Sensory processing issues are a common challenge for autistic individuals. These difficulties can include heightened sensitivity to certain stimuli, such as sounds or textures, and difficulty processing and integrating sensory information from different sources. For many autistic people, sensory processing issues can significantly impact daily life. This resource list provides a selection of helpful webinars and articles that can provide support strategies for individuals with sensory processing issues.

Handsome young man covering his ears, stressed or unhappy because of too much noise. Indoors shot

Sensory Processing Articles

Sensory Integration in Autism Spectrum Disorders

This article provides a detailed overview of sensory processing issues in autistic individuals. It explores different ways the brain processes sensory information and how those processes can be disrupted in autistic individuals. Information on the signs and symptoms of sensory processing issues and strategies for managing these challenges are discussed. The author emphasizes the importance of early intervention and provides resources for families and professionals to help support individuals with sensory processing issues.

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Auditory Processing Problems in ASD

ARI’s executive director, Dr. Stephen M. Edelson, explores the complex relationship between auditory processing and autism in this article. He discusses how autistic individuals may experience difficulties processing auditory information and how this can impact their daily lives. The article provides information on the different types of auditory processing challenges in autistic individuals, including difficulty with sound discrimination, speech perception, and auditory memory. Edelson also discusses the importance of early identification and intervention for auditory processing issues in autism and provides strategies for managing these challenges.

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Aide Canada: Sensory & Motor Strategies Collection

AIDE Canada and its partners have collaborated on this collection regarding sensory and motor strategies. It includes a toolkit, articles, library resources, and webinars.

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Sensory Processing Expert Webinars

The majority of the webinars listed below have been time-stamped and transcribed into concise written summaries, which can be easily accessed on the same page.

attending a webinar

Pain, Sensory Issues, and Autism

Register now for our free upcoming webinar on August 30, 2023, where Dr. Tami Bar-Shalita, Dr. Yelena Granovsky, and Dr. Eynat Gal will delve into the topics of sensory issues, pain behavior, and neurophysiology related to autism. The presenters will provide a comprehensive review of both quantitative and qualitative studies in this field.

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Brain & Sensory Processing Differences Across the Lifespan (Series Part 1)

In part one of this webinar series, Fakhri Shafai, Ph.D., M.Ed., discusses sensory differences experienced by individuals with autism across the lifespan. She describes atypical neuronal migration and synaptic pruning and outlines how such differences in brain development lead to sensory issues in autism. Dr. Shafai uses relatable analogies to discuss complex topics and highlights the lack of adult sensory symptom studies across the field. She defines crucial brain regions, the eight sensory systems, and current limitations to the discourse. Before opening the floor to questions, Shafai touches on future directions for research and resources and provides practical examples of sensory toolkits and programs.

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Sensory-Friendly Strategies for Home (Series Part 2)

In part two of this webinar series, Moira Peña, BScOT, MOT, OT Reg (Ont.), discusses sensory processing strategies for home. She describes how atypical sensory processing affects lived experiences of autistic individuals and outlines three sensory profiles. Peña dives into the sensory diet approach noting short- and long-term goals and the importance of the “power senses.” She provides examples of strategic sensory schedules and environmental adaptations and emphasizes the importance of co-regulating and leisure activities. Peña celebrates individual differences in autism and suggests that productive failures are part of the process. She provides more resources and tools before opening the question-and-answer session.

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Live Q&A: Sensory Strategies at Home (Series Part 3)

Moira Peña, BScOT, MOT, OT, Reg. (Ont.), answers questions about sensory strategies for home. This recorded live question and answer session was a follow-up to our two-part series on brain and sensory processing differences and sensory strategies for home.

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Autismo y el Procesamiento Sensorial: Estrategias Prácticas para Usar en Casa

Our talk Sensory-Friendly Strategies for Home by Moira Peña, BScOT, MOT, OT Reg (Ont.), is available fully in Spanish.

Moira Peña, BScOT, MOT, OT Reg (Ont.), habla de estrategias de procesamiento sensorial para casa. Describe cómo el procesamiento sensorial atípico afecta a las experiencias vividas por las personas con autismo y esboza tres perfiles sensoriales. Peña se sumerge en el enfoque de la dieta sensorial señalando los objetivos a corto y largo plazo y la importancia de los “sentidos de poder”. Proporciona ejemplos de horarios sensoriales estratégicos y adaptaciones ambientales y hace hincapié en la importancia de la corregulación y las actividades de ocio. Peña celebra las diferencias individuales en el autismo y sugiere que los fracasos productivos forman parte del proceso. Proporciona más recursos y herramientas antes de abrir la sesión de preguntas y respuestas.

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Auditory Processing and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Sophie Schwartz, Ph.D., discusses auditory processing disorders (ADPs) in autistic individuals. She defines ADPs and highlights their impact on language acquisition and quality of life. Schwartz outlines her recent research at Boston University and affirms that atypical responses to sound correspond with biological differences in the brain and are not behavioral problems. She discusses current diagnosis and treatment options and outlines future research avenues before closing with a question and answer session.

