Auditory Sensitivity

Why does this happen?
• Noise overload for people with ASD is a big problem.

• People with ASD can have an under- or over-reaction to sound.

Too much noise or some noises in particular can be distracting or irritating. Some sounds my cause the person physical pain when exposed to certain sounds.

• Unpredictable sounds, such as a phone ringing or dog barking can cause unusual or fearful reactions.

• The student might make humming noises or other sounds to mask out a noise that is disturbing him.

• Background noise can be so intrusive and distressing that the student cannot concentrate. He may be unable to filter out this background noise and pay attention to what is being said. Low level noise can also be a problem, eg. air conditioner or computer humming, clock ticking.

• The acoustics in a gymnasium or large hall can be unbearable to a student with ASD.

What you can do
• Try to keep background noise to a minimum. Some problem noises can be easily fixed, ie. replace rubber tips on chair legs to avoid them scraping on the floor.

However other often are things that most people filter out, such as the hum of fluorescent lights, electric hand dryers, aeroplanes passing overhead, lawnmowers etc. It will be necessary to gradually desensitise the young person  to these sounds, increasing ability to cope and act appropriately when they occur. Consult an occupational therapist for advice.

• Have a quiet area for the young person  to retreat to when feeling overloaded. See Creating a home base for more information.

• If appropriate, play music to mask out background noise or allow the student to listen to music through headphones during individual work.
• In physical education classes, the student may not cope well with the sound of a whistle. It may be helpful for the teacher to clap as warning prior to blowing the whistle, if one must be used.

• Some students might like to use ear plugs to filter out excessive noise. This may be an option if the student is unable to cope in situations like assembly or physical education classes. Industrial-type ear protectors may be appropriate in some classes, such as woodwork.

Difficulty With Physical Contact

Riley hits out at his peers as they walk past him. He is tactile defensive and wants others to get out of his space.

Why does this happen?
• Some students with ASD have a heightened sense of touch and overreact to physical contact or have an intense dislike of particular kinds of contact, ie. may not tolerate someone lightly brushing up against him. Adults with ASD have described how a light touch or brush from another person can cause discomfort or pain.

• The student may prefer physical contact and affection to be on their own terms and may find it difficult to cope when another person initiates the contact.

• If the student has a negative reaction to physical contact, remember that he may actually like the person who initiated the contact; it’s just the contact that he dislikes. The student may be unable to tolerate his peers accidentally bumping into him. He might react with anger because of his difficulty interpreting the actions of others.

• The student may have trouble understanding what is communicated by physical contact. This is due to his difficulty interpreting the meaning of gesture and body language.

• Some students might have a strong reaction to the perfume or deodorant of other people, leading to avoidance of physical contact. This could even prompt a student to walk out of class.

What you can do

Respect the personal space of the person with ASD, and ask others to do so.

• Allow the student to sit at a table where there is little or no through traffic. Some students will need this personal space in order to reduce anxiety and cope with group situations.
• The student may resist lining up with  peers because of the tactile stimulation. it is often helpful if the student with ASD stands at the back or the front of the line.

• Role play situations can help the student develop more appropriate responses to physical contact.

If the person with ASD is seeking innapropriate tactile stimulation an occupational therapist may be able to provide some support strategies.