Sensory issues, sometimes referred to as Sensory Integration or Sensory Processing Disorder, tend to occur along with other issues. Problems with the Sensory system most often involve either being too sensitive (hypersensitive) or not sensitive enough (hyposensitivity) to specific sensory experience, in any of the senses (see Brain Basics). Children who are hypersensitive may be described as “sensory avoidant” and children who are hyposensitive as “sensory seeking”.
Many children with autism spectrum disorders are hypersensitive to touch and are bothered by rough textures – such as the seams and tags in clothing, or buttons and zippers, and will refuse to wear anything but the softest t-shirts and sweatpants. Some of these children are overly sensitive to loud noises and may scream and tantrum in response to a fire alarm or ambulance siren, or even the sound of the vacuum cleaner. Children can also be hypersensitive to touch, and intolerant of affectionate hugs or even a pat on the shoulder. Some children are overly sensitive to temperature and wear summer clothes through the winter or winter clothes through the summer. Children may be hypersensitive to and intolerant of smells, tastes and even textures of foods, and refuse all but their favorite two or three items.
Other children are hyposensitive, or insensitive to sensory stimuli. They may constantly ask for hugs or bump or lean against others even when this is unwelcome or inappropriate (sensory seeking). An apparent insensitivity to pain is not uncommon in children with autism spectrum and other types of conditions. Even after a bad fall or bad bump they may show no reaction, which can make it difficult to know when they are hurt or sick and need medical attention. Some children seem not to hear you when you call their name, or to visually notice things in their environment. This can be due to either sensory hyposensitivity or to a real problem with hearing or vision, so it is very important to get these checked at an early age.
Problems with the Motor system are common in children with other learning, attentional, or behavioral issues. Low muscle tone refers to a lack of the normal degree of tension in the muscles, which includes the muscles of the hands and the face. It makes the child seem “floppy” – that is, their posture is slumped, their gait (the way they walk) is slow and shuffling and their arms kind of hang loosely at their sides. Children with low muscle tonefine motor control, or graphomotor (writing) control, as in cutting with scissors, writing and drawing and using eating utensils. Gross motor control refers to the large muscles of the trunk and limbs, and poor gross motor control affects gait, balance, and coordination as needed for sports, running, bike riding and so on. also have problems with
Hyperactivity, which is one of the symptoms of ADHD, is very often misunderstood. Everyone has a different level of need for movement, and in a situation where sitting still is expected, as in a classroom, normal motor activity can be misinterpreted as a “disorder.” Young children learn through movement – by moving themselves around things, and moving things around in space. This is how the visual spatial processing circuits in the brain get wired up. But modern public education does not recognize this, and we expect young children to “sit still” and “pay attention,” which, for many, causes stress and interferes with development. For people who are natural movers, like dancers and athletes, it can be particularly painful.