Autism Anger: Effective Management Strategies and Solutions

Autism Anger: Effective Management Strategies and Solutions

As we delve into the subject of anger in autistic individuals, it is integral to understand the complexities and nuances of this emotional response. Anger can manifest in various ways and can be particularly challenging for those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Aggression, for example, is known to be a common issue for some autistic individuals, highlighting the need for a deeper understanding of anger-related behaviors in this population source.

Research suggests that autistic individuals may experience difficulties processing certain emotions, such as fear, anger, and sadness. This can lead to increased instances of rumination and anger-focused thoughts. Developing effective emotion regulation strategies is therefore essential in helping individuals with autism manage their feelings of anger and build resilience.

This article will explore various perspectives and findings related to anger in autism, including contributing factors, emotional processing challenges, and effective interventions for managing such emotions. By gaining a comprehensive understanding of anger in autistic individuals, we can better support and guide them toward optimal emotional well-being.

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Understanding Autism and Anger

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects how individuals process information, communicate and interact with the world around them. The spectrum aspect of this disorder acknowledges the range of abilities and characteristics that individuals with autism can exhibit, from mild to severe.

Autism presents differently in every individual, with various cognitive, communication, social, and emotional challenges. One common challenge autistic individuals can face is managing emotions, particularly anger.

Causes of Anger in Autism

There are several factors that can contribute to anger in individuals with autism. These factors can be broadly categorized into internal and external factors.

Internal factors can include:

  • Sensory sensitivities: Autistic individuals often experience heightened or reduced sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as sounds, textures, and sights, leading to frustration and anger when overwhelmed or uncomfortable.
  • Cognitive challenges: Cognitive challenges can make it difficult for autistic individuals to understand their environment and social situations fully, leading to anger stemming from confusion or feeling inadequate.
  • Emotional regulation: Autism can impede the development of emotional regulation skills, making it harder for individuals to recognize, manage, and appropriately express their feelings.

External factors can involve:

  • Unstructured environments: Autistic individuals generally flourish in predictable and structured settings. However, their emotions, including anger, can become uncontrollable when faced with unexpected events or chaos.
  • Miscommunication: Communication challenges associated with autism can make expressing needs and desires difficult. Misunderstandings or not being able to effectively communicate can cause frustration and anger.
  • Social situations: Socializing can be challenging for those with autism, as they may have difficulty interpreting facial expressions, understanding social cues, or maintaining a conversation. When confronted with an unpleasant social encounter, anger can become a default response.

In conclusion, understanding the causes and triggers of anger in autistic individuals can facilitate better support for managing their emotions. By providing structure, addressing sensory sensitivities, and focusing on teaching emotional regulation skills, we can help autistic individuals lead happier and more fulfilling lives.

Anger Expression in Autism

Behavior and Aggression

In autistic individuals, anger can manifest through various behaviors and aggressive actions. These behaviors can result from the individual's difficulty in expressing and processing emotions due to impairments in processing anger, fear, and sadness. As parents and caregivers, we should be understanding of their frustration and aim to guide them to help them communicate their emotions better. Some everyday aggressive actions might include:

  • Hitting or kicking
  • Throwing or breaking objects
  • Screaming or shouting

Check out the Identifying Emotions Activity Pack for Teens here to Help them learn to Identify and Express Emotions.

Identifying Emotions and Feelings for Teens Activity Pack

Language and Communication

Autistic individuals may face challenges in expressing their anger through verbal communication. Their language abilities may still need to be developed enough to convey their emotions accurately. Some children with ASD might struggle to express their anger verbally, which can lead to heightened frustration levels and subsequent behavioral outbursts. Parents, caregivers, and educators must establish clear communication channels and help autistic individuals develop the necessary language skills to express their emotions. Some suggested interventions are:

  • Encouraging the use of simple words or phrases to convey emotions
  • Implementing visual aids, such as feeling charts or emoticon cards
  • Supporting the individual in developing non-verbal communication skills, such as training on facial expressions

