Sensory Input

This is one of the biggest things to understand about autism. Autists literally experience the world in a different way. Some autistic people have much more acute hearing than others. Many autistic people are more sensitive to taste, touch, smell, some notice small details that other people miss. A number of autistic people are less sensitive to these things too!

When an autist talks about something being too loud or too bright, they are not being overly sensitive. They almost certainly are experiencing the environment differently from the others around them. If they say something feels scratchy, it’s very probable that it does feel too scratchy to them, even if it feels ok to you.

There are 8 basic senses that we all have:

    • Visual (sight)
    • Auditory (sound)
    • Gustatory (taste)
    • Olfactory (smell)
    • Tactile (touch)
    • Vestibular (body movement)
    • Proprioceptive (awareness of your body in relation to surroundings)
    • Interoception (sense of what’s happening inside your body)

Sensory Sensitivity

A sensitivity to something can mean many different things too – sensitive to light touch could mean that you find it painful, or that you seek it out, or even that you feel touch after it has ended. It is also possible for someone to be highly sensitive to some senses, and not very sensitive to others.

These sensitivities are subject to change throughout a lifetime too. Periods of extreme stress such as many autistic people may be feeling right now, and changes in hormones such as puberty, pregnancy or menopause may heighten issues with sensory input or change sensory preferences.

What does that mean in practice? Right now due to the number of changes and higher stress, it is possible you and/or the autistic people in your life may be more or less sensitive to all of the areas of sensory input.

This could potentially mean:

    • Increased sensory sensitivity, e.g., higher pitched noises may be even more difficult than usual, more sensitive to touch or visual input than before.
    • Decreased sensitivity, e.g., poorer interoception meaning more toilet accidents, decreased awareness of being hungry, needing to turn up TV more to hear it.
    • More sensory seeking, e.g., needing to spin, rock, swing, using weighted blankets more often, or wanting spicier food.
    • Increased need for sameness when it comes to sensory input, e.g., wanting to eat the same food more frequently, only use certain soaps or fabric softeners, and increased anxiety when those options are not available.

Ensuring that there is good access to whatever sensory inputs are calming is important for autistic people of all ages, particularly during times of stress, as is knowing what sensory input will increase anxiety

Developing a sensory profile will help identify what will help quickly when stressed, and it may be worth sharing with others in the household too.

Filtering Out Sensory Input

Being autistic means that we are more likely to have issues filtering out sensory information which can lead to being overwhelmed. This is called habituation – everyone does this to some extent. The brain takes information that is not really relevant and just doesn’t process it. The most obvious is that you can in fact always see your nose, but it’s not important so we filter it out.

Autistic people often cannot do this, so background noise that most people are vaguely aware of but don’t need to process can take effort for us. If you are in your living room, the TV is on, someone playing a video game, someone else drawing a picture, and possibly noise of a running tap while someone else is washing dishes, maybe a neighbour playing music too – that’s a whole lot of noise to be processing at the same time. And those are just the noises. Add in the smells, and all the other sensory input and that is a huge amount to be processing.

“When there’s too much sensory information going on, I find it hard to process any of it, and may need some space to let my mind relax”

Marion McLaughlin, OSS Manager


Supporting Autistic Sensory Differences

It’s important that everyone’s sensory needs are acknowledged and respected. It will make everyone feel more confident and secure. If the autistic people in your life can discuss their sensory needs with you, listen and accept they may feel things differently. Talking with other autistic adults, reading their blogs and books, can be a good way to help improve your understanding of sensory differences too.

Some of our sensory differences can be tricky for other people. If you have a loved one who doesn’t want to hug, it’s possible it’s because the sensory information is too intense – the texture of your clothes, skin and hair all at the same time, it’s a lot of different things to process. There are also the smells - the smell of your shampoo, washing powder and any products on your skin or aftershave, perfume, your breath. Most people don’t consider all those aspects, but for some autistic people they are impossible to ignore.

