Seeking or Avoidant? Or both???
As autism is becoming better understood, we are beginning to make sense of autistic behavior and its relation to sensory processing.
Because autism can be described as uneven development of one’s neurological system, we are finding ways to sort and define these neurological “styles” of sensory processing.
Since each of us has differently developed neurology, we will have different struggles.
Roughly, these struggles and resulting behavior fall into two categories.
For some of us, our senses may get easily overloaded or overwhelmed. We may find that lights are too bright or that flickering patterns cause distress. We may find that things we hear become painful or distressing, annoying or anger producing when we can’t stop them or control them as they happen.
We may find the way things feel against our skin becomes distressing, too light of touch, too prickly, too stimulating in situations where we are in a breeze, cold or hot water, using lotions, being scrubbed with brushes or rough cloths, etc. We may hate the way something feels in our mouth, be overwhelmed by tastes, smells, or other sensory input. When we are overwhelmed by our sensory input, we become avoidant… try to avoid these experiences at all costs and when we can not escape to our own comfort level, we may flee, shut down, or melt down.
Those of us who need to escape our sensory input frequently and who do so in many ways, from refusing to go places, refusing to try new things, refusing to wear certain clothing or eat certain foods, hiding our eyes , covering our ears, turning our backs or running away…are called sensory avoidant. We must avoid sensory overwhelm and struggle to maintain performance of daily living while coping with and trying to avoid “too much input”.
The other broad category of sensory struggles falls in the opposite direction. Those of us who are sensory seeking require sensory stimulation and more sensory “input” than what our senses process in daily living.
We may enjoy jumping, in all forms, bumping into walls or furniture or other people, running, swimming, spinning, pounding, rolling, and any other physical experience .
We may smell, touch, or taste all sorts of things, in fact it is almost impossible to resist the impulse in many cases, even when doing so may be considered highly inappropriate.
Sensory seekers are more likely to hit or bite themselves, to deliberately seek sensations of hot or cold, bright and flickering lights, seek sounds of all sorts frequently at volume. Sensory seekers may want to be held or stroked, cuddled, may like deep tissue massage, the use of sensory tools such as mitts and brushes that provide different “feels” upon the skin, and may enjoy tight clothing or weighted vests or backpacks.
In some individuals, processing may be mixed, with certain experiences being overwhelming and others being sought.
Each of us is very different, each of our sensory systems are unique, so one must work to sort which sensory forms of input are appropriate or must be changed or carefully adjusted to prevent either overwhelm or to help satisfy the need for more stimulation .
Once we recognize the way we process input from all of our senses we can make adjustments to our lives to make every day living less struggle and more satisfying, safer, and easier overall.
Most articles on the internet, and most studies about sensory processing and autism are , of course, aimed at children. Very little information is available about adult sensory processing. Thinking back to your childhood, perhaps you will recognize patterns of behavior that will help you figure out what sensory experiences you try to avoid and what sensory experiences you might seek and enjoy, and wish to experience more frequently.
Are you sensory avoidant, sensory seeking, or do your both avoid and seek sensory input ?