Autistic children struggle with sensory discomfort

Published: 17 February 2016 at 13:02

Autistic children struggle with sensory discomfort

New study by Anglia Ruskin psychologists examines difficulties faced in classroom

Untitled Page

New research shows that children with autism experience higher levels of sensory discomfort at school than children who do not have autism – and this affects their ability to learn.

The study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, was carried out by Fiona Howe and Dr Steven Stagg of Anglia Ruskin University.

The research, which was conducted at three schools in the East of England, found that 88% of children with autism were affected by issues related to hearing.

In addition, 75% were affected by issues related to touch, 50% by vision and 38% by smell.  All of the participants reported difficulties with at least one sense.

It has previously been shown that people with an autistic spectrum condition (ASC) have difficulty processing senses.  The academics in this new study wanted to discover how it affected children with ASC at school.

The psychologists found that the sensory problems not only impacted on the children’s learning, but also affected their emotional state, with feelings of discomfort and anxiety commonly reported.

Problems ranged from an inability to concentrate in a classroom due to noise, to anxiety caused by walking along corridors full of people pushing into each other.

Dr Stagg, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin, said:

“Sensory issues with hearing, touch, vision and smell all distract from the focus of the classroom. 

“Some participants reported problems in all four senses, and this significantly increases the amount of sensory input that is preventing them from concentrating and therefore affects their ability to learn.

“School is a significant part of a child’s life and research should continue to explore how sensory difficulties impact a child with ASC’s experiences there.

“Increased understanding can lead to more appropriate interventions to help children with ASC access the same level of education and schooling experience as neurotypical children.”