Autism Sensory Processing
Posted on February 28, 2022 by xtxwebmaster
Autistic people tend to experience sensory information differently to non-autistic people. We might experience sensations in a heightened way. Small amounts of noise registers with the brain, and if there is lots of noise it can feel too much, or in some situations, the brain may even perceive the noise as a threat and instruct the body to have a survival response. On the other hand, proprioceptive senses, knowing what the body is up to, is muted. Therefore the need for lots of input to know where the body is in space. Every human has a unique mind, a unique sensory profile, and own way of processing the world. Neurodiversity is not a condition found inside an individual, but a feature of the human race.
Autistic sensory processing systems don’t just process information coming from outside of the body – sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell. They process internal information too. These senses include interoception, which includes body signals like hunger, tiredness, pain, and emotions. The other two sense systems are proprioception; and our vestibular awareness of where our body is in space and how gravity and movement affect us. Containing unique sensory profiles are made up of those sensations we like and dislike, and those we seek out or avoid.
The difficulty it can be for those people who need to have lots of sensory input in order to recognize feeling, also may cause them not to notice how stressed they are. On the other hand, some only require a small amount of sensory information, so might notice a tiny change in their body, or feel such intense sensations of being stressed that are so overwhelming they are unable to regulate themselves either. It is important to have people around us that accept our different ways of being in the world and help us co-regulate.
The psychological and physiological impact of events that cause Sensory Trauma are similar to those found in other types of trauma. Sensory trauma may not necessarily come from events that we traditionally consider to be traumatizing. It can be difficult for non-autistic people to appreciate events that have the potential to cause Sensory Trauma, because it may arise from ordinary, everyday experiences. This may result in Autistic people living from moment to moment not just on the lookout for potentially traumatic events, in hypervigilance, bodies and brain activated and picking up on potentially traumatizing sensory information. When people are physiologically activated in this way, we experience the world as threatening and not a place of safety at all. Living in a state of activation can have a lasting effect, that in some cases may result in our nervous system activating a survival response even when there is no threat there.
Autistic people are more likely to be bullied, out of work, or experience difficulties in school. Experience stigma or need to mask our autism. We may lack a background of consistent, regulating support from others in our environment that would have provided us with the ability to regulate. This can make it more difficult to bond and connect with people. All these issues combined may have an impact on how we experience emotions – and how we experience the events that cause those emotions.
Autistic people experience the world differently and therefore respond differently. When we experience Sensory Trauma, our response is proportionate to our experience. Engaging in support for each other, regardless of our neurology. Emotional and sensory regulation is about getting the balance of sensory information just right. If we only need small amounts of information to register with our brain, then we may need to reduce input. If we need lots of sensory information, then we may need to increase input.
Each of us has a sensory processing system and each of us needs to be regulated. Non-autistic people need to be regulated too, and lots of people instinctively do things to reduce the intensity. The world is more set up for non-autistic people so self-regulating opportunities are often easier to come by if you’re not autistic.