As more and more children and adults experience sensory sensitivity and sensory overload, it is important to understand sensory issues. However, many people are confused about sensory disorders and autism, giving rise to a common misconception that certain sensory preferences indicate a specific diagnosis. They do not. Read on to learn more about sensory issues vs. sensory disorders vs. other diagnoses.
What are sensory issues?
Sensory issues are not the same for everyone. And they can change over time. They can be lifelong, or temporary. A sensory issue occurs when the brain has difficulty processing sensory information, i.e. from the eight senses. Ultimately, this causes you to feel overwhelmed and may result in a sensory overload response.
One of the most common sensory issues that you likely are familiar with is hypersensitivity. Hypersensitivity occurs when you have heightened sensitivities to one or more of your eight senses. You can experience hypersensitivity to touch, smell, taste, vision, hear, balance (vestibular), movement (proprioception) and your internal body sense (interoception).
Many times, you will only have a hypersensitivity to one sense. You can also feel anxious or apprehensive. You might avoid doing things in sensory-rich environments.
Another type of sensory issue is called hyposensitivity. Hyposensitivity happens when you are less sensitive to any one of your eight senses.
What are some examples of sensory issues?
As previously stated, there are many different types of sensory issues. Here are some examples of things you might experience:
- Irritation from clothing tags.
- Itchy from certain types of fabric.
- Heightened sensitivity to bright lights.
- Bothered by flashing lights.
- Heightened sensitivity to loud noises.
- Overwhelmed by strong smells.
- Increased stress in crowded areas.
- Difficulty focusing in busy places.
- Feeling panicked in sensory-rich spaces.
- Elevated levels of stress with a lack of routine.
- Rigid behaviour.
- Wanting things to stay the same.
It is important to note that experiencing one or more of these symptoms does not mean you have autism, a sensory disorder or another diagnosis. It is only when sensory issues are pervasive and interrupt daily life and your ability to learn, work, or play should a diagnosis be considered.
Additionally, check out, “Sensory Processing Issues and Their Association with Social Difficulties in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders” by Kojovic et al., (2019), which shares the impact of sensory issues on socialization and why these sensitivities occur 1.
Can a child have sensory issues and not be autistic?
There is a common misconception that if you have heightened sensory sensitivities then you have a form of autism. It is true that experiencing sensory sensitivity is a symptom of autism. However, being sensory sensitive does not necessarily indicate that you have autism.
Everyone has sensory preferences
Firstly, it is important to understand that everyone has sensory preferences. Regardless if you have a sensory processing disorder or not. For example, you may tend to get very irritated wearing a certain fabric of clothing. This does not mean that you have a diagnosable sensory issue. It simply indicates that you have a preference for other types of clothing to help make you more comfortable.
Different causes for sensory sensitivities
Secondly, there are several other reasons that you may have heightened sensitivities. For example, people with vision loss may have a greater sensitivity to their sense of hearing. Although their vision loss does not directly impact hearing, it may result in an increased sensitivity to loud noises, because they rely more on their hearing.
Additionally, you can check out the blog post by Alex Rice to read more about the first symptoms of sensory issues.
Finally, discover more about sensory issues:
- The best books on sensory disorders for parents.
- Who Has Sensory Sensitivity?
- Sensory Overload: Is it a Problem in Your Life?
- You Have Eight Senses Not Five.
- What Is Sensory Disorder?
- What Does Sensory Autism Mean?
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- Kojovic, Ben Hadid, Franchini, & Schaer. (2019). Sensory Processing Issues and Their Association with Social Difficulties in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 8(10), 1508. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8101508