Sensory Overload and Triggers

Sensory issues can heavily influence anger expression in autistic individuals. Overstimulation from loud noises, bright lights, or uncomfortable textures could trigger irritability and frustration, leading to angry outbursts. As parents or caregivers, we must be attentive to our child's sensory triggers and ensure their environment is adapted to minimize sensory overload. Some approaches that might help include:

  • Creating a calm and structured environment with minimal distractions
  • Introducing sensory toys or tools, such as fidget spinners or weighted blankets
  • Implementing calming strategies like deep pressure therapy or relaxation techniques

Overall, it's crucial to remember that individuals with autism experience and express anger differently from others. By understanding their specific needs and providing the appropriate support, we can help them navigate their emotions and communicate more effectively. You'll be able to read more here to understand your teen's sensory needs. You can also check out sensory activities for autistic adults here.

Managing Anger in Autistic Children

Coping Skills and Techniques

Managing anger in autistic children can be challenging, but there are many skills we can teach them to help regulate their emotions. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has shown promise for improving emotion regulation in autistic children and reducing outbursts [^4^]. By teaching children strategies such as deep breathing, visualization, and problem-solving, we can provide them with tools to manage their anger more effectively.

We should also help autistic children understand and identify their emotions. This can be achieved by encouraging them to express their feelings non-threateningly through drawing, writing, or role-playing. Additionally, social stories can be a helpful way to teach children about appropriate emotional responses in given situations.

Check out these amazing social stories from Dyan at And Next Comes L! You can check out the individual social stories by clicking on the images below or you can check out her entire social story collection here.

angry social story
arguing social story
emotions social story

Preventing Meltdowns and Outbursts

Preventing meltdowns and outbursts in autistic children begins with understanding the factors contributing to their anger. Common triggers include sensory sensitivities, changes in routine, and social interactions. To minimize these triggers, we can:

  • Create a consistent daily routine for our child, making sure to prepare them for any changes ahead of time.
  • Provide a sensory-friendly environment by minimizing exposure to bright lights, loud noises, and other sensory stimuli that may overwhelm them.
  • Teach them social skills, like maintaining personal space and understanding body language, to help minimize conflict during social interactions.

Moreover, it is crucial to monitor for signs of underlying mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, which can exacerbate aggressive behavior. If we suspect our child is struggling with these issues, seeking professional support to address these concerns is essential.

By implementing these strategies, we can help our autistic children manage their anger and prevent meltdowns, ultimately improving their quality of life and social interactions.

Autism and Anger in Adults and Adolescents

Challenges in Social Situations

In autistic adults and adolescents, challenges in social situations can lead to heightened anger levels. Everyday life can be challenging for those with autism, as they encounter various misunderstandings and miscommunications in social interactions. These difficulties may result in frustration and a sense of being overwhelmed, which can increase anger levels.

Emotion regulation is often a significant challenge for autistic individuals, leading to difficulties in controlling impulses and managing anger appropriately. This is especially true for autistic adolescents undergoing important emotional and social development during that time.

Effective Strategies for Managing Anger

There are several practical ways that autistic adults and adolescents can manage their anger and navigate challenging social situations more effectively.

  • Emotion Regulation Techniques: Learning to recognize emotions and implementing strategies for managing them can be beneficial for reducing anger. Techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation can help individuals to cope with challenging emotions.
  • Social Skills: Developing better social skills can ease the difficulties faced in social interactions and decrease feelings of frustration. This can involve learning to read social cues, improving communication, and understanding acceptable social behaviors.
  • Impulse Control Techniques: Autistic individuals may struggle with impulsivity and acting on their emotions without considering the consequences. Working on impulse control strategies, like self-monitoring and setting personalized goals, can assist in managing anger more effectively.

By implementing these strategies, autistic adults and adolescents can work to improve their anger management and better navigate the challenges they face in everyday life.

