Sensory sensitivities in people with autism

People with autism may also have sensory sensitivities. It is quite common and now recognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-V) under restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour. People with autism may have one or more sensory sensitivities.

They may be hypo – or hypersensitive to certain stimuli. They may be affected by a dog barking but not bothered by loud music. They may find all loud sounds aversive but seek out interesting smells. Sensitivities can be fluid where they change day to day or are dependent on the environment.

There are seven senses that can play a role in how we feel:

  • Sight
    • People with autism may have difficulty tracking objects, or have a strong dislike to strong bright lights.
  • Hearing
    • Loud noises may be painful for those with autism. They may also have trouble concentrating when there is background noise.
  • Smell
    • For people with autism, some smells may make them feel sick. They may also seek out smells or sniff objects to gain a better understanding.
  • Taste
    • People with autism may have a strong like or dislike for particular tastes. They may also appear fussy due to different textures of food.
  • Touch
    • Certain clothing may be too scratchy to wear. Some people with autism like tight clothing and tight hugs where for others, they find this painful and are oversensitive to the touch of others.
  • Balance (vestibular)
    • People may experience difficulty with balancing and have poor coordination. Some people enjoy the act of spinning in circles while for others this may make them ill.
  • Body awareness (proprioception)
    • People may appear clumsy as they are always bumping into people and objects due to an inability to understand their place in relation to what is around them.


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