High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder: The Sensory Superheroes Among Us

Do you know what it feels like to have sensory superpowers?

  • Imagine wearing clothes made from sand paper
  • Imagine drinking rotten milk
  • Imagine suddenly hearing an ambulance siren right next to your ear
  • Imagine smelling a decaying animal
  • Imagine being in a body cast and unable to move

Children with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (HFASD) don’t have to imagine these things; they live with sensory challenges every moment of every day. Clothing textures feel scratchy, bland foods taste sour, the sound of the school bell is piercing, smells in the school cafeteria cause nausea, and sitting in a school chair for most of the day is impossible.

Everyday Sensory Challenges

Super sensory processing affects a child’s interactions in daily life activities at home, school, and in the community. Challenges include:

  • Clumsy/bumps into people and objects
  • Slams doors closed using too much force
  • Poor hygiene due to sensitivity to toothbrush, hairbrush, washcloth
  • Covers ears in music class
  • Limited repertoire of food choices
  • Difficulty with peer social interactions

Super Sensory Strategies

To overcome these difficulties we can use the following strategies:

At School

  • Sit the student on a ball chair to provide movement while seated
  • Allow student to be first or last in line to avoid getting bumped
  • Ease transitions with a picture schedule
  • Develop peer relationships with peer buddy

In the Community

  • Dine in restaurants during off-peak hours to avoid crowd
  • Attend ‘Sensory Friendly’ movie theaters
  • Engage in proprioceptive play prior to birthday party for sensory regulation
  • Ask for an x-ray vest at dentist appointment to provide deep pressure touch for calming

At Home

  • Use electric toothbrush for increased vibration/proprioception input
  • Consider a weighted blanket for sleeping (use caution with amount of weight)
  • Soak nails in warm water prior to trimming to ease tactile discomfort
  • Buy seam-free socks and tag-less clothing

Providing children with HFASD sensory regulating strategies validates their authentic sensory superpowers of intelligence, extraordinary abilities, inspiration, and motivation, in order to achieve independence in daily routines at home, engage in community activities, and effectively manage and maintain interactions with their peers.

  1. Cermak, S.A., Stein Duker, L. I., Williams, M. E. Lane, C. J., Dawson, M.E., Borreson, A. E. & Polido, J. C. (2015). Feasibility of a sensory-adapted dental environment for children with autism. American Journal of Occupational Therapy. 69, 6903220020.
  2. Roley, S. S., Mailloux, Z., Parham, L. D., Schaaf, R. C., Lane, C. J., & Cermak, S. (2015). Sensory integration and praxis patterns in children with autism. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 69.