hypersensitivity. Some children with hyposensitivity are unable to recognise their own hunger, fullness, or if they need to use the toilet. A child with hyposensitivity may be accidentally injured and show barely any reaction to the pain, even if the injury is sometimes quite severe.


What are some steps I can take to help my child cope with sensory processing issues?


To accomodate hypersensitivity, you can:

  • Dim the lights

  • Provide your child with headphones or earplugs to block out excessive noise

  • Close doors to eliminate noisy sounds and bright lights that could potentially be distracting

  • Install incandescent lighting instead of fluorescent

  • Eliminate use of strongly scented products (E.g. shampoo, perfume, air fresheners etc)

  • Accommodate to your child’s personal sensitivity when choosing clothes (E.g. scratchy fabrics, tight fabrics, tags, buttons etc)

  • Accommodate to your child’s food aversions (but still try to expose them to it!)


To accommodate hyposensitivity, you can:

  • Provide your child with sensory-stimulating toys (E.g. fidgets, pop-it, safe items to chew etc)

  • Use weighted blankets

  • Include padding on hard edges and corners of furniture. Also make sure to arrange furnitures in your home to be safe for your child

  • Give your child time to practice and use physical skills, such as dancing and running

  • Provide your child with their preferred food and beverages, such as textured food or cold beverages (and always expose them to new foods!)

  • Use visual supports and aids for your child if they have trouble processing verbal information


Taking into consideration the tips as mentioned above, it is important to ensure that we minimise placing our children in environments that can potentially trigger these sensory issues. For children with hypersensitivity issues, refrain from bringing them to loud and crowded places. For children with hyposensitivity issues, avoid having sharp and dangerous objects around them as they may injure themselves even if they do not feel pain.


As every child is unique, it is important to understand your child’s specific trigger. If your child does not verbalise these triggers, be sure to look out for hints such as crying, avoiding certain places, shutting their eyes or covering their ears etc. If your child is displaying signs of sensory overload, understand that you are not alone. This is very common within the autism community and support is within reach! Do try implementing these tips shared within this article today to provide support for your child.


Written by Hanyu.

References

Autism Sensory Issues, Autism Hypersensitivity, Autism Hyposensitivity — Autism Specialty Group. (2021). Retrieved 9 July 2022, from https://www.autismspecialtygroup.com/blog/autism-sensory-issues


SingHealth n.d. Coping with Sensory Processing Issues. [online] Available at: <https://www.singhealth.com.sg/patient-care/conditions-treatments/coping-with-sensory-processing-issues> [Accessed 15 July 2022].


Arky, B., n.d. Sensory Processing Issues Explained - Child Mind Institute. [online] Child Mind Institute. Available at: <https://childmind.org/article/sensory-processing-issues-explained/> [Accessed 15 July 2022].



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