What is the Most Common Problem in Autism?

Sensory processing issues can manifest in many different ways, and the specific difficulties can vary from person to person. Some individuals may be hypersensitive to certain sensory input, while others may be hyposensitive or have difficulty noticing certain sensations.

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Published By Ruben Kesherim
February 1, 2024

What is the Most Common Problem in Autism?

Understanding Sensory Problems in Autism

Individuals with autism often experience sensory problems that can significantly impact their daily lives. Understanding these sensory difficulties is crucial for parents and caregivers in providing appropriate support and accommodations. This section delves into the link between autism and sensory issues, as well as the common types of sensory problems experienced by individuals with autism.

The Link Between Autism and Sensory Issues

Sensory issues are prevalent among individuals with autism. Research suggests that sensory processing differences may be related to atypical brain development and connectivity in individuals on the autism spectrum. These differences can affect how individuals perceive, process, and respond to sensory input from their environment.

It's important to note that sensory problems are not exclusive to autism and can be present in other neurodevelopmental conditions or even in individuals without any diagnosed condition. However, they are commonly observed in individuals with autism and can significantly impact their daily functioning.

Common Types of Sensory Problems in Autism

Sensory problems in autism can manifest in various ways and may vary from person to person. Some individuals may experience heightened sensitivity to certain sensory stimuli, while others may seek out sensory input. Here are some of the common types of sensory problems often observed in individuals with autism:

Sensory Problem Description
Hypersensitivity Heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as loud noises, bright lights, certain textures, or strong smells. This can lead to sensory overload and discomfort.
Hyposensitivity Reduced sensitivity to sensory input, resulting in a decreased response to stimuli. Individuals may seek out intense sensory experiences to compensate for the reduced sensitivity.
Sensory Cravings Strong desire or need for specific sensory input, such as repetitive movements, deep pressure, or specific sounds. Seeking out these sensations can help individuals self-regulate and feel more comfortable.
Sensory Avoidance A tendency to avoid or withdraw from sensory stimuli that are overwhelming or uncomfortable. This can manifest as avoiding crowded places, covering ears, or avoiding certain textures.

Understanding these common types of sensory problems can help parents and caregivers recognize the challenges faced by individuals with autism. By identifying and addressing these issues, appropriate support and accommodations can be provided to help individuals with autism navigate their sensory experiences and improve their overall quality of life.

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Sensory Processing Difficulties

Individuals with autism often experience sensory processing difficulties, which can significantly impact their daily lives. These difficulties can manifest in various ways, including sensory overload, sensory seeking behaviors, and sensory avoidance.

Sensory Overload

Sensory overload occurs when an individual with autism becomes overwhelmed by sensory input from their environment. This can include stimuli such as bright lights, loud sounds, strong smells, and crowded spaces. The overwhelming sensory input can lead to feelings of distress, anxiety, and even physical discomfort.

It's important to understand that sensory overload can vary from person to person. What may be overwhelming for one individual may not affect another in the same way. Recognizing the signs of sensory overload is crucial in helping individuals with autism manage these situations effectively.

Sensory Seeking Behaviors

Some individuals with autism engage in sensory seeking behaviors as a way to regulate their sensory experiences. These behaviors involve actively seeking out certain stimuli to fulfill sensory needs. Common sensory seeking behaviors may include repetitive movements, such as rocking or spinning, seeking out certain textures to touch or feel, or seeking deep pressure through activities like squeezing or hugging.

Sensory seeking behaviors can serve as a way for individuals with autism to find comfort and engage with their environment. However, it's important to ensure that these behaviors are safe and appropriate for the individual's well-being.

Sensory Avoidance

On the other hand, sensory avoidance refers to the tendency of individuals with autism to avoid or withdraw from certain sensory stimuli. This can include avoiding crowded places, covering their ears in response to loud noises, or avoiding certain textures or smells that they find aversive.

Sensory avoidance is a coping mechanism used by individuals with autism to protect themselves from overwhelming sensory input. It is important to respect their need for sensory avoidance and create a supportive environment that accommodates their sensory sensitivities.

Understanding sensory processing difficulties, such as sensory overload, sensory seeking behaviors, and sensory avoidance, is crucial in providing appropriate support for individuals with autism. By recognizing and addressing these challenges, parents, caregivers, and educators can help create a more inclusive and accommodating environment for individuals with autism.