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Autism and Eating-Related Behaviors

Gregory Wallace, Ph.D., discusses eating-related behaviors in autism. He examines potential drivers of food neophobia and presents novel studies on the cognitive/behavioral correlates of eating in the absence of hunger (EAH). Wallace defines selective overeating as a new subtype of autism and details recent studies on taste perception and cortical taste pathways in ASD compared to typically developing groups. The presenter highlights limitations to current research and the need for longitudinal studies. Wallace closes with a Q&A discussing picky eating, GI difficulties, ASD and anorexia, and more.

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Hippotherapy for Autism Spectrum Disorders

Founder and COO of Taking the Lead, Chelsea Whitaker, OTR/L, discusses hippotherapy and how this distinct practice can help autistic individuals and other disabilities. She describes how working with the natural movement of horses enables clients to build self-confidence, gain independence and reach their goals. Whitaker provides video examples of therapy exercises and outlines how they can improve communication, physical strength, and focus. She closes with a question & answer session where she discusses training, extant research, and more.

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Sensory Features: Research and Evidence

Dr. Roseann Schaaf discusses the sensory challenges commonly experienced by autistic individuals, as well as evidence-based strategies for addressing these challenges.

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Supporting Sensory Needs

Lindsey Biel, MA, OTR/L, describes the complexities of sensory systems, how they impact daily activities and learning, and the importance of positive sensory support. She outlines the sensory systems, noting differences in lived experiences for autistic persons, and discusses support techniques based on sensory understanding. Biel emphasizes the nature of stimming and sensory meltdowns and prescribes sensory diets/programming techniques. She concludes with ideas and links for supportive sensory activities, clothing, resources, and more.

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Sensory Processing Research Funded by ARI

Adam Naples, PhD
Yale University

Up to seventy percent of autistic people experience sensitivity to sounds. Autistic adults report that these symptoms worsen with stress and anxiety and can interfere with school, work, and other activities. However, despite the common report of these symptoms, there is no understanding of the mechanisms, nor are there effective ways to measure these symptoms.

Importantly, most measurement of these symptoms in autism relies on retrospective questionnaires. These measures require participants to “average” their symptoms over some time period in the past, possibly their entire lives. Such measures are well known to have “peak and end” biases in which people recall the most memorable and distressing experiences and the experiences that were most recent. This means that these questionnaires are not able to accurately capture the day-to-day lived experience of people with autism.

In this study we take the first step towards measuring the personal timing of auditory sensitivities, and their relationship with symptom report using an innovative approach. We measure auditory sensitivity using daily symptom self-reports and brief experimental auditory tasks delivered remotely over the internet. Participants will complete established self-report measures of sensory sensitivity and then will receive daily text-message or email reminders that will link to individualized questionnaires assessing sensory symptoms for that specific day. Additionally, participants will complete a brief tone detection task delivered via headphones on their computer or mobile device that will measure in-the-moment auditory perception.

The long-term goals of this study are to gain an understanding of the stability of auditory sensitivities to support subsequent mechanistic research. Currently there are no mechanistic biomarkers for auditory sensitivities in autism despite many successes in identifying group-level differences. Most research as assumed that auditory sensitivity symptoms are stable, over time, within an individual. However, if this assumption is invalid, then research that seeks to understand biological mechanisms will need to measure those symptoms at just the right time to find a brain-behavior linkage. This problem is exacerbated in autism because increased sensory sensitives are associated with avoidance of work and school. Consequently, autistic people may be less likely to participate in a research protocol on days when their symptoms are particularly distressing.

Autistic adults often report that these symptoms vary in intensity and frequency, however, there is no research that investigates if, how, or when these symptoms might vary. In this study, by determining how these sensitivities fluctuate over time, we gain a better understanding of the psychometric properties of auditory sensitivities, which provides insight into potential mechanisms. Furthermore, understanding the variability of symptom expression and auditory perception is critical information for developing and implementing successful in-person research studies.

Jennifer Wagner, PhD
CUNY College of Staten Island

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by social-communicative challenges and restricted interests and repetitive behaviors (RRB), and research has suggested that difficulty regulating stress might underlie some of these associated characteristics. In line with this, studies have examined two key stress systems in ASD, the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPAA), and results show that social communication and RRB can be predicted by these systems. No known studies, however, have looked at the interacting patterns of ANS and HPAA activity as they align with sensory processing difficulties that are common in ASD and also vary widely in the general population.  The current study will establish a novel protocol for home-based measurement of biomarkers related to the ANS and HPAA stress systems in children with and without ASD, utilizing a) pupillometry to collect markers of both parasympathetic and sympathetic autonomic function (through the constriction phase and the re-dilation phase of the pupil light reflex, respectively) and b) diurnal cortisol to examine HPAA axis integrity. These biomarkers will be examined alongside measures of autistic traits and sensory processing, and patterns of ANS and HPAA function will be used to explore variations in behavioral characteristics.

