Sensory Issues in Autism: Vision

Sensory Issues for children on the autism spectrum: Vision

Recently attention has been drawn to the effect sensory issues may have on the well being of  children (and adults) on the autism spectrum. DSM 5 recognises that sensory issues may be significant for people on the autism spectrum.

Children on the autism spectrum may find that one or more of their senses becomes overwhelmed  by the demands of the environment.

In simple terms our senses are:

  • vision
  • hearing
  • smell
  • taste
  • touch (sense of pressure, temperature or pain)
  • balance (the vestibular system of the inner ear that detects movement and the position of the head)
  • the sense of the position of parts of our body (the proprioceptive system

Children on the autism spectrum may have  over sensitivity in one or more senses, or they may have under sensitivity. So providing an environment that is ‘neutral or low arousal’ is important.

What might cause distress?
  • bright lights, florescent lights
  • strong sunlight, reflections from sunlight through windows
  • strong patterns and colours
  • cluttered space; lots of things on the walls, overflowing shelves and table tops
How can stress be minimised?
  • indirect lighting e.g. up lighting, directional lighting over workspace
  • window shades
  • tinted lenses
  • remove clutter
  • neutral and plain colour schemes

What does your classroom look like?

All of these are simple solutions that can be used in a ‘mainstream’ school. Thought should also be given to transition areas. A clear visual reminder that children are entering a new learning zone should be given and this can include a graphical depiction of the child’s schedule. Particular thought needs to be given to changing areas. For example, each child should know where to keep outdoor shoes and hang their coat. This area should be separate from the learning area.

The autism education trust has a useful checklist that you can download here. (Opens in new window).

Remember that children on the autism spectrum may have very individual needs and that  you cannot expect the child to change to fit into your environment, and you will need to adapt the teaching environment.

Simple classroom strategies and accommodations

Language: Both Reading and Writing
  • graphic organisers/ mind maps
  • pre-planning and discussion
  • frequent check-ins
  • editing check lists / word lists
  • reading / thinking – eg. visualising, summarising, inferencing
  • allow child to type work
  • encoding/ decoding: does it sound right? does it look right? Chunking
Self management

(for children with executive function difficulties and those with ADHD type behaviours)

  • give clear simple instructions / provide visually where possible (e.g.whiteboard, post-it notes)
  • break down tasks into smaller tasks
  • give visual cues and demonstrations
  • ask student to repeat directions
  • prompt / warn e.g before question / before transitions
  • seating: away from distractions, near good role models. Choose groups before activity
  • build movement into lesson plan

During a recent learning support coffee morning with very busy specialist teachers we came up with this brief list of strategies and accommodations to help children with language and attention difficulties in a range of classroom settings.

I think that this serves as a good reminder!

Do you keep losing your spelling list?

Being able to refer to a list of high frequency words (sight words) while editing writing is a  good way for children to improve the quality of their written work. Unfortunately word lists can be a bit cumbersome and may add an extra layer of difficulty for children with attention or executive function issues.

One way to ensure that the words are always available is to stick them in the child’s book. But you still have the problem of having to turn a page to look at the word list and then return to the writing or editing.

Spelling words stuck in an exercise book
The spelling words list folds out from the inside cover of the book – allowing the words to be read while the child is writing on any page

One way to overcome this problem by using another piece of paper to make a ‘gatefold’ sleeve ( like you sometimes got on an old vinyl record sleeve). The genius of this is that when the flap is folded out, the spelling words can be seen, and either page of the book can be written on. In this case the words are on the left hand side (inside the front cover) because the child is right-handed. For a left-handed child the list would fold out from the inside of the back cover.

Exercise Book
A list is folded inside the cover and stuck in