Do Sensory Processing Issues Get Better Over Time?
For children with an autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing issues can be problematic. Overwhelmed by loud, chaotic environments, children with ASD may become overstimulated and act out in ways that are unsafe or inappropriate. Sometimes, parents make the decision to stop taking children into crowded places, to avoid meltdowns. But do these problems resolve themselves as the child grows to maturity?
In short, yes. For most people with ASD, sensory issues become much milder as the child grows. Sometimes they resolve on their own, but even when they’re severe and continue for many years, sensory processing issues do improve. Often, this improvement can be enhanced by skills learned in occupational therapy or by providing the child with environmental accommodations.
- Understanding sensory processing issues. Often, children with ASD have trouble processing sensory information they take in through not only their five senses- taste, sight, sound, touch, and smell- but also through two lesser–known internal senses. These internal senses are proprioception, which has to do with body awareness and movement, and vestibular sense, which involves balance and coordination. When a child is overly sensitive to sensory input, it can become overwhelming, which leads to avoidance. On the other hand, some children are under–sensitive, which can cause them to bump into things and people intentionally, and seek out additional sensory stimulation. Some children face both issues, depending on the type of stimulation.
- Occupational therapy may help. Occupational therapists use different strategies, like swinging, spinning, and deep pressure, to help kids calm down, and they work with children on gross and fine motor skills. Some OTs work in schools, consulting on accommodations for children with ASD and helping children to regulate within the environment of the classroom. Pillows for sitting, weighted vests, fidgets, and breathing exercises can all provide sensory input that helps children feel more in control.
- Continuing to use the coping skills learned in OT can be beneficial. Using weighted blankets, drinking through a straw, chewing gums, wearing headphones in public places, and using fidget toys are all compensatory measures that can be helpful even for teenagers and adults. As people grow and mature, they learn to avoid potentially overwhelming situations, and how to develop strategies for self-help.
- Maturity can also bring the motivation to tolerate discomfort. Young children are not as self-aware as teenagers and adults, and so they may not realize which behaviors are not socially appropriate. As kids grow up, they learn to manage some of their sensory issues, so that they can achieve things they want, like staying in a social situation a little while longer. There are also neurodevelopmental processes that can help change certain behaviors and improve sensory issues.
- Sometimes, sensory issues stick around. Not everyone with sensory issues improve with time. Some people still require some accommodation in order to function in situations that they find stressful or overwhelming. Knowing how to adapt and how to self-advocate is important in managing sensory issues. Avoiding triggers like crowds and loud noises can help, as can compensatory tools like soft clothing and dark glasses. Technology is also a boon, and there are adaptive and assistive technology tools that can help people with sensory processing issues accomplish things they might otherwise have been unable to manage.
If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.
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