Hyposensitivity and Autism

From Dr. Chun Wong:

Hyposensitivity is when a child is “under-sensitive” to stimuli and has trouble processing information through their senses. This type of sensory problem can lead to common autistic symptoms like stimming when a child repeats movements like rocking or waving their hands around to try and stimulate their “underactive” senses. But stimming is not the only behavior or symptom linked to hyposensitivity, this type of sensory problem can affect children in many ways:

  • Hypotactility – Hypotactility or “hypotouch” means that a child’s sense of touch is diminished and they will not be able to feel light touches or even pain and temperature extremes. A child with hypotactility may look for opportunities to experience “touch” by banging their head against the wall, biting themselves, playing roughly with other children or toys, hugging tightly and wearing tight clothes. They may also love having lots of blankets on their bed, to give them a feeling of weight, and also love chewing or sucking on things. Parents and carers will need to be aware that such a child may hurt themselves, even breaking a bone, without feeling it.
  • Hypovision – This is when a child’s vision can be affected to such an extent that they can only see outlines of objects. Symptoms and behaviour of this type of sensory problem include a child repeatedly moving their hands over objects, exploring everything in an unfamiliar place by touching it, repeatedly moving their hands and toys in front of their eyes, a love for bright lights, sunlight, bright colors and reflections, and an inability or difficulty to control their eye movements and to track moving objects.
  • Hypohearing – A child suffering from hypohearing will seek out sounds. They are likely to love being surrounded by people chatting, they’ll love loud or continuous sounds like loud music, vacuum cleaners, drilling or sirens, and will often do things to make loud sounds e.g. bang objects or toys together. Another symptom of hypohearing is the child not understanding what you’re saying to them and needing you to repeat your instruction louder.
  • Hypotaste – Hypotaste or hypo-oral can mean that a child is always on the look-out for new things to put in their mouths and taste. Everything, no matter what it is, will be put in their mouths and they may suffer with excessive drooling and go round with their mouth open. They may also regurgitate food and whatever else they have eaten.
  • Hyposmell (hypo-olfactory) – A child with this sensory problem will be drawn to smelly places, like the kitchen when you’re cooking or baking, and will constantly smell things – toys, grass, soil, plants, shoes, laundry…anything! They will love the smell of freshly laundered clothes and will love bathing with strong smelling soaps or shower gels. Their need to smell something may make them distracted.
  • Vestibular hyposensitivity – This is when a child can swing round and round, and rock themselves vigorously without feeling nauseous or dizzy. They will enjoy doing these types of movements.
  • Proprioceptive hyposensitivity – This is quite a serious hyposensitivity problem because it means that a child has no awareness of where their body is in time and space, and so can fall over, bump into people, drop things and be “floppy” and not be able to support themselves or hold onto things. A child with this problem may also not register hunger.

One big problem with a child being hyposensitive is that they will always be looking for a way to stimulate their senses and not only can this lead to rather annoying behaviors, it can also lead to danger. Children with hyposensitivity have been known to jump from heights and cause real injury to themselves just trying to feel something.

Helping a Child with Hyposensitivity

Here are just a few tips to help a child suffering with hyposensitivity problems:-

  • Get physical or occupational therapy for your child – These types of therapies can help to normalize a child’s response to stimuli, help them become aware of their own body and help them learn how to use their body in the right way. Therapy can involve gross motor play, deep pressure therapy, skin brushing, using clay and playing with toys that spin, vibrate or that can be squashed. See www.spdfoundation.net for more information.
  • Use special sensory toys that light up or that have different textures etc. to stimulate your child’s senses. There are many companies that specialize in this type of toy.
  • Allow your child some kind of control or choice over what they wear – They might like textured or heavy fabrics, rather than light, smooth fabrics.
  • As for a child with hypersensitivity, use layers of bedclothes so that the child can feel the heaviness of sheets and blankets.
  • Use pressure when bathing them with a flannel or sponge.
  • Be careful what you leave lying around – A child with hypotaste will put everything in their mouths.
  • Be willing to repeat instructions or speak loudly.
  • Skin brushing – Skin brushing is a great way to stimulate your child’s sense of touch and to calm them. You can read an article on how to use skin brushing at http://www.ehow.com/how_2090234_body-brush-autistic-child.html
  • Hug them tightly!

9 thoughts on “Hyposensitivity and Autism

  • February 5, 2021 at 3:09 pm

    Hi, my son is looking for machinery sounds all the time. He doesn’t get satisfied with one sound. There is a white noise mechine in the room. Still 2 table fans arw on, vacum cleaner is on, then he turns on the water tap and exhaust. Still he woild bang the fan to make some crasy noises with the blade and cover. Sometimes I feel so overloaded! And I don’t find any exact solution online. His behaviour therapist can’t help either. They are bringing more noise makibg toys and he is going more crazy.

    • April 8, 2021 at 12:07 pm

      Try Occupational Therapy as they help with sensory issues.

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  • October 21, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    @Anonymous – I am very impressed by your comment on young children not yet able to distinguish normal from not normal. I think this truly imposes a unique difficulty for doctors in thier assessment data gathered from young children’s interviews.

  • June 28, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    There is hyposensitivity and hypersensitivity. The same person can have both issues. My girls do.

  • June 26, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    I wonder if that’s why I ate play-doh when I was 6…  It’s funny, even with too much skin sensory, I’m a taster.  I have to taste.  And I really believe that an autistic person will invent smell-o-vision someday.

  • June 26, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    My problem hasn’t been hypO sensitivity, but hypER sensitivity to certain sounds and visual input. I could hear the subliminal message superimposed on a squealing high-pitched and very loud carrier in a huge department store as a very young kid. It kept repeating, “I am honest. I will not steal.” Over and over again, but the high-pitched wail wasn’t enough to drive the morality pitch away.

    Then there was the weird way that text appeared under flouresecent light (back before they hugely improved them), which I had no idea was abnormal until high school! I just wore colored sunglasses to minimize the motion of the letters on the page.

    I don’t know that sensory troubles are a sure symptom of any particular malady, but when dealing with children it’s important to know that kids have no idea of what is “normal” and what is not. If you ask a kid with issues like mine, “any symptoms? Do you see or hear anything abnormal?” – and he will answer “No.” What’s normal to a child who has never seen it or experienced it? How do I know what “normal” is supposed to look like?

    Not that I have to tell you this, Dr.Wong, but other doctors, health professionals, and family members need to hear it.

    Thanks for a very informative post!

  • June 26, 2009 at 11:27 am

    When we took Short Stack to the hospital, one of the nurses had that toy in the picture – whatever it’s called.

    Calmed him down in a heartbeat.


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