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While their sensory organs - sight, sound, balance and feeling (both touch and internal sensations such as the physical messages from their nerves and muscles) may work in the same way as those of us who are not on the spectrum, children (and adults) with autism find it difficult to process the information coming into their brain. This applies to both the impressions they receive from the world outside - and also the signals they get from sensations that are generated in the body, such as messages from their nerves and muscles and also emotional sensations. If there is too much in the way of floating and unprocessed images sounds and sensations, the brain may interpret this sensory overload as threatening, to the point where it triggers the body's self-defence system.

Take sight for example. Although the eyes are working normally, visual experience is described as like being in a kaleidoscope where the pattern never settles.

Not all children on the spectrum will have the same problems: exactly which hyper/hypo sensitivities and distortions are present in any particular child varies.

In order to protect themselves, children retreat into repetitive behaviours, isolating themselves from disturbing input. Here they can at least focus on at something that makes sense. If they cannot find this coherence, they are in danger of being overtaken a level of brain disturbance that involves confusion, pain and heat. This 'autonomic storm' (also known as 'meltdown' or 'fragmentation') is described as terrifying. The child may lash out or self injure. Rather than understanding that the child's brain is experiencing extreme painful sensory overload (described as, 'feeling as if they are being attacked'), those of us who are not on the autistic spectrum see the child's behaviour as it affects us: a child is said to be having a tantrum.

Sensory Issues

We cannot tell how able a child is until we have addressed their sensory processing problems. In order to reduce overloading the processing system and consequent sensory chaos, we need to scale down those inputs to which the individual's brain is hyper (over)sensitive and increase those to which it is hypo(under)sensitive, as well as communicating through non-verbal signals that the brain can easily recognise. Stress levels are reduced and the brain starts to function more effectively. Although not every child will be able to respond positively, it is always worth exploring these options.

Does the child screw up their eyes in bright light, shoe preference or dislike for certain colours, react badly to, or fixate on bold patterns - Scotopic sensitivity or Irlen syndrome.

Wear plain muted block colours. Paint walls calm colours. Do not clutter walls with pictures/ornaments.

Irlen lenses
Coloured light bulbs
Dimmer switches
Peaked caps
Grey Sunglasses (where the problem is caused by intensity of light rather than colour or pattern.)

Contacts for Colorometric test
Irlen Lens Centre, 4.Park Farm Business Centre, Fornham St. Genevieve, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, IP28 6TS 01284 724301
Contact local Dyslexia Society for information regarding local practitioners.

Many children on the spectrum have problems with sound - loud sound, particular sounds, sudden sounds, certain frequencies, complex sounds (especially overlapping speech.)

Where speech is used, speak quietly. For many it helps to support speech with simple gesture.

Designed for helicopter pilots so they can hear each other over the engine noise, BOSE Quiet Comfort 15 Acoustic Noise Reduction Headphones (Amazon) cut down on distant sound while allowing close up conversation. Can be very affective helping children to cope and attend in noisy environments such as school, mealtimes, supermarkets, etc.

contact a good music technician, who should be able to measure the frequencies that are causing pain and using a specially designed acoustic material, build this into headphones that cut these out.

Balance, Boundary and Proprioceptive Distortions
Another common problem is under-sensitivity to messages from the body's muscles and joints to the brain telling it what the body is doing. In an effort to overcome this, children will give themselves strong physical inputs (rocking, jumping, bouncing, climbing) so that at least they have some idea of what they are doing. We can help by also giving strong physical inputs.
(Inputs need to be frequent, topping up with short sessions several times a day to make any real difference.)

Pogo Stick
Space Hopper
Climbing frame, Wall or Bars
Exercise sandals with ridges inside
Astroturf to walk on
Weighted clothes, Carrying rucksack or shopping bags with books or drink cans in them.
Weighted blankets
Compression vests/stockings
Sheet of Lycra Good way of applying pressure to head as well as body (use under supervision)
Athletes Pressure Vest
Squeeze vest
Biohug Vest (Google for details)
Vibration and firm Massage
Manual pressure

Recent & Upcoming Activities

'Word of Mouth': Radio Program
Talk About Autism: on-line Question and Answer
Workshop Speaker: Copenhagen University

School of Education, Birmingham University
NAS Manchester
Learning Disability Today Olympia
Autism Oxford

West Norfolk CTLD
Norwich Heritage Care

Breckenbrough School, Nr Thirsk
Vickerstown Primary School, Walney Island
St Crispin's School, Edinburgh
imap Specialist Autism Residential School - Reebok Stadium
James Rennie School
Overley Hall School
Ysgol Plas Brondyffryn
Oliver House School

Residential Homes:
Reach for Autism
Milestone Trust
Cardiff: Seren-Group

Day Centres

Concept Training:
Chorley Lancs
SEPT Flitwick

Parents Group: In Control

Individual tutorials:
Students from Copenhagen/ Moscow

Individual Families

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