Sensory processing at home
How an individual’s brain processes sensory information can change according to the environment, events that have happened or are due to happen. It is important that parents and carers have a good understanding of their child’s sensory processing in order to be able to support them.
Sensory challenges are everywhere
Parents and carers of those with autism are often very quick to think about sensory stimuli when they take their child out to new environments or to school but these sensory challenges are present everywhere including the home and it is important to keep this in mind so that you can ensure your child is not over or under stimulated.
For general information on what each sense is and how it can affect an autistic person, please view our free handout on sensory processing here. Below are a list of ways our senses can be effected in the home environment.
This doesn’t just mean physical lamps and lights, although these obviously have a potential impact. Natural light can have a huge effect. Some people with autism struggle more on dull days, whilst others can’t process when the sun is bright. They may want to have curtains closed so they can remain comfortable and regulated.
As with light, there are obviously several appliances around the home that are triggers for auditory processing challenges. More obvious ones are vacuum cleaners, washing machines and DIY tools but it can also be the less obvious noises such as a heating pipe or a small buzz of an electrical appliance. To a neurotypical person this may be hardly audible but to an autistic person can cause genuine pain. Other noises such as siblings playing or pets making a noise can also be a cause of distress.
Modern homes are filled with so many tactile objects including flooring, furniture, curtains and bedding to name but some. For some people with autism they may have a preference for one sort of texture whilst others may seek out a variety of different textures and deliberately avoid others. Always bear this in mind when buying furniture flooring or even a new car. Don’t forget that touch isn’t just something we do with our limbs, it is also related to the texture of food and this can be a major factor in an individual with autism being able to eat a varied and balanced diet.
Over recent years there has been a boom in the use of candles, oil burners and diffusers in the home to add frangrance. Make sure the scents you use are not causing any discomfort and if you are using essential oils check whether they are natural stimulants or relaxants. These can have huge effects, especially on those with ADHD. Cooking smells can be delicious but will also be a potential challenge for a neurodiverse person and in extreme cases could induce nausea.
Most food is consumed in the home and a an autistic child needs time to process new tastes as well as having a preference for familiar food which the are comfortable with. We will have more resources on this coming soon.
Vestibular & proprioceptive
These senses are really put to work in the home environment. This includes when a person is having to shower or bath, sit at a dinner table and spend time with other family members. Shower pressure can cause genuine pain, including when it is running softly. Check what your child's preferences are and research other products such a instant shower gel that requires no additional water should you need to. These senses can overload or be stimulated by playing, jumping and running so be wary of what games and toys may not be helpful for keeping your child regulated. Trampolines, swings and pools can be a blessing or a curse. Limit time spent on them if they cause your child to become stressed or overloaded.
This sense is effected wherever you are as it stems from an internal system. You may find though that the awareness lessens when there are more sensory challenges present in the household. Children may not realise they are hungry or need the toilet. They may not undertsand that they feel ill or are hot for example. Always check these things and give gentle reminders to help them along.
For more information on sensory profiles and how to manage a child's sensory needs, check out our book, 'Parenting Rewired' here.