Respecting the autist’s boundaries and finding ways to express affection that they can deal with will make them feel cared for and valued. You may also have an autist who wants to hug or have physical contact constantly – which can be tricky when you have things you need to do. Items like rash vests, back packs, weighted vests can all provide that sensory feedback the autist may need to feel secure. It might take some investigating to see what works best, but we behave the way we do for a reason, so finding the reason allows you the chance to find other options.

Some parents have expressed concern that in supporting these sensory needs - for example giving their child ear defenders or a sensory toy - they are creating a barrier between the child and the world. That they are less able to interact with the world. Sometimes wearing ear defenders does look a little different, sometimes people may stare. Sometimes you may have people asking why they are wearing them.

Questions are ok, and if you want to answer them that’s fine (although you are under no obligation to answer questions from strangers). We would argue that if by wearing that piece of kit – the ear defenders or chewing jewellery or whatever - it means your child is able to be out in the world, then that the sensory equipment is a gateway to the world, and not a barrier to it. If that piece of equipment helps them to avoid a crisis point, then all the better.

All of us here at One Shop Stop Aberdeen and Triple A’s use all kinds of sensory equipment – from ear defenders to weighted blankets to fidget objects. We participate in meetings with them, take them shopping, use them when socialising. They help us to support our sensory needs, and boost our quality of life.


Sensory Input

This is one of the biggest things to understand about autism. Autists literally experience the world in a different way. Some autistic people have much more acute hearing than others. Many autistic people are more sensitive to taste, touch, smell, some notice small details that other people miss. A number of autistic people are less sensitive to these things too!

When an autist talks about something being too loud or too bright, they are not being overly sensitive. They almost certainly are experiencing the environment differently from the others around them. If they say something feels scratchy, it’s very probable that it does feel too scratchy to them, even if it feels ok to you.

There are 8 basic senses that we all have:

    • Visual (sight)
    • Auditory (sound)
    • Gustatory (taste)
    • Olfactory (smell)
    • Tactile (touch)
    • Vestibular (body movement)
    • Proprioceptive (awareness of your body in relation to surroundings)
    • Interoception (sense of what’s happening inside your body)

Sensory Sensitivity

A sensitivity to something can mean many different things too – sensitive to light touch could mean that you find it painful, or that you seek it out, or even that you feel touch after it has ended. It is also possible for someone to be highly sensitive to some senses, and not very sensitive to others.

These sensitivities are subject to change throughout a lifetime too. Periods of extreme stress such as many autistic people may be feeling right now, and changes in hormones such as puberty, pregnancy or menopause may heighten issues with sensory input or change sensory preferences.

What does that mean in practice? Right now due to the number of changes and higher stress, it is possible you and/or the autistic people in your life may be more or less sensitive to all of the areas of sensory input.

This could potentially mean:

    • Increased sensory sensitivity, e.g., higher pitched noises may be even more difficult than usual, more sensitive to touch or visual input than before.
    • Decreased sensitivity, e.g., poorer interoception meaning more toilet accidents, decreased awareness of being hungry, needing to turn up TV more to hear it.
    • More sensory seeking, e.g., needing to spin, rock, swing, using weighted blankets more often, or wanting spicier food.
    • Increased need for sameness when it comes to sensory input, e.g., wanting to eat the same food more frequently, only use certain soaps or fabric softeners, and increased anxiety when those options are not available.

Ensuring that there is good access to whatever sensory inputs are calming is important for autistic people of all ages, particularly during times of stress, as is knowing what sensory input will increase anxiety

Developing a sensory profile will help identify what will help quickly when stressed, and it may be worth sharing with others in the household too.

Filtering Out Sensory Input

Being autistic means that we are more likely to have issues filtering out sensory information which can lead to being overwhelmed. This is called habituation – everyone does this to some extent. The brain takes information that is not really relevant and just doesn’t process it. The most obvious is that you can in fact always see your nose, but it’s not important so we filter it out.

