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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In this presentation:
3:00 – Sensory processing defined
6:18 – Sensory modulation profiles
12:00 – 38:23 – Sensory system definitions, differences, and support techniques
38:54 – Stimming
45:13 – Meltdowns
54:41 – Daily sensory diets/programming
58:40 – Adolescent sensory diets
1:12:24 – Self-care skills
1:01:03 – 1:11:00 – Recommended activities and resources (links provided)
Sensory processing (3:00) is how people learn about the world and where our bodies fit into our surroundings. It is generally an automatic process that transforms sensory information into meaningful messages which are used to learn body function and behavior. Due to unusual nervous system wiring, individuals with sensory variations take in and use sensory inputs differently. For individuals with severe sensory challenges, daily activities can become annoying and painful (5:27). The results range from “quirks” to severe sensory disruption, which is understood as autism spectrum disorder.
There are four sensory modulation profiles (6:18):
– Hypersensitive – Easily overloads, on high alert, rigid
– Hyposensitive – Underaroused, tuned out
– Sensory seeking – Always hungry for more input
– Mixed reactivity – Sensory load shifts based on situation and multisensory processing
The presenter describes sensory overload using the analogy of a paper plate (10:40) at a picnic that can hold a large amount of food. However, the last scoop of salad breaks the plate, and it becomes clear that either you need a more robust plate, less food, or both. Understanding the various sensory systems can prevent sensory overload. Individual sensory systems vary and may be unique for some individuals with autism. Biel defines and describes sensory challenges associated with tactile processing (12:00), auditory processing (18:47), visual processing (21:58), taste and smell (27:43), vestibular processing (30:15), proprioception (34:06), and interoception (37:39). Some people experience one or more of these sensory channels (38:24), making a balanced sensory load challenging to maintain. She presents common sensory processing differences experienced by individuals with autism and offers simple support mechanisms and thought processes to assist in daily activities.