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Behavior & Sensory Support

What you need to know

Functional behavioral assessments are important for many individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. They can help determine the presence of concentration/attention problems, anxiety, and other differences in behavior. They can also determine possible triggers of the behavior, and increase understanding of the purpose or function of behavior. From that information, a support plan can be created.

Children with ASD may have some issues with:
  • Tactile defensiveness  
  • Eye contact
  • Perseverative speech
  • Impulse control
  • Distractibility
  • Being fidgety or overactive
  • Postural control
  • Self-control
  • Sensory defensiveness
  • Task avoidance
  • Understanding of expectations

Students with ASD may present with a variety of sensory differences. Sensory differences are individual to each student. Supports should be tailored to their needs in order to maximize their integration with their peers. Examples of sensory differences might include:

Over-reactive sensory systems
  • Reluctant to touch things
  • Reaches to parents for comfort
  • Hypersensitivity to tactile and auditory input
  • Displays abnormal reactions to normal sensory input. For example, putting hands over ears during periods of normal environmental sounds.
Under-reactive sensory systems
  • Not responding to name
  • Child appears as though they are hearing impaired
  • Does not respond to social stimuli
  • Decreased receptive language and social reciprocity
Unusual sensory interests
  • Rubbing of surfaces
  • Staring at refracted light, such as a rainbow from a prism 
Emotional regulation
  • Abnormal responses to the demands of their surroundings
  • Does not seek caretaker comfort
  • Responds with self-stimulating behaviors to soothe oneself
Transitions
  • Difficulty transitioning from one situation to the next
Ritualistic patterns
  • Development of ritualistic patterns, such as needing to touch certain items in order

What you can do

Careful evaluation by an Occupational and Physical Therapist will help identify the right support for a child’s specific motoric and sensory needs. Children with ASD often have difficulty processing everyday sensory information such as sounds, sights, textures, balance, tastes and smells (from the Autism Research Institute). 

Specific supports
  • Increase use of visual supports
  • Provide warnings or schedules so they can be prepared for check-ins.
  • Decrease visual distractions
  • Use ear plugs or headphones to decrease noise; create a quiet work station
  • Use sensory breaks for students to apply deep pressure, engage in pleasurable tactile experiences (ex. Running hands through rice bucket)
  • Consult a dietician or occupational therapist to learn about methods used with feeding children with sensitivities to food textures
  • Avoid strong perfumes, cleaning products, or other strong scents
  • With an Occupational Therapist, encourage practice of balance activities
  • Consider using a sensory diet (strategies to help child cope with sensory challenges that are distributed throughout the day to prevent difficulties) to help add sensory supports during the day to help the child be most ready to learn.