Sensory processing differences

Processing is how your brain thinks about and reacts to things. Sensory processing is a type of processing, which is how you think about and understand your senses.

For example, if you look at a sock, you might notice certain things about it, like what color and size it is. If you touch it, you’ll feel the fabric, and if you smell it, you’ll notice other things. It might smell like sweat or laundry sheets. That’s all sensory processing! Autism changes sensory processing in a lot of ways.

We have five major senses:

  • Vision: Vision uses our eyes, and it’s how we look at things. We can see color, lightness and darkness, shape, and texture. We can see how close or far something is, or what type of thing it is.
  • Touch: Touch uses our hands or skin, and it’s how we feel things. We can feel the texture of something, and tell how big or small it is. We can feel what shape it is, and how heavy or light something is. We can tell if food is soft or hard.
  • Hearing: Hearing uses our ears, and it’s how we listen to things. We can hear sounds and tell how loud or quiet they are, and if a sound is close or far away. We can tell what kind of thing might be making a noise, and tell noises apart from each other.
  • Smell: Smell uses our nose, and it’s how we figure out what something smells like. We can tell if something is stinky or smells good. We can tell different foods apart from each other.
  • Taste: Taste uses our tongue, and it’s how we tell the flavor of something. We can taste food and decide if we like it or not. We can taste if something is sour, sweet, spicy, or salty, and if food is hot or cold.

There are other senses too, such as:

  • Pressure: Pressure is how we tell when things are touching us. It also helps you know how heavy things are.
  • Hunger and thirst: Hunger is how we tell if we have had enough food to eat. Thirst lets us know if we have had enough to drink.
  • Pain: Pain is how we tell if we are hurt or sick. More pain usually means you are more hurt or sick.
  • Temperature: Temperature is how hot or cold something is.
  • Balance: Balance is how we stay standing up and walk straight.

We use sensory processing to understand what we see, touch, hear, smell and taste.

Each person processes their senses a little differently, but autistic people process our senses a LOT differently. For example, loud noises might bother us, or we might like dim lights more than bright lights. We might like the texture of one food and hate the texture of a different food.

You might sense something a lot or only a little. If one of your senses is too strong, you might not be able to pay attention to anything else. If one of your senses is too weak, might not notice the sense at all.

Many autistic people have senses that are too strong or weak. Tags on clothing might really bother us, or we might get too hot even if the temperature isn’t very high. We might not feel pain if we get hurt, or we might not notice a really bad smell.

Sometimes, our senses might feel like too much, which is called sensory overload. Sensory overload can make us angry or upset, or even cause a meltdown or a shutdown.

Autistic people can notice things that other people miss. We might love the fabric of a soft shirt, or love strong-tasting foods.

Our senses might change day to day. The tag on our shirt might bother us on one day, but tomorrow, it might be okay. It’s okay to feel things differently. There is no right or wrong way to process things.