Working with Sensory Integration Disorders

People with Asperger Syndrome often have problems processing, organizing and using information received their senses. This is called Sensory Integration Disorder.

When normal people sit down to do a task, they filter out background noise. The vast array of sights and smells of a shopping mall do not distract them. They zero in and find the exact object they set out to buy.

However, Aspies often over-attend to some stimuli and under-attend to others. This creates not only problems in the classroom, but also difficulties in completing routine tasks like sitting in a chair, getting dressed, and understanding the intentions of other people.

Because of Sensory Integration Disorders, children with Asperger Syndrome are often easily frustrated. They may shut down emotionally when they feel overwhelmed or throw tantrums. They can fail at school because little things like a student’s sharpening a pencil distract them. This distractibility combined with hypersensitivity to noise, lights, touches and smells often means that they cannot process new material fast enough to produce a normal workload.

Children with Asperger Syndrome will not outgrow Sensory Integration Disorder. Parents cannot cure it by telling their children to ignore whatever is brothering them.

Therapists and teachers who work with children with Asperger Syndrome use many techniques to help them cope with Sensory Integration Disorder. Some are as simple as playing background music or increasing the child’s exercise time. Aromatherapy, art therapy, object manipulation and massage help some children. Some children benefit by working one-on-one with a personal coach.

Applied Behavioral Analysis is another key therapeutic technique used with all forms of autism and Attention Deficit Disorder. Its main principle is to break tasks into tiny steps and to reward correct responses with treats, stickers or small toys. For example, if a child manages to keep working despite a distraction placed near his desk, his therapist may give him a reward.

Applied Behavioral Analysts praise the child specifically. For example, they would say, “You did a good job answering the phone,” not just “Good job.”

Applied Behavioral Analysis also helps Aspies who do not know how to break jobs into small steps. For example, if they need a book, it may never occur to such a child to ask his parent to take him to the library as a first step.

Another method is called Dialectical Behavior Technique, originally invented to help those with Borderline Personality Disorder. The therapist helps the child learn how to tolerate higher levels of frustration and to control his emotional responses to conflict or frustration.

Another technique involves the parents keeping diaries of their children’s tantrums and frustrations in terms of Sensory Integration Disorder. There are usually three columns in the diary. The first is a record of the incident. For example, a parent would write, “Threw tantrum getting dressed.” The second column is the reason in terms of Sensory Integration Disorder: “Johnny cannot tolerate tags on clothes.” The third column is the intervention: “Cut off tags.”

Many children with Asperger Syndrome go through occupational therapy. They learn through “hands-on” methods how to translate visual and auditory input into motor tasks like handwriting, tying shoes, opening a milk carton or sports activities. Therapists often use specialized equipment such as “Theraputty,” camping pillows, T-stools, inflatable discs and other objects to help children better orient themselves in space.

Finally, many children with Asperger Syndrome benefit from prescription drugs to reduce anxiety, increase concentration, or help them fall asleep.

Bashe, Patricia and Barbara Kirby. The Oasis Guide to Asperger Syndrome. New York: Crown Publishers, 2005.

Derry, Jeffrey.”New and old approaches to helping Children and Adolescents Diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder and their families in a Wilderness Program.” Published privately through the Aspen Education Group.

Jensen, Audra. When Babies Read. Philadelphia: Kingsley Publishers, 2005.

Kennedy, Diane. ADHD Autism Connection. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2002.

Lovecky, Deirdre. Different Minds. Philadelphia: Kingsley Publishers, 2004.

Myles, Brenda; Cook, Catherine; Miller, Nancy; Rinner, Louann; Robbins, Lisa. Asperger Syndrome and Sensory Issues. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing, 2000.

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The team behind Your Little Professor is dedicated to providing factual information for parents and caretakers of adolescents on the Autism Spectrum Disorder. We believe in connecting families to the necessary resources in order to help individuals on the spectrum succeed in day-to-day life.