People with Autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) tend to exhibit significantly different patterns of sensory processing to their peers and to children with other special educational needs (SEN).

It is estimated that 60 to 70 per cent of children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) present with sensory modulation/processing disorder (Adamson, 2006). Studies have shown that people with autism are slower to integrate inputs coming in from their senses, making their processing speed much slower. This may go some way towards explaining why children with ASD are often subject to “meltdowns”. Children with autism lack the appropriate “filters” to screen out irrelevant information and this can cause meltdown as each input builds and builds without being filtered out appropriately. They may be still processing, for example, the earlier noise in the corridor at the same time as trying to deal with new inputs from the teacher and fellow students in the classroom.

Sensory overload can present itself in many ways, such as challenging behaviour, withdrawal and complete shutdown.
There are, though, a number of simple strategies that can be used in the home or classroom to effectively add the sensory filters that these students often require. Occupational therapists are key to this intervention. Adding the right filters and intervention to target each sensory system helps the child’s nervous system become more organised/regulated and therefore assists the person with attention and performance.

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