Impact on Daily Life

When sensory problems are present in individuals with autism, they can have a profound impact on their daily lives. These challenges can affect various aspects, including daily activities, social interactions, and emotional well-being.

Challenges in Daily Activities

Sensory issues can make everyday tasks more difficult for individuals with autism. The heightened sensitivity or aversion to certain sensory stimuli can lead to discomfort or distress, making it challenging to engage in routine activities. Here are some examples:

Daily Activities Impact
Personal Care (such as bathing, brushing teeth) Difficulty tolerating certain textures or sensations, leading to resistance or avoidance
Dressing Sensitivity to certain fabrics or clothing tags, leading to discomfort or refusal to wear certain items
Mealtime Difficulty tolerating certain food textures, tastes, or smells, resulting in selective eating habits or food aversions
Haircuts Sensitivity to the sensation of hair being touched or the sound of clippers, leading to anxiety or resistance

Impact on Social Interactions

Sensory problems can also affect social interactions for individuals with autism. Sensory overload or aversion to certain stimuli can make it challenging to engage in social situations or maintain social connections. Here are some examples:

Social Interactions Impact
Crowded Spaces Overwhelm and anxiety in crowded environments, leading to avoidance or withdrawal
Noise Sensitivity Difficulty focusing or participating in conversations due to sensitivity to loud or sudden noises
Physical Contact Discomfort or aversion to certain types of physical contact, affecting the ability to engage in hugs, handshakes, or other gestures of affection
Eye Contact Sensory discomfort or anxiety associated with making or maintaining eye contact, leading to challenges in social communication

Effects on Emotional Well-being

Sensory problems in autism can also have significant effects on emotional well-being. The constant exposure to sensory stimuli that cause discomfort or distress can lead to increased levels of stress, anxiety, and even meltdowns. Here are some effects on emotional well-being:

Emotional Well-being Impact
Stress and Anxiety Heightened levels of stress and anxiety due to constant exposure to sensory stimuli that trigger discomfort or distress
Emotional Regulation Difficulty regulating emotions when faced with sensory overload or aversion, leading to emotional meltdowns
Self-esteem Negative impact on self-esteem and self-confidence due to challenges in daily activities or social interactions
Quality of Life Reduced overall quality of life due to the constant impact of sensory issues on daily experiences and emotional well-being

Understanding the impact of sensory problems on daily life is essential for parents and caregivers of individuals with autism. By recognizing these challenges, appropriate strategies and support systems can be put in place to help individuals navigate their daily routines, manage social interactions, and support their emotional well-being.

Strategies for Managing Sensory Problems

When it comes to managing sensory problems in individuals with autism, there are various strategies that can be employed to help individuals cope with their sensory challenges. Here are three key approaches that can be effective in managing sensory problems in autism: sensory integration therapy, environmental modifications, and self-regulation techniques.

Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory integration therapy is a specialized form of therapy that aims to help individuals with autism develop and improve their ability to process and respond to sensory information. This therapy is typically carried out by occupational therapists who are trained in sensory integration techniques.

During sensory integration therapy, therapists use a variety of activities and exercises to help individuals gradually become more comfortable with sensory stimuli. These activities are designed to provide controlled exposure to different sensory experiences, allowing individuals to learn how to appropriately respond to them.

The goal of sensory integration therapy is to help individuals develop better sensory processing skills, improve their self-regulation abilities, and reduce sensory sensitivities. This therapy can be tailored to address specific sensory challenges that an individual may face, such as hypersensitivity to certain textures or sounds.

Environmental Modifications

Making modifications to the environment can significantly impact an individual's sensory experiences and help manage sensory problems in autism. Simple adjustments can create a more sensory-friendly environment, reducing overwhelming stimuli and promoting a sense of calm.

Some environmental modifications that can be beneficial include:

  • Creating a quiet and designated sensory-friendly space where individuals can retreat when they feel overwhelmed.
  • Using curtains or blinds to control the amount of natural light entering a room.
  • Providing noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs to minimize auditory distractions.
  • Using visual supports, such as visual schedules or timers, to help individuals understand and anticipate daily activities.
  • Organizing and decluttering the environment to reduce visual distractions.
  • Incorporating sensory tools and equipment, such as weighted blankets or fidget toys, to provide comfort and promote self-regulation.

By making these environmental modifications, individuals with autism can better manage their sensory challenges and create a more supportive and accommodating environment.

