For adults on the autism spectrum, including those with Asperger’s, sensory issues can be a major problem. Clothing textures are irritating, foods taste and feel unpleasant, lights may be glaring and noises and odors overwhelming. These issues can be a major contributor to problems with social interactions and managing work environments.
Often, children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) like Asperger’s, autism, or PDD-NOS, as well as those with ADHD are under the care of a medical doctor who recommends Occupational Therapy as a part of treatment. OT can be invaluable in helping these children manage sensory problems. Unfortunately, many adults on the autism spectrum were not diagnosed as children, and only figure out their issues when they self diagnose as adults. Learning about autism and Asperger’s can help many adults adapt to their own deficits and start to utilize their strengths more effectively. Frequently, looking at sensory integration and sensory defensiveness can add immeasurably to the quality of life for adults with ASDs as well.
There are several good books on sensory integration and sensory processing, but generally they concentrate on children’s issues. Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World, by Sharon Heller, Ph.D. (2002, Harper-Collins) is an excellent guide that's written more for adults.The beginning of the book explains sensory processing and details the many ways that sensory defensiveness can manifest itself in different individuals. Heller focuses on the different senses and how each sense can individually vary for different people. While some people are tormented by tactile sensations, others struggle with smells and tastes. The most useful section of the book called “Your Sensory Diet” lists dozens of activities and lifestyle changes that individuals can make to improve their sensory experiences. Appendix B lists the many ways in which different individuals may react to sensory issues. I think a lot of people, both on the spectrum and neurotypical, will recognize themselves in some of these areas.
While many adults may (and should) decide to see a specialist, such as an Occupational Therapist, to get treatment for sensory issues, this book is both a useful introduction to sensory processing, and a reference book packed with ideas to get the problem under control.
Patricia Robinson MFT
I'm a licensed therapist in Danville, California and a coach for Asperger's and ADHD nationwide. I work with individuals of all ages who have special needs, like Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD, ADHD, and the family members and partners of special needs individuals.