Autistic people often cannot do this, so background noise that most people are vaguely aware of but don’t need to process can take effort for us. If you are in your living room, the TV is on, someone playing a video game, someone else drawing a picture, and possibly noise of a running tap while someone else is washing dishes, maybe a neighbour playing music too – that’s a whole lot of noise to be processing at the same time. And those are just the noises. Add in the smells, and all the other sensory input and that is a huge amount to be processing.

“When there’s too much sensory information going on, I find it hard to process any of it, and may need some space to let my mind relax”

Marion McLaughlin, OSS Manager


Supporting Autistic Sensory Differences

It’s important that everyone’s sensory needs are acknowledged and respected. It will make everyone feel more confident and secure. If the autistic people in your life can discuss their sensory needs with you, listen and accept they may feel things differently. Talking with other autistic adults, reading their blogs and books, can be a good way to help improve your understanding of sensory differences too.

Some of our sensory differences can be tricky for other people. If you have a loved one who doesn’t want to hug, it’s possible it’s because the sensory information is too intense – the texture of your clothes, skin and hair all at the same time, it’s a lot of different things to process. There are also the smells - the smell of your shampoo, washing powder and any products on your skin or aftershave, perfume, your breath. Most people don’t consider all those aspects, but for some autistic people they are impossible to ignore.

Respecting the autist’s boundaries and finding ways to express affection that they can deal with will make them feel cared for and valued. You may also have an autist who wants to hug or have physical contact constantly – which can be tricky when you have things you need to do. Items like rash vests, back packs, weighted vests can all provide that sensory feedback the autist may need to feel secure. It might take some investigating to see what works best, but we behave the way we do for a reason, so finding the reason allows you the chance to find other options.

Some parents have expressed concern that in supporting these sensory needs - for example giving their child ear defenders or a sensory toy - they are creating a barrier between the child and the world. That they are less able to interact with the world. Sometimes wearing ear defenders does look a little different, sometimes people may stare. Sometimes you may have people asking why they are wearing them.

Questions are ok, and if you want to answer them that’s fine (although you are under no obligation to answer questions from strangers). We would argue that if by wearing that piece of kit – the ear defenders or chewing jewellery or whatever - it means your child is able to be out in the world, then that the sensory equipment is a gateway to the world, and not a barrier to it. If that piece of equipment helps them to avoid a crisis point, then all the better.

All of us here at One Shop Stop Aberdeen and Triple A’s use all kinds of sensory equipment – from ear defenders to weighted blankets to fidget objects. We participate in meetings with them, take them shopping, use them when socialising. They help us to support our sensory needs, and boost our quality of life.


Sensory Input

This is one of the biggest things to understand about autism. Autists literally experience the world in a different way. Some autistic people have much more acute hearing than others. Many autistic people are more sensitive to taste, touch, smell, some notice small details that other people miss. A number of autistic people are less sensitive to these things too!

When an autist talks about something being too loud or too bright, they are not being overly sensitive. They almost certainly are experiencing the environment differently from the others around them. If they say something feels scratchy, it’s very probable that it does feel too scratchy to them, even if it feels ok to you.

There are 8 basic senses that we all have:

    • Visual (sight)
    • Auditory (sound)
    • Gustatory (taste)
    • Olfactory (smell)
    • Tactile (touch)
    • Vestibular (body movement)
    • Proprioceptive (awareness of your body in relation to surroundings)
    • Interoception (sense of what’s happening inside your body)

Sensory Sensitivity

A sensitivity to something can mean many different things too – sensitive to light touch could mean that you find it painful, or that you seek it out, or even that you feel touch after it has ended. It is also possible for someone to be highly sensitive to some senses, and not very sensitive to others.

These sensitivities are subject to change throughout a lifetime too. Periods of extreme stress such as many autistic people may be feeling right now, and changes in hormones such as puberty, pregnancy or menopause may heighten issues with sensory input or change sensory preferences.