Self-Regulation Techniques

Teaching self-regulation techniques is another valuable strategy for managing sensory problems in autism. Self-regulation refers to an individual's ability to monitor, control, and modify their own behavior and emotional responses in order to adapt to different sensory situations.

Some effective self-regulation techniques include:

  • Deep breathing exercises to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety.
  • Mindfulness techniques to increase awareness of sensory experiences and emotions.
  • Physical activities, such as exercise or sensory-based play, to provide sensory input and promote self-calming.
  • Incorporating sensory diets, which involve a personalized schedule of sensory activities throughout the day to help regulate arousal levels.

By encouraging and teaching individuals with autism self-regulation techniques, they can develop skills to manage sensory overload, reduce anxiety, and improve overall emotional well-being.

By implementing strategies such as sensory integration therapy, environmental modifications, and self-regulation techniques, individuals with autism can better manage their sensory challenges and improve their overall quality of life. It is important to work with professionals and caregivers to develop an individualized approach that meets the unique sensory needs of each individual with autism.

Seeking Professional Support

When it comes to addressing sensory problems in autism, seeking professional support is essential. Professionals can provide valuable guidance, assessment, and intervention strategies to help individuals with autism manage their sensory challenges effectively. Here are three key areas where professional support can make a significant impact.

Diagnosis and Evaluation

Obtaining a formal diagnosis and evaluation is the first step in seeking professional support for sensory problems in autism. A diagnosis can help parents and individuals understand and validate their experiences, providing a foundation for further intervention and support.

The diagnostic process typically involves comprehensive assessments conducted by healthcare professionals with expertise in autism. These assessments may include interviews, observations, and standardized tests to evaluate sensory processing difficulties and other autism-related symptoms. The results of these evaluations can guide the development of a personalized intervention plan.

Working with Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists play a crucial role in supporting individuals with sensory problems in autism. They are trained to assess and address sensory processing difficulties and develop strategies to improve daily functioning. Working with an occupational therapist can provide valuable insights and interventions to help individuals with autism navigate sensory challenges.

Occupational therapy sessions often involve a combination of sensory integration techniques, environmental modifications, and skill-building activities. These interventions aim to help individuals regulate their sensory experiences, enhance their sensory processing abilities, and improve their overall quality of life.

Collaborating with Educators and Caregivers

Collaboration between professionals, educators, and caregivers is vital for creating a supportive environment for individuals with sensory problems in autism. Educators and caregivers who work closely with individuals with autism can benefit from understanding the impact of sensory difficulties and implementing strategies to support their sensory needs.

By sharing information and expertise, professionals, educators, and caregivers can collaborate in developing individualized sensory plans and implementing sensory-friendly strategies in educational and home settings. This collaboration can help create a consistent and supportive environment that optimizes the individual's ability to engage in daily activities and social interactions.

Seeking professional support, including diagnosis and evaluation, working with occupational therapists, and collaborating with educators and caregivers, can greatly benefit individuals with sensory problems in autism. These professionals can provide the necessary expertise, guidance, and interventions to help individuals with autism thrive and effectively manage their sensory challenges.


Is sensory processing the most common problem in autism?

Yes, sensory processing is considered to be one of the most common problems in autism. According to research, up to 95% of individuals with ASD experience some form of sensory processing difficulty.

Can sensory processing difficulties lead to other problems?

Yes, if left unmanaged, sensory processing difficulties can lead to a range of other challenges. For example, individuals with ASD may avoid certain activities or environments that trigger their sensory sensitivities, which can limit their opportunities for socialization and learning. Sensory overload can also contribute to stress and anxiety, which may exacerbate behavioral issues.

Are all individuals with ASD affected by sensory processing difficulties?

While the majority of individuals with ASD experience some form of sensory processing difficulty, there is a wide range in severity and type of challenges experienced. Some individuals may have mild sensory sensitivities that do not significantly impact their daily lives, while others may have more severe challenges that require significant accommodations and support.

Can sensory processing difficulties be treated or cured?

There is no cure for autism spectrum disorder or for sensory processing difficulties specifically. However, there are many strategies and interventions that can help manage these challenges and improve an individual's quality of life. With appropriate accommodations and support, many individuals with ASD are able to develop effective coping strategies for managing their sensory sensitivities.


If you or someone you know is struggling with sensory processing challenges, it is important to seek support and guidance from a healthcare professional or trained therapist. With the right resources and support, individuals with ASD can learn to manage their sensory processing difficulties and live happy and fulfilling lives.