Monday, 13 November 2017

Autism, Sensory processing and Social Communication.

One of the defining attributes of what the world likes to call 'autism' is problems with sensory processing.  I have yet to meet a youngster with autism who does not have some sort of sensory processing issue, be it visual, auditory, tactile, etc, or indeed all the senses.  This is so important because it is these sensory input channels to the brain which dictate the way in which we see, hear and feel the world around us.  This in turn then influence what a child produces by way of the output pathways of gross and fine motor behaviour, vestibular behaviour, fine motor function, language, social communication and emotional behaviour. 

Today we welcomed a four year old little boy and his family from eastern Europe for their first assessment. The little on has a diagnosis of autism, but his major problems lie in the areas of sensory processing and social communication. Of course these two areas are linked.  Because he experiences auditory hypersensitivity, he doesn't like to interact with people he doesn't know, in particular with children.  Children are unpredictable and produce many sounds at the frequencies to which he is sensitive.  His visual magnocellular pathway is under-active, (this pathway helps us to notice movement and aids with visual accommodation) which is why he is focussed on objects which move, in particular objects which spin, (he is unwittingly trying to activate that pathway by creating more and more movement).  Some children with problems here will sit and wave their hands in front of their eyes in an attempt to stimulate this pathway.  This is also why he holds objects close to his eyes in order to observe them.  He spins himself around and spends time upside down in a clear attempt to stimulate the vestibular pathways, which he needs because his balance is very poor, (his brain innately understands this, hence the self - stimulation. - The brain shows us what it needs, we just need to observe)!

He was a delightful little chap who has lots of possibilities. Our first steps, as always are to try to improve sensory processing, because as I say, if the input channels which feed information into the brain are not working correctly, then neither will the output channels because they are operating on faulty information. Let's see how he fares on the Snowdrop programme.

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