Special Considerations for Autism and Anger

Resistance to Change and Emotional Sensitivity

Autism and anger can often be interrelated due to various factors, such as resistance to change and heightened emotional sensitivity. Autistic people may experience temper tantrums or anger outbursts when faced with alterations in their daily routines or environments. Resistance to change can stem from the comfort that predictability provides, and any disruptions can trigger significant emotional distress.

Emotional sensitivity is another aspect to consider when discussing autism and anger. Autistic individuals may display a heightened sensitivity to their surroundings and emotions, which can often lead to sensory overload or difficulty coping with intense feelings. Sensory overloads, such as loud noises or bright lights, can cause extreme discomfort and trigger meltdowns, which may be misinterpreted as anger.

As part of helping autistic people manage their anger, it's important to teach and support the development of appropriate coping skills. This can include strategies such as:

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Counting techniques
  • Seeking quiet spaces or the use of noise-cancelling headphones
  • Utilizing stress balls or other sensory objects

Rage Cycle Stages

Understanding the stages of the rage cycle is essential when addressing autism and anger issues. The rage cycle typically consists of three stages: rumbling, rage, and recovery.

  1. Rumbling Stage: This stage is characterized by subtle cues that indicate the buildup of tension and agitation in autistic individuals. During this stage, it's crucial to recognize these signs to prevent the escalation of anger. Signs may include clenched fists, rapid breathing, pacing, or verbal outbursts.
  2. Rage Stage: In this stage, the autistic person's anger has reached its peak, often resulting in a loss of control, including screaming, hitting, or other aggressive behaviors. It's essential to ensure the safety of the individual and those around them during this stage and avoid engaging in arguments or trying to reason with the person, as this could potentially exacerbate the situation.
  3. Recovery Stage: This is the stage where the autistic person begins to calm down and regain control over their emotions. It's important to offer support and reassurance while creating space for them to process their feelings during this time.

By understanding the unique factors that contribute to anger in autistic people, such as resistance to change, emotional sensitivity, and the rage cycle stages, we can better support and address their needs and emotions. You can also learn more about sensory meltdowns in this post here.

Autism Anger: Effective Management Strategies and Solutions

Support for Caregivers and Parents

Recognizing Nonverbal Cues

As caregivers and parents of autistic individuals, we need to understand the importance of social communication and how it impacts how they express their emotions, especially anger. One way to support them is by recognizing nonverbal cues. For many autistic individuals, eye contact may be limited, and they may rely on alternative means of communication.

We must pay attention to body language, facial expressions, and gestures. By understanding these nonverbal cues, we can better comprehend the emotions they are experiencing and respond accordingly. This can aid in problem-solving situations, which ultimately helps to create a calmer environment for everyone involved.

Creating a Safe Space for Expression

Developing a safe space for them to navigate and express their emotions is crucial in providing proper support. As caregivers and parents, we must foster environments that promote healthy emotional expression while understanding that autistic individuals may have different needs and preferences.

To create a safe space, we can start by establishing consistent routines and clear expectations. Additionally, it's essential to provide appropriate sensory inputs and tools, such as fidget toys or noise-cancelling headphones, to minimize potential triggers that might exacerbate their anger.

Establishing open communication and validating our child's emotions, even if we don't fully understand them, is vital in creating a supportive and nurturing environment. It's crucial for us, as caregivers and parents, to maintain a confident, knowledgeable, and neutral approach to promote healthy emotional expression and growth for our autistic children, teens, and adults.

You can get more help with creating a calm down toolkit and understanding their sensory needs by checking out the FREE calm down toolkit and the Making Sense of Teenage Years: A Sensory Processing Guide Ebook.

Click the image below to get your free calm-down sensory toolkit for teens.

Calm Down Strategies Toolkit for Teens #calm #sensorymeltdowns #self-regulation

Seeking Professional Help

When dealing with autism and anger issues, seeking professional help to understand and manage these emotions is essential. This section will discuss when to consult a doctor and provide valuable guidance on addressing anger ruminations in autistic individuals.

