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Why People with ASD Act the Way They Do

Some Observable Characteristics and What They Could Mean

Finicky eating
  • Eating only from certain food groups can be indicative of food allergies. Sometimes the discomfort created by food allergies can cause other behavioral symptoms similar to sensory processing issues. Often, frequent diarrhea or constipation accompanies eating problems due to allergies.
  • Eating only foods of the same texture, smelling the food before eating it, and not eating foods that produce a crunching sound can indicate sensory processing issues, as can chewing or eating unusual nonfood items.
  • Eating only exactly the same foods, if accompanied by other examples of insistence on sameness, can show high sensory sensitivities or apprehension of the unknown.
Avoidance of auditory stimulation
  • Covering the ears or appearing deaf (e.g., not responding when name is called) indicates auditory processing difficulties and a high sensitivity to sound. A person may cover their ears to try and block out the sound, or tune out completely.
  • Leaving a room when people enter may be a way of avoiding too much auditory stimulation.
  • Listening to and repeating TV commercials or songs could indicate that the person has gotten used to hearing those sounds, i.e., has desensitized himself to them. Listening to people talk is more difficult because people don't usually say the same thing twice, and no two people speak the same way.
  • People with autism often have a monotone or peculiar intonations because they don't understand the concept of nuance, and that how you say something conveys an additional meaning to what you say.
No reaction, or else a strong reaction, to touch
  • Some babies become stiff when you pick them up; some children will fall and cut themselves and not cry. Usually this indicates that their tactile sense is out of whack. Perhaps a child's tactile sensors are overly sensitive and he does not like to be touched, or they are very dull and he doesn't feel sensations the way most people do.
Removes clothes or shoes often
  • A person may not like the feel of particular textures on their skin. Certain fabrics and shoes can make people with extremely sensitive tactile sensors uncomfortable.
Lack of eye contact
  • People with visual processing problems ?nd it hard to look at people straight on; usually they look from the side of their eyes.
Unusual body movements
  • Rocking in a chair, or back and forth from one foot to the other, could be a stress release from too much stimulation, or not enough.
  • Flicking of fingers could also be a release from stress, but if doing it in front of the eyes, it could be a visual processing stimulation.
  • Awkward movements and running into furniture can be a symptom of poor body mapping, not knowing where one is in space, or poor fine and gross motor skills.
Does not play with or imitate others
  • People with autism are often lacking in the social skills, interests,and understanding which the rest of us ?nd so important. Also, a child with sensory processing issues will have difficulty being near other children who are, in his eyes, noisy and unpredictable, and who have textures and smells associated with them that the child with an ASD cannot tolerate.
Lines up objects
  • This can show a need for sameness. Usually children who line up toys are also the ones who do not like change in their routine, may have repetitive speech, and do not like to see the furniture moved into a different pattern in their home.
  • They may have a hard time making sense of their world, and so the sameness in certain areas provides a predictability and security missing from an existence which they are having a hard time comprehending.
Temper tantrums, hyperactivity, and aggression toward self or others
  • Temper tantrums or meltdowns in children can be a reaction to sensory overload, or to a change in the sameness that provides security.
  • Places with a lot of light and noise, such as supermarkets and waiting rooms with fluorescent lighting, are really hard on people with sensory processing issues.
  • Aggression toward others could be for any number of reasons, such as sensory overload (e.g., a sudden loud noise near someone's ear could cause them to jump up and strike out at the person making the noise, as it can be very painful).
  • Self-aggression could be due to seeking sensory stimulation, feeling pain, or frustration.


More on: Autism

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Excerpted from Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Complete Guide to Understanding Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and Other ASDs©2004 by Chantal Sicile-Kira. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site.


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