What is sensory processing?
Sensory processing (sometimes called ‘sensory integration’ or ‘SI’) is a term that refers to the way the brain receives messages from the sensory receptors and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioural responses.
Why do individuals with autism respond differently to sensory stimuli?
Sensory stimuli is picked up by sensory receptors all over the body. The receptors pass the information to the brain. The brain is like a computer, filled with thousands of wires connected to different areas of the brain which help us process, interpret and then choose the appropriate response to the sensory stimuli.
In individuals with autism, research has found that the connections between different areas of the brain are different from typically developing individuals (see references).
These differences in the brain have been found to affect the way sensory stimuli is interpreted and processed by individuals with autism(see references).
Interpreting and processing information differently results in individuals with autism selecting an unusual or sometimes inappropriate response to sensory stimuli.
Research has found that many children with autism have difficulty processing sensory stimuli and respond with unusual or atypical behaviour(see references). These responses are usually categorised as either:
Hyper or over responsive to sensory stimuli. This means that a little sensory stimuli may feel like a lot to a child who is over responsive.
Hypo or under responsive to sensory stimuli. This means that a lot of sensory stimuli may feel like a little to a child who is under responsive.
Children with autism can be hyper or hypo responsive in one or a combination of the seven senses (Visual, Auditory, Tactile, Gustatory, Olfactory, Vestibular, Proprioceptive), which can make concentrating on and performing everyday tasks, such as homework, difficult.
Read next: What are the senses? →