Autism and Sensory Integration
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) cases are increasing at an alarming rate, with 1 in 68 children being diagnosed with ASD according to estimates from CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.
The reasons are multifactorial including an increase in community awareness (thus seeking diagnosis) of ASD, changing diagnostic criteria, genetics, environmental chemical exposures, biochemical and metabolic disorders, nutritional imbalances, chronic infections, immune dysfunction and heavy metal toxicities. All of these, and likely others, are contributing to and in some cases causing ASD.
Autism is more than a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is a multi-system disorder involving the digestive, immune, biochemical, hormone, and detoxification systems that affect the brain.
Autism usually presents in the first three years of life. It is defined by difficulties in communication and language skills, imaginative play and social interaction.
Children with Autism often show signs of attention difficulties, hyperactivity, obsessive traits, tics and / or sleep disorders. They may either display an absence of reaction or an overreaction to sound or pain with distress. When playing, they show a lack of meaningful ‘pretend play’ and display a restricted repertoire of play skills.
With social skills, they are unable to relate to others in a meaningful way, including poor eye contact. When it comes to their communication skills, they show poor receptive and expressive language, including lack of vocalisations.
Children with Autism may show sensory integration difficulties and these may present in the following ways:
Interventions by Occupational Therapists with Sensory Integration training would focus on initially reducing the sensitivity or over reaction to sensory stimuli such as light, sound, touch and movement. These symptoms may be reduced by therapy but may continue to be present, thus ongoing therapeutic input may be required for some time. Movement seeking behaviours (rocking and spinning) will be provided in a more controlled and socially appropriate manner. This may help decrease these behaviours in other situations.
Environmental adaptations at school and or home would be recommended, such as:
Everyday medical research is discovering more about various influences that predispose a child to becoming afflicted with Autism. There are excellent treatments already available to help address many of the complex health issues that children with ASD face.
The field of biomedicine for Autism, involves treating the digestive, metabolic, hormone and biochemical systems. This has proven very effective and has been practiced for decades with the assistance of organisations such as the Autism Research Institute, Generation Rescue and Talk About Curing Autism.
The holistic treatment of the ASD child involving different therapeutic modalities will see a significant change and improvement in the child.
Sensory Solutions For Concentration Difficulties
A child’s reaction and their behaviour is affected by the way they perceive their environment, and this can impact on their concentration and attention.
Children may over react or under react to certain sensory inputs in their environments and this is often seen as inappropriate behaviour, and characterizes sensory processing disorders. Their response is also largely dependent on the state of their autonomic nervous system at that time. The autonomic nervous system is the division of the nervous system responsible for survival and protection. Thus if the child is under a state of stress or perceived stress, their reaction to sensory stimuli will be heightened. This means that they will be more sensitive to light touch, high pitched noises, smells, etc. In other words, the sensory input that offers information of value to the brain for survival. If the child is in ‘survival’ mode, they are in the ‘fight, flight, fright’ mode. Once in ‘survival’ mode, these children would have difficulties with sleeping or feeding such as poor appetite and poor digestion. These children often look for high sugar foods and carbohydrate foods. Eating these foods will in turn negatively impact attention and concentration.
One way to help impact on this sensory processing is to provide well balanced meals that would allow for stable blood sugar levels thus having a positive impact on attention and concentration.
An important part of sensory processing in attention and concentration is being able to filter the relevant information from the irrelevant information and to attend to the most important information. Being able to determine what to attend to is very important. This is necessary for selective attention such as listening to the teacher’s instructions against the background of classroom and outside noises.
The child’s level of attention must match the needs of the situation, if he is to react in an appropriate manner. If he is unable to do this, the child will most likely present with attention and concentration problems.
Sensory Diet for use at home:
A balanced sensory diet is specifically developed to meet the needs of the child’s nervous system.
Just as the main food groups provide us nourishment, a daily sensory diet fulfills physical and emotional needs. These include a combination of alerting, organising and calming activities.
Below, we will focus on providing alerting activities. These are ideal for the child who is quiet and shy and would rather avoid taking part in an activity. This child would be described as ‘under sensitive’ or ‘under aroused.’
These are good to do before homework time or before going to school to assist with waking the nervous system and helping prepare your child for the day of learning at school.
In the upcoming blogs we will look at ‘organisation’ activities and ‘calming’ activities as well as how television impacts on your child’s concentration abilities.