When to Consult a Doctor

It is crucial to consult a doctor if anger issues in someone with autism are causing distress, affecting daily functioning, or posing a risk to themselves or others. Early intervention can enhance the individual's quality of life and help them develop effective coping strategies. Some signs that it may be time to seek professional help include:

  • Persistent anger that is disproportionate to the situation
  • Difficulty calming down after an anger episode
  • Increased aggression or violent behavior
  • Negative impact on relationships and social interactions
  • Escalating anger leading to self-harm or harm to others
  • Interference with daily activities and responsibilities

A doctor can help identify if these anger issues stem directly from autism or a co-occurring condition such as depression or anxiety. They can also recommend appropriate interventions and therapies that focus on emotional regulation and communication skills.

One study conducted on autistic adolescents found that anger rumination is positively correlated with autism symptom severity, depression symptoms, and aggression. Being aware of this connection can help us provide proper support to individuals experiencing anger ruminations. By seeking professional help, we can create a more structured and comprehensive approach, enabling us to address these challenges effectively and move towards better emotional management for people with autism.

Frequently Asked Questions

What triggers anger issues in autistic individuals?

Several factors may trigger anger issues in autistic individuals. These triggers can include difficulty with communication, social misunderstandings, changes in routine, stress and anxiety, frustration, and sensory overload1. Identifying and addressing these triggers is essential to manage anger in autistic individuals effectively.

How can anger be managed for those with autism?

Anger management strategies for autistic individuals may include teaching coping skills, implementing predictable routines, providing clear and concise communication, and offering calming sensory activities. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and mindfulness techniques can also help teach emotional regulation and reduce anger outbursts.

Is aggression common in autistic individuals?

Aggression can be more common in autistic individuals compared to those without it2. Factors contributing to aggression may include communication difficulties, sensory sensitivities, or challenges with emotional regulation. Understanding and addressing the underlying causes of aggression is essential to create a supportive environment for autistic individuals.

How does autism affect emotional regulation?

Autism can make emotional regulation more challenging for some individuals. They may have difficulty identifying, understanding, and expressing their emotions3. As a result, emotions such as anger, anxiety, and sadness may manifest more intensely or frequently than in neurotypical individuals. By addressing the obstacles related to emotional regulation, we can better support autistic individuals in managing their emotions.

What are effective strategies for reducing anger outbursts?

Practical strategies for reducing anger outbursts in autistic individuals include establishing a consistent routine, providing clear communication, offering choices and control, and teaching relaxation techniques4. Additionally, creating a calm and structured environment, using visual aids, and offering social skills training can help minimize anger outbursts.

What role does sensory overload play in autism-related anger?

Sensory overload can significantly contribute to anger and emotional outbursts in autistic individuals. Overstimulating environments or unexpected sensory experiences may overwhelm their nervous systems, leading to agitation, anxiety, and anger5. By understanding and addressing sensory sensitivities, we can help minimize the impact of sensory overload on autism-related anger.







Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist for Children, Teens, and Adults

Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist for Children, Teens, and Adults

In this post you will learn about a sensory processing disorder checklist for children, teens, and adults.

Every aspect of our lives relies on our ability to process sensory information. For example, if you touch boiling water, your sense of touch signals your brain that it's hot, and your brain instructs your muscles to move your hand away to prevent injury.

However, for someone with sensory processing disorder (SPD), their brain might misinterpret the information.

Before going over the sensory processing disorder checklist, let's understand SPD and how to use the list.

What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?

SPD is a condition that affects the way the brain receives and interprets sensory information. Someone struggling with sensory dysfunction may be over or under-responsive to stimuli. This can interfere with their daily life.

If you think you or someone you know has SPD, you can assess for potential signs and consult an expert for a professional diagnosis. 

With proper help, anyone experiencing SPD can overcome the challenges associated with the condition and improve the quality of their personal and social lives.

