Occupational therapists often observe that some children demonstrate extreme behaviors which have been labeled ‘sensory interests’, ‘repetitious’ behavior, and ‘sensory seeking’ behaviors; according to Kirby, et al (2015). Multiple types of behaviors, include – spinning, flapping hands while fixation on spinning objects, fascination with certain noises, interest in bright lights, moving objects, mouthing and smelling objects.
Therapists say that interestingly, 59% of children whom they have observed, did not display many expressions of enjoyment while engaging in sensory activity. Yet, finally considering that few conclusions can be drawn from this about what emotional associations children may have when participating in these sensory activities.
Ausderau, et al. (2014) believe that while for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -5 (DSM-5) define sensory features uniquely and distinctly, they say that –
Their research suggests that certain patterns of HYPO & HYPER activity can co-occur within individuals in reaction to stimulus from the environment. Saying that within each sensory pattern there are underlying concepts. For instance, SIRS activity is characterized by fascination with or craving the sensory stimulation such as with flickering lights or rubbing textures. And, movement, especially jumping up and down, as on a trampoline.
Depriving a person of engaging in intense repetitive behaviors, experts expect may increase anxiety, and depression. This may even cause separation anxiety. Cautioning that those with higher ‘sensory seeking needs’ will often disengage from the behavior more slowly.
< My Thoughts > “…within each sensory pattern there are underlying concepts.”
These are thoughts I have gathered while pursuing information about ‘sensory activity’ on gossamer wings. Smiles. Sensory activity is considered to be part of:
- A biological process
- ‘Attentional’ disengagement, of sorts
- Weak stimulus, creating a strong reaction, and/or
- Strong stimulus, creating a weak reaction
- Feelings of being overwhelmed by irrelevant stimuli
- Change in brain activity, topography, and function
Kirby, et al. (2015) states that a personal account by Naoki Higashida (2013) corroborates an positive affect association of sensory behaviors – “in his book, The Reason I Jump” is because when I jump, it feels so good.”
< My Thoughts > What I am offering here is a powerful story which may capture at this moment, what it is like to have this experience.
Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism's Silent Prison by Ido Kedar, eBook 2012 Edition; an Extended Review with < My Thoughts > by Sara Luker
(7% indicates location in the Kindle version of the book, instead of page numbers.)
7% Ido (pronounced – ee-doh), a 15 year old boy, explains: Imagine being unable to communicate because you have a body that doesn’t listen to your thoughts. Imagine living in a body that paces or flaps hands or twirls ribbons when your mind wants it to be still or, freezes when your mind pleads with it to react.
9% It is challenging for those who focus on the clearly visible impairments to imagine that some of these hand-flapping, string-waving children might understand normal speech and think internally.
a. Sensory interests…
Sensory interests, within themselves, according to Zachor & Ben-Itzchak (2014), mean that persons having ‘unusual sensory interests’ were associated with more severe autism symptoms. Those persons, along with more severe symptoms, were reported and observed to have lower cognitive ability and lower adaptive skills. These were thought to be the types of autism involving numerous developmental domains and having unique neurobiological origins.
Thus, scoring one or above, to at least one of the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) test measurement items on the severity scale. And, having a ‘negative’ or ‘emotional’ sensory reaction rather than a ‘fear’ response.
Bogdashina & Casanova (2016) differentiate between ‘negative’ and/or ‘emotional’ sensory reactions with this statement –
During a ‘negative’ sensory reaction, the body reacts as if it is being attacked or bombarded. This results in negative biochemical changes to the brain and body. Which in turn may start shutting down sensory channels; resulting in such physical symptoms as headaches, anxiety, panic attacks, or even acts of aggression.
While during an ‘emotional’ sensory reaction, there are those individuals with seemingly ‘emotional blindness’. This seems to be an emotional sensory state which triggers certain behaviors. In addition, the person may often interpret others emotions as their own.
A state of over or under arousal may eventually balance between these two, changing within the persons’ age and developmental lifetime. It may be that with the child, abnormal sensory functioning leads to secondary abnormalities in the brain development, because of distorted sensory input or lack of sensory input.
Zachor & Ben-Itzchak (2014) discuss ‘negative sensory responses’ and ‘unusual sensory interests’ as two different sensory abnormality types. The first type – an ‘idiosyncratic negative’ sensory response. An abnormal emotional sensory reaction, other than fear, which is specific to a certain person and a certain sensory stimuli.
The second type – ‘unusual sensory interests’ refer to an unusually strong or repeated reaction to, or seeking of, stimulations from the basic sensory input. They note that a criterion of ‘unusual sensory interests’ has been added recently to the new DSM-5; and that the ‘emotional reaction’, other than fear response should have lasted for at least 3 months, in clinical presentation.
More recent studies, such as Kraper, et al. (2017), found that despite average-range and higher cognitive abilities, some adults with ASD significantly struggling to engage in daily activities. There does seem to be a 7-16 year lag behind chronological age expectations, due to poorer adaptive functioning. This adaptive functioning referring to behaviors related to personal independence. When this gap occurs, some young adults tend towards at least one episode of depression, and/or some social anxiety; depending on their level of self-awareness.
Warber, tells us that when an individual has trouble with a persistent unhappy mood, as well as an inappropriate emotional response and behavior, the condition can affect social interaction, communication, and learning. Schools may use the term Emotional Behavior Disorder (EBD) when considering class placement within the school system. This is based on criteria from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); which describes the characteristics of the student as having –
- Learning problems that are NOT due to intellectual, health or sensory issues
- Problems with social interaction and appropriate behavior, and/or depression
- Inappropriate feelings, behavior or responses to normal situations
- Tendency to develop fears or negative physical reactions to school problems or family issues
Sarris (2012) reminds us that it can be these same young adults with rigid sensory interests, inflexible in their thinking, who enjoy activities or develop relationships based on their special interest or topic. Common interests for this group include animals, computers, music, science, and science fiction. Also, that it’s a special way that parents and other supporters can relate to all ages through their ‘favorite things’, building a strong and lasting connection throughout a lifetime.
REFERENCES used here are:
Bogdashina, O. & Casanova (2016). Sensory Perceptual Issues in Autism and Asperger Syndrome, Different Sensory Experiences – Different Perceptual Worlds; Second Edition: London; Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Kirby, A., Little, L., Schultz, B., Baranek, G., (2015). Observational Characterization of Sensory Interests, Repetitions, and Seeking Behaviors; American Journal of Occupational Therapists; V69:3, published online.
Kraper, C., Kenworthy, L., et al. (2017). The Gap Between Adaptive Behavior & Intelligence in Autism Persists into Young Adulthood & is Linked to Psychiatric Comorbidities; Journal of Autism Developmental Disorders; V47, p3007–3017.
Sarris, M. (2012). Behaviors that Puzzle: Repetitive Motions & Obsessive interests in Autism; Retrieved from online at – https://iancommunity.org/cs/challenging_behaviors/repetitive_motions_and_obsessions.
Wigham, S., Rodgers, J., South, M., McConachie, H., Freeston, M. (2015). The interplay Between Sensory Processing Abnormalities, Intolerance of Uncertainty, Anxiety & Restricted & Repetitive Behaviors in Autism Spectrum Disorder; Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders; Vol.45:4; p943-952.
Zachor, D. & Ben-Itzchak, E. (2014). The Relationship Between Clinical Presentation and Unusual Sensory Interests in Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Preliminary Investigation; Journal of Autism Developmental Disorders; V44, p229–235.