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We are an Army family! Miles was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 6 and he is now 15 years old. Marley is Miles' Autism Service Dog and his best friend. This dynamic duo has been together for 5 years and look forward to many more adventures! 

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love and sound judgement.  
                                                       2 Timothy 1:7


Sensory Disorders

But as for me, God's presence is my good.
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
so I can tell about all You do.
                                         Psalm 73:28

Miles still has a few sensory sensitivities he struggles with today. Certain types of clothing used to bother him so all tags would have to be cut out of his clothes and he would cover his ears while vacuuming. Miles has experienced many of the sensitivities you will read about on the lists below but through therapy he is conquering many of these obstacles!

Sensory issues in autistic children interfere with learning and cause odd or inappropriate behavior. Most children with autism spectrum disorders have difficulties processing and integrating one or more of the senses. 

Sensory Disorder Affects Many Types of Touch in Autistic Children
When autistic children are sensitive to touch, symptoms can vary widely from child to child due to the many different varieties. While the range of sensitivity travels from one extreme to the other or anywhere in between, unlike other sensory disorders, the tactile system has 5 different subsystems that can dysfunction:
  • pain
  • temperature
  • vibration
  • light touch
  • hard pressure

Each type of touch can be experienced in a variety of ways, from pleasant to slightly irritating to pain. In addition, children with a sensory disorder of touch don’t have to manifest problems in all categories. For example, a child might react to pain normally, need time to adjust to weather temperature, love hard pressure, but experience meltdowns from light touch or vibrations. Since touch-sensitive autistic children are in a constant state of alert and therefore always in a state of defense, the variety of tactile defensiveness combinations is endless.

Touch Sensitive Issues in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Children with autism spectrum disorders can be hypersensitive to touch, hyposensitive to touch, or anywhere in between. Touch-sensitive issues can even bounce back and forth from day-to-day or minute-to-minute between all of the variations. The following touch-sensitive signs can range from low to slightly irritating to a complete meltdown:
  • doesn’t feel pain; lack of response to scraped knees and other injuries
  • refuses hugs, puts abnormal distance between you when hugging, or wiggles away
  • overly clings, always wants to lean on you or hug you
  • always touching things and people
  • keeps his distance when sitting with family or friends
  • doesn’t like scratchy, rough clothing textures, clothing seams, or clothing tags
  • doesn’t want hair brushed, combed, or washed
  • fights against brushing his teeth
  • doesn’t want to wear shoes
  • likes to make a mess or gets upset when messy
  • reacts to the way grass or sand feels
  • loves or doesn’t like being tickled
  • bangs head on the bedpost, ground, objects, or people
  • loves or hates vibrating toys
The above list is only a sample of the many ways the sense of touch affects the lives of children with autism. 

Fear Drives Touch-sensitive Autistic Children to Tactile Defensiveness
Since touch is perceived as a threat or craving, autistic children live in a constant state of fear which greatly hinders learning. Everything that touches them, everything they touch that produces discomfort is a threat. For those craving physical contact, touch deprivation causes stress, insecurity, and anxiety. With either style, these children constantly live in defense mode. To help children with autism become sensitized to the negative feelings produced from touch, occupational therapy for sensory disorder is available. For children who crave extra sensory experiences there are loads of sensory toys on the market. In addition, there are exercises, games and activities they can do to keep the autistic child feeling as comfortable as possible.

What Should You Do Next?

Touch sensitivity is a sensory motor integration deficit. The goal of treatment is to repair the sensory processing disorder by giving the child a means to develop his or her sensory integration. The goal of therapy is to normalize sensory integration and motor planning by improving the way the nervous system registers and interprets tactile information.
Treatment of touch sensitivity is usually done under the auspices of an occupational therapist. If you feel that your child may have touch sensitivity you should first try to confirm the diagnosis by going to someone who is trained in diagnosing sensory integration problems. Pediatric Occupational Therapy Service for diagnosis and treatment.

If your child has conquered their Sensory Disorders, please feel free to share your story with us!

This article and more can be found at About.com under Autism Spectrum Disorders and at ARI.

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