That's why I compiled this sensory processing disorder checklist. Use it as a tool to identify areas of difficulty in sensory processing and seek help. 

It's useful for both parents and professionals working with affected individuals. 

What You Should Know Before Using the Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist

People don't experience SPD the same way. Everyone experiencing this condition has their own unique sensory profile

Someone with sensory dysfunction doesn't have to exhibit all the potential symptoms of PSD. 

As you go through the list, here's what you should pay attention to:

Don't take it lightly if you nod yes to several of the red flags in this checklist. Instead, use it as a basis to talk to a doctor or an Occupational Therapist.

I also have a comprehensive Teen Sensory Processing Guide eBook that I highly recommend you go over. It will guide you on how to help your teenager navigate their sensory needs and lead a more independent life successfully.

Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist

There are 8 sensory systems we will take a look at with this checklist.

  • Tactile: This is your touch sensory system.
  • Vestibular: This is your body's balance and orientation to space with movement.
  • Proprioceptive: This is your body's internal sense of movement.
  • Gustatory: This is your body's sense of smell.
  • Olfactory: This is your body's sense of taste.
  • Auditory: This is your body's sense of hearing.
  • Vision: This is your body's sense of sight.
  • Interception: This is your body's sense of internal body awareness. This tells us if we are feeling sick to our stomach, we are hungry, thirsty, or if we have to use the restroom as examples.

Signs of Tactile Dysfunction (Touch)

1. Tactile Defensiveness (Hypersensitivity to Touch)

  • Avoidance of Touch: The individual might avoid physical contact, or they might pull away or become distressed when touched.
  • Discomfort with Certain Textures: They might be uncomfortable with specific textures, either in clothing, food, or other materials.
  • Distress during Grooming Activities: They might resist or become upset during grooming activities, such as hair brushing, teeth brushing, or bathing.
  • Preference for Certain Clothing: They might insist on wearing certain types of clothing and refuse to wear others based on how they feel.
  • Distress with Messy Play: They may avoid or become distressed with messy play, such as playing with sand, clay, or finger paint.
  • Avoidance of Certain Foods: They may avoid foods with certain textures, leading to a restricted diet.
  • Overreaction to Minor Cuts or Scrapes: They might react strongly to minor injuries or discomforts, like small cuts, scrapes, or bug bites.
  • Difficulty with Clothing Tags or Seams: They might be bothered by clothing tags or seams and might prefer tagless clothing or clothing without seams.
  • Discomfort with Shoes or Socks: They might have difficulty wearing shoes or socks, or they might prefer to go barefoot.
  • Overwhelm in Crowded Places: They may become distressed or overwhelmed in crowded places due to accidental brushes or touches.
  • Dislikes hair brushing or is picky about brushes
  • Uncomfortable with face washing and teeth brushing
  • Finds raindrops, shower water, or wind on skin unbearable
  • Overreacts to minor cuts, scrapes, or bug bites
  • Refuses to walk barefoot on grass or sand
  • Avoids touching certain textures (blankets and rugs)
  • Resists friendly or affectionate touch
  • Prefers hugs over other types of touch
  • Avoids group situations due to fear of unexpected touch
  • Frequently wipes or washes hands due to discomfort with dirt
  • Extremely ticklish

