Tips & Tricks

MANAGING SENSORY STIMULI

Some people with autism are prone to suffer from sensory overload. Many stimuli are (consciously) perceived or certain stimuli are difficult to process. There are various ways to respond to this. What often appears to be a key element for a successful strategy is the ability or inability to have control over the situation. If someone is able to control the sensory stimuli directed at them, it is often easier to manage them.

Control implies being able to choose and/or react independently. If someone focuses on a specific stimulus themselves, it will be easier for them to deal with it. Within this context you often hear of people who cannot cope with someone else chewing noisily at the table, or sneezing, and yet they will happily attend rock concerts. If someone can take matters into their own hands, it will be easier to deal with. For example, a member of a group home cannot cope with a carer brushing their hair for them, but if he can hold the brush himself, everything is fine, even if his hair is not quite perfect.

Therefore, for situations in which someone is at risk of being affected by certain stimuli, the solution resides partly in finding ways to give that person more control over the situation. The positive impact of being able to manage a certain stimulus on one of the senses may even extend to other senses. Sometimes autistic people develop their own individual way of dealing with certain stimuli. As long as this approach is not disruptive or dangerous there is no reason not to accept it. Even if it appears quite strange to us, such as Mark walking barefoot day in day out.

To increase the level of control over certain activities for someone with autism it might be useful to check whether they have control, for example, with respect to:
The kind of materials used (e.g. which comb, toothbrush, etc.)
The circumstances surrounding an activity (light, sound, temperature, etc.)
The timing (in the morning, before or after a meal, etc.)
The context (on their own or with someone, with whom, etc.)
The sequence of events (in what sequence, doing what exactly, etc.)
The duration (quick or brief, etc.)

This way both the carers and the people with autism are making the highly sensitive environment more manageable!