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Part Two – Ten Myths about High Functioning Autism and Sensory Integration Disorder

This is Part Two of an article that addresses common myths about Sensory Integration Disorder (SID) or Sensory Dysfunction (SD).  “Sensory stimulation can be more difficult to tolerate during times of transition or change. For example: when job responsibilities change, or teacher is introduced.” This article was originally published by Toni Boucher and appeared on her HubPages where she has many wonderful articles.


Myth #6: People’s sensory experiences remain constant regardless of time, location and circumstance. If they tolerate something at work or school, they should also be able to tolerate it at home or if they tolerated it last week, they should be able to tolerate it today.

Fact #6: People’s tolerance of sensory stimuli can vary greatly from one circumstance to another.

For example, many people with HFA report that they are able to withstand certain sounds or lights while in public places such as school or work, but it requires so much energy and effort on their part to “hold it together” during this time that when they return home they must “shut down” as they have used up their ability to cope. During this time they may experience a heightened sense of pain or discomfort to noises, touch, smells and or sights. It is as if they have used up all the hot water in the heater and must wait for the tank to reheat. An increase in rocking, hand flapping and other sensory behaviors may occur during these times as a way to relieve tension that has built up.

Sensory stimulation can be more difficult to tolerate during times of transition or change. For example: when job responsibilities change, a new car or home is purchased, death or birth of a family member, a new supervisor or teacher is introduced.

Furthermore, some individuals report having difficulty experiencing more than one sensation at a time. For example, the feeling of water in the shower may be tolerable in the dark, but overwhelming if the lights are on. Or eye contact may be relatively comfortable to achieve unless there is also background noise from other people talking.

Myth #7: Inattention and hyperactivity in people with HFA are best treated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity (ADHD) medication.

Fact #7: Severe anxiety can often mimic symptoms of ADHD.

Anxiety is defined as excessive worry and distress over regular life events or events that are unlikely to happen. Thoughts of what might happen dominate the person’s day and interfere with their ability to enjoy life and accomplish daily tasks. Furthermore, individuals who have anxiety often report physical sensations such as racing heart, difficulty breathing, sweating, stomach aches, headaches, loss of appetite and trouble sleeping.

Stimulant medications used for ADHD can actually intensify anxiety and cause an increase in sensory seeking behaviors. In order for individuals on the spectrum to live comfortably and reach their potential, it is absolutely crucial that any issues of anxiety be addressed. Unfortunately, anxiety is frequently overlooked or misdiagnosed as ADHD for people with autism and the results can be profoundly debilitating.

Myth #8: If a person exhibits tendencies such as lining things up, having a specific routine or rituals like turning around before entering a room or washing hands, they must have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Fact #8: Many people who really have HFA are misdiagnosed with OCD, especially when they exhibit milder communication and socialization challenges.

While it is true that HFA and OCD can look very similar on the surface, the defining difference is that in addition to obsessive compulsive tendencies, all individuals with HFA possess difficulty communicating and socializing as well as their obsessive compulsive tendencies. Individuals with OCD do not have remarkable deficits in their ability to socialize or communicate. Unfortunately, people with HFA who receive a diagnosis of OCD often do not get needed help with communication and socialization. Furthermore, even though OCD is an anxiety disorder, these individuals may not get help for their anxiety because the focus of treatment is often to eliminate sensory seeking behaviors rather than addressing the underlying anxiety that causes this behavior in the first place.

Myth #9: It is not fair to let some students have wiggle seats, squishy balls, hats or other sensory devices because not all students are allowed to have them.

Fact #9: Sensory devices in the classroom or on the job are not toys.

They are necessary accommodations to help some students be successful in the same way that glasses help improve vision and hearing aids improve listening skills for some individuals. Sensory devices may help relieve anxiety and stress as well as improve focus and decrease the chances of a meltdown or mental overload.

Myth #10: People on the spectrum should be able to control their urinary urges and their bowels “like everybody else”.

Fact #10: Gastrointestinal (GI) issues are a major concern for some people with HFA.

As a matter of fact, children with ASD’s have a higher rate of GI issues than typical children and children with other developmental disabilities. This can present with extreme discomfort and even pain. Some individuals are unable to sense when they need to void and this can result in loss of both bladder and bowel control. Some individuals on the spectrum also report that for some reason, voiding on themselves feels comforting and they may wet themselves to relieve anxiety. Potty training is a skill that is delayed and difficult to learn for some children on the spectrum.