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.

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