What does that mean in practice? Right now due to the number of changes and higher stress, it is possible you and/or the autistic people in your life may be more or less sensitive to all of the areas of sensory input.

This could potentially mean:

    • Increased sensory sensitivity, e.g., higher pitched noises may be even more difficult than usual, more sensitive to touch or visual input than before.
    • Decreased sensitivity, e.g., poorer interoception meaning more toilet accidents, decreased awareness of being hungry, needing to turn up TV more to hear it.
    • More sensory seeking, e.g., needing to spin, rock, swing, using weighted blankets more often, or wanting spicier food.
    • Increased need for sameness when it comes to sensory input, e.g., wanting to eat the same food more frequently, only use certain soaps or fabric softeners, and increased anxiety when those options are not available.

Ensuring that there is good access to whatever sensory inputs are calming is important for autistic people of all ages, particularly during times of stress, as is knowing what sensory input will increase anxiety

Developing a sensory profile will help identify what will help quickly when stressed, and it may be worth sharing with others in the household too.

Filtering Out Sensory Input

Being autistic means that we are more likely to have issues filtering out sensory information which can lead to being overwhelmed. This is called habituation – everyone does this to some extent. The brain takes information that is not really relevant and just doesn’t process it. The most obvious is that you can in fact always see your nose, but it’s not important so we filter it out.

Autistic people often cannot do this, so background noise that most people are vaguely aware of but don’t need to process can take effort for us. If you are in your living room, the TV is on, someone playing a video game, someone else drawing a picture, and possibly noise of a running tap while someone else is washing dishes, maybe a neighbour playing music too – that’s a whole lot of noise to be processing at the same time. And those are just the noises. Add in the smells, and all the other sensory input and that is a huge amount to be processing.

“When there’s too much sensory information going on, I find it hard to process any of it, and may need some space to let my mind relax”

Marion McLaughlin, OSS Manager


Supporting Autistic Sensory Differences

It’s important that everyone’s sensory needs are acknowledged and respected. It will make everyone feel more confident and secure. If the autistic people in your life can discuss their sensory needs with you, listen and accept they may feel things differently. Talking with other autistic adults, reading their blogs and books, can be a good way to help improve your understanding of sensory differences too.

Some of our sensory differences can be tricky for other people. If you have a loved one who doesn’t want to hug, it’s possible it’s because the sensory information is too intense – the texture of your clothes, skin and hair all at the same time, it’s a lot of different things to process. There are also the smells - the smell of your shampoo, washing powder and any products on your skin or aftershave, perfume, your breath. Most people don’t consider all those aspects, but for some autistic people they are impossible to ignore.

Respecting the autist’s boundaries and finding ways to express affection that they can deal with will make them feel cared for and valued. You may also have an autist who wants to hug or have physical contact constantly – which can be tricky when you have things you need to do. Items like rash vests, back packs, weighted vests can all provide that sensory feedback the autist may need to feel secure. It might take some investigating to see what works best, but we behave the way we do for a reason, so finding the reason allows you the chance to find other options.

Some parents have expressed concern that in supporting these sensory needs - for example giving their child ear defenders or a sensory toy - they are creating a barrier between the child and the world. That they are less able to interact with the world. Sometimes wearing ear defenders does look a little different, sometimes people may stare. Sometimes you may have people asking why they are wearing them.

Questions are ok, and if you want to answer them that’s fine (although you are under no obligation to answer questions from strangers). We would argue that if by wearing that piece of kit – the ear defenders or chewing jewellery or whatever - it means your child is able to be out in the world, then that the sensory equipment is a gateway to the world, and not a barrier to it. If that piece of equipment helps them to avoid a crisis point, then all the better.

All of us here at One Shop Stop Aberdeen and Triple A’s use all kinds of sensory equipment – from ear defenders to weighted blankets to fidget objects. We participate in meetings with them, take them shopping, use them when socialising. They help us to support our sensory needs, and boost our quality of life.


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