2. Under-Responsive (Hyposensitivity to Touch)

  • Unaware of Touch: The individual might not notice when they're being touched or may not respond to physical contact.
  • High Pain Tolerance: They might not seem to notice injuries, or may have a higher tolerance for pain than others.
  • Difficulty with Fine Motor Skills: They may have trouble with tasks requiring tactile perception, like buttoning clothes, tying shoelaces, or manipulating small objects.
  • Not Realizing Hands or Face are Dirty: They might not notice when their hands or face are dirty or messy.
  • May Not Notice Temperature: They might not react to hot or cold temperatures that would be uncomfortable to others, potentially putting them at risk of harm.
  • Craving for Physical Contact: They might frequently seek out physical contact, or enjoy activities that provide strong tactile input, like wrestling or burrowing under heavy blankets.
  • Difficulty Judging Pressure: They may use too much or too little pressure when writing, drawing, or interacting with others.
  • Frequent Mouthing of Objects: They might frequently chew or bite on objects, clothing, or themselves, possibly to gain more sensory input.
  • Not Mindful of Clothing Tags or Seams: They may not be bothered by clothing tags or seams that might irritate others.
  • Disinterest in Textured Objects or Surfaces: They might show little interest in objects or surfaces with different or interesting textures that might fascinate others.
  • May touch everything and everyone
  • Seeks out soothing surfaces or objects
  • Shows no distress with injuries or shots
  • May hurt others during play
  • May exhibit self-abusive behaviors
  • Seeks out textures that provide strong tactile feedback
  • May not be aware of dirt or runny nose
  • May not notice being touched unless it's done forcefully

3. Poor Tactile Perception and Discrimination

  • Difficulty Identifying Objects by Touch: The individual may struggle to identify objects without looking at them, just by feeling with their hands.
  • Difficulty with Fine Motor Skills: They might struggle with tasks that require tactile perception, like buttoning a shirt, tying shoelaces, or handwriting.
  • Clumsiness: They might often drop objects or bump into things due to a poor sense of their body in relation to their surroundings.
  • Difficulty with Tasks Requiring Hand-Eye Coordination: Tasks like catching a ball, using scissors, or playing video games might pose a challenge.
  • Difficulty Distinguishing Between Similar Objects: They may struggle to distinguish between similar objects by touch alone, like differentiating coins.
  • Difficulty Judging Pressure: They might use too much or too little pressure when writing, drawing, or interacting with others, which can lead to accidentally hurting someone or breaking things.
  • Struggle with Textured Materials: They may have difficulty identifying or tolerating different textures, affecting their choices of clothing, food, or other items.
  • Discomfort with Grooming Activities: They might resist or become distressed during grooming activities, like brushing teeth or hair, due to heightened sensitivity or difficulty perceiving tactile input.
  • Difficulty with Tasks Involving Dexterity: They may struggle with tasks that require dexterity, like assembling puzzles or manipulating small objects.
  • Difficulty with Activities Requiring Body Awareness: They might struggle with activities that require body awareness, such as yoga or dance.
  • Fearful of the dark
  • Struggles with tasks like dressing themselves
  • May not recognize where they were touched if they didn't see it happen
  • Struggles with using scissors, crayons, and utensils
  • Difficulty understanding physical characteristics of objects like shape, size, texture, temperature, weight, etc.
  • Unable to identify objects by feel and relies on vision to retrieve items from a backpack

Signs of Vestibular Dysfunction (Movement)

1. Over-Responsive: Hypersensitivity to Movement

  • Fear of Movement: The individual may be afraid of activities that involve movement, such as swinging, sliding, or riding in a car.
  • Nausea or Dizziness: They may often feel sick or dizzy, particularly during or after movement.
  • Difficulty with Changes in Head Position: They might get upset or disoriented if their head position changes, like when bending over or lying down.
  • Avoidance of Fast Movements or Spinning: Activities that involve quick movements or spinning might be distressing or disorienting.
  • Fear of Heights: They might have a heightened fear of heights or places where the ground is uneven.
  • Clingy Behavior: They might frequently seek support or cling to people or objects, possibly due to a fear of falling.
  • Difficulty with Balance: They may struggle to maintain balance during activities like walking on uneven surfaces or riding a bike.
  • Resistance to Lying Flat: They might resist lying flat without a pillow, possibly due to discomfort when their head is not upright.
  • Motion Sickness: They may frequently experience motion sickness during car rides or other forms of transportation.
  • Trouble with Coordination: They may show difficulties coordinating their body movements, as the vestibular system plays a critical role in coordination.
  • Avoidance of Physical Activity: They may avoid or resist physical activities or sports, particularly those that involve a lot of movement or changes in position.
  • Has an intense fear of falling
  • Prefers sedentary activities, moves slowly and cautiously, and avoids taking risks
  • Fearful of heights and of feet leaving the ground
  • Dislikes elevators and escalators and may feel motion sickness
  • Avoids stairs and uneven surfaces
  • Fearful of riding a bike, jumping, hopping, or balancing on one foot
  • Loses balance easily and appears clumsy
  • Avoids activities that require good balance