Vanessa Troiani, PhD and Antoinette Dicriscio, PhD

Numerous studies have identified atypical visual attention and perception within Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), yet there is relatively little research on eye morphology, clinical measures of vision, and/or ocular function in these individuals. A few small studies have noted increased prevalence of refractive errors and optic nerve abnormalities in those with ASD, suggesting that atypical visual processing and perception may be driven, in part, by abnormal morphology and function in the eye and retina. In order to dramatically improve our understanding of atypical vision in ASD, we will leverage existing clinical optometry and ophthalmologic records to characterize abnormal eye and retinal features associated with ASD. Critically, the use of existing data from electronic health records will enable characterization of ocular function in a large sample that includes both low and high functioning individuals. Additionally, we will recruit a subsample of individuals seeking an ASD diagnosis at our neurodevelopmental clinic in order to assess the relationship between functional visual metrics, ocular anomalies, and their association with core diagnostic traits of ASD. Understanding differences in eye-level metrics in individuals with ASD will lay the groundwork for understanding the link between eye function and social, cognitive, and perceptual skills.

Albert Yonas, Ph.D. and Sherryse Corrow, M.A.
University of Minnesota

Gaze avoidance, and particularly fixation on the internal features of a face such as eyes, is a diagnostic criterion for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD); it is believed to contribute to the development of social deficits. The Visual Perception Lab at the University of Minnesota is exploring one technique to increase attention to faces, the Hane Face Window. This window, developed by Ruth Elaine Hane, occludes all parts of the face with the exception of the eyes, nose and mouth, increasing the likelihood that viewers will fixate on the internal features of faces. Wilson (2010) argues that Hane Face Window may reduce social relevance and the social fear evoked by a face. The laboratory is currently testing the hypothesis that the Hane Face Window will increase the ability of children with ASD to fixate on the internal features of faces, as compared with a control group of typically developing children (ages 7-14). Furthermore this change in attention will improve the ability to recognize a face and perceive the direction of gaze and infer where the individual’s attention is focused. Following gaze is one component of joint attention in which children with ASD are deficient. In the study, performance is assessed in a face recognition task and in a gaze-following task in which a face is presented with the Hane Face Window without the window. In addition, an eye tracker is being used to collect information on whether the Hane Face Window will increase the number and duration of fixations on the eyes and central region of the face.

Estate M. Sokhadze, Ph.D., Manuel Casanova, M.D., and Allan Tasman, M.D.
University of Louisville

The proposed study aims to understand the abnormal neural and functional mechanisms underlying sound-processing distortion in autism by incorporating neurophysiologic and behavioral studies, and measurements of auditory attention in several different auditory tests. The study will use Berard’s technique of auditory integration training (AIT) to improve sound integration in children with autism. It is proposed that exposure to 20 thirty-minute AIT sessions (total 10 hours) will result in better performance on auditory attention and perception tasks, and will lower anxiety as indexed by a profile of post-AIT autonomic measures.

We propose to test 30 children with autism in task using auditory stimuli in perception and attentional tests. These behavioral and  psychophysiologic studies will be carried out by using electroencephalogram (EEG), and dense array even-related potentials (ERP).  During AIT or during auditory tests autonomic measures (HR, HRV, skin conductance, respiration, skin temperature) can also be monitored.  The behavioral studies in EEG/ERP test mode will be carried out by using equipment that measures both reaction time and accuracy in high functioning autism participants.  The measurement of attention and perception  will be carried out using different modifications of auditory  tests in low-functioning individuals (capable to tolerate EEG recording), in particular these auditory tests will not require any motor responses.. The results of the proposed study will aid in our understanding of specific neurocognitive deficits associated with developmental abnormalities within cortical circuitry related to hearing and sound processing, test whether performing AIT course may enhance auditory integration process and thereby contribute to understanding the brain substrates of dysfunctions typical for autism, and result in behavioral improvements.

Chris Bentley, Fraser Center, Minneapolis, MN

Research grant to conduct a pilot study on the efficacy of the Hane Face Window.  The Hane Face Window is designed to improve visual processing of faces as well as reduce stre

Estate Sokhadze, Ph.D., University of Louisville, Louisville, KY

The proposed study aims to understand the neural and functional mechanisms underlying visual distortion in autism by incorporating neurophysiologic studies, behavioral studies, and measurements of sustained attention and spatial attention. The study will use ambient prism lenses shown to improve ambient vision in children with autism. It is proposed that wearing ambient lenses and performing daily visuomotor exercises for six months will result in better performance on attention and perception tasks and will lower anxiety as indexed by a profile of autonomic measures.

Help ARI improve the quality of life of autistic individuals

Effective Coping Strategies for Sensory Differences and Executive Function

January 30th, 2024|Adults on the Spectrum, Anxiety, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Self Care, Sensory, Social Skills, Ways to Help, Webinar|

Drs. Greg Wallace and Goldie McQuaid share their research on strategies autistic adults develop to compensate for non-social challenges they experience, including sensory sensitivities and executive function differences. Handouts are