Sensory Seeking Behaviors in Children with Autism
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Your child enjoys rocking back and forth, making loud noises, touching shiny objects, and standing uncomfortably close to others.
These are all sensory-seeking behavior examples.
You’ve explained these instances for many years as simply how your child is. This is their personality.
But now, as they age, you’re starting to wonder if they may reflect a more significant issue.
Sensory-seeking behavior is one of the critical symptoms of autism in children.
It’s estimated that 90% of people with autism experience sensory processing dysfunction, such as sensory-seeking behavior.
At Heartlinks, many of our families find sensory-seeking responses fascinating yet concerning.
That’s why we have the expertise and tools available to help our young clients and their families learn more about these behaviors and how best to manage them.
What is Sensory Seeking Behavior?
Responses used to meet a sensory need are defined as sensory-seeking behaviors. Children with autism engage in sensory seeking to get feedback from their natural environment.
Autistic children considered sensory-seeking enjoy receiving much stimulation from the world around them. They are described as being hyposensitive or hypo-responsive to their environment.
They are usually very active and excited to be out and about. Their constant appetite for sensory stimulation may make them look disruptive, clumsy, and disorganized.
Sensory Avoiding Behaviors
Autistic children with sensory-avoiding behaviors are at the other end of the spectrum.
As the name indicates, these autistic children are hypersensitive and avoid as much environmental stimulation as possible.
Generally, they have exaggerated responses to any number of stimuli because they become overstimulated by bright lights or strong smells, for example.
As such, they fear change and are most comfortable sticking to familiar places and regular activities.
Sensory Processing Disorders
Both sensory seeking and avoiding behaviors fall under the sensory processing disorder umbrella.
Though it isn’t an official diagnosis a medical professional can make, the term sensory processing disorder (SPD) is often used to describe the problems surrounding under-sensitivity or over-sensitivity to stimuli.
A child’s sensory processing difficulties can be triggered by the following:
- Body Movements
What Causes Sensory Seeking Behaviors?
Similarly, with autism, researchers do not know what causes sensory-seeking behavior in children.
Though there hasn’t been much research on sensory-seeking behavior, there is some evidence that sensory processing issues can be inherited and result from birth or prenatal difficulties.
Examples of Sensory-Seeking Behaviors
Another word for sensory-seeking is sensory-craving, which is precisely what these autistic children do. They search for experiences to stimulate one or several of their eight senses.
A human’s five primary senses are touch, sound, smell, sight, and taste.
Yet there are three lesser-known senses: proprioceptive (being aware of the body in space), interoception (internal sensations), and vestibular (balance).
The following are some examples of sensory-seeking behaviors according to some of their senses.
Your child may enjoy staring at shiny or colorful objects. They may like to stare directly at the sun or into an intense light. They may also like waving or placing objects very close to their eye.
An autistic child may enjoy walking the perfume aisles at their local department store and inhaling the different scents.
Where a public fish market or a restaurant that cooks with a tremendous amount of spice might turn most people off, your child finds it very comforting.
Or your child seeks food and non-food items to smell, regardless of hunger.
A child on the spectrum with tactical sensory-seeking behaviors might love to be touched, massaged, tickled, and hugged.
They may enjoy walking barefoot everywhere and licking or sucking objects frequently.
An autistic child who is an auditory sensory-seeker may like loud noises and equally enjoy making them.
They thrive in loud environments and actively seek them out.
Are Sensory Seeking Behaviors a Problem?
Sensory-seeking behaviors are only problematic when they interfere with your child’s daily activities.
If your autistic child does not learn how to manage their sensory needs suitably, it may be time to find another way to seek that stimulation.
The following are three examples of how your child’s sensory-seeking behavior may become troubling.
For example, if your child’s sensory-seeking behavior is tactile, they will most likely be touching many things, including strangers. This can make your child’s friends or family uncomfortable when they’re around, and they may start avoiding him altogether.
Touching a flame or a sharp knife may simply be a sensory-seeking behavior for your autistic son, but they’ve unknowingly put themselves in harm.
Other examples include your son jumping from a dangerous height or acting carelessly at the school playground.
Not only does your son risk hurting himself, but he may unintentionally be putting others at risk.
If your child continuously seeks different ways to stimulate their senses, this may prevent them from learning. Not only does this behavior interrupt a school lesson, but it could also disturb the rest of their class or sports team.
The result might be that your child is asked to stop the sensory-seeking behavior during class or find an alternate way of learning.
Get All The Help You Need at Heartlinks
At Heartlinks, we often have to remind parents of autistic children that their behavior isn’t problematic. Instead, their child’s sensory-seeking behavior is expected as they look to satiate particular senses requiring stimulation.
There are different ways to look at sensory-seeking behavior. If it begins interfering with the child’s regular activities, they can be given a sensory diet. This might include sensory objects or a sensory box to ensure they receive adequate input.
Yet, if the behavior is not problematic, we encourage parents to let their child continue.
Ultimately, the result we all want is for autistic children to flourish and lead as productive lives as possible.
Contact us here for more information on how Heartlinks can help with your child’s sensory-seeking behaviors.