2. Under-Responsive: Hyposensitivity to Movement

  • Craving for Movement: The individual may constantly seek out movement, such as spinning, swinging, or bouncing.
  • High Energy Levels: They might seem to have an inexhaustible amount of energy, and rarely sit still.
  • Difficulty Sitting Still: They may struggle to sit quietly, often fidgeting or squirming.
  • Frequent Spinning or Twirling: They may enjoy activities that involve spinning or twirling and do not get dizzy easily.
  • Love for High-Speed Activities: They might prefer fast-paced or high-risk activities, like roller coasters or jumping from high places.
  • Difficulty with Balance: They might have difficulty maintaining balance, particularly with their eyes closed, due to an under-responsive vestibular system.
  • Problems with Coordination: They may appear clumsy or have trouble coordinating their movements, which could affect their ability to participate in sports or activities that require precision.
  • Frequent Rocking or Swaying: They might often rock or sway, even when standing or sitting, possibly seeking additional vestibular input.
  • Difficulty Maintaining Focus: They may struggle to focus or pay attention, particularly when they are not allowed to move.
  • Difficulty Understanding Body Position: They may struggle with understanding where their body is in space, leading to potential clumsiness or frequent bumping into things.
  • Low Muscle Tone: They might appear floppy or have difficulty maintaining posture due to reduced muscle tone.
  • Craves intense and fast movements, including spinning experiences
  • Prefers running, jumping, or hopping instead of walking
  • Enjoys sudden or quick movements, such as going over bumps in a car or on a bike
  • Seeks out risky experiences
  • Constantly in motion and has difficulty staying still
  • Engages in body movements like rocking, leg shaking, or nodding while sitting

3. Poor Muscle Tone or Coordination

  • Low Muscle Tone: The individual might seem floppy or loose, struggling to maintain postures or hold up their head.
  • Poor Posture: They might often slouch or lean on objects for support due to reduced muscle strength.
  • Difficulty with Balance: They might struggle with balance while standing or walking, particularly on uneven surfaces or with their eyes closed.
  • Clumsiness: They might frequently bump into things or trip and fall, appearing uncoordinated.
  • Trouble with Fine Motor Skills: Tasks requiring precision, like using scissors or fastening buttons, might be challenging due to poor hand-eye coordination.
  • Difficulty with Gross Motor Skills: They may struggle with whole-body movements, such as running, jumping, or riding a bike, due to poor body coordination.
  • Difficulty Learning New Physical Tasks: They may find it hard to learn new motor skills, like a dance routine or a new sport, as these require coordination and balance.
  • Struggling with Sequential Tasks: Tasks that require a sequence of movements, like climbing stairs or getting dressed, might be challenging due to poor body coordination.
  • Tendency to Prop Themselves: They may frequently prop themselves up against walls or furniture when standing or sitting.
  • Difficulty with Rhythmic Movements: They may struggle with rhythmic activities, like skipping, dancing, or swinging a bat.
  • Frequent Fatigue: They might tire easily during physical activity due to reduced muscle endurance.
  • Fatigues easily
  • Has difficulty turning door knobs and handles and opening and closing items
  • Has difficulty catching themselves if they fall
  • Has poor body awareness and frequently bumps into things, knocks things over, trips, or appears clumsy
  • Has a limp, “floppy” body
  • Has difficulty learning exercise or dance steps

Signs of Proprioceptive Dysfunction

1. Sensory Seeking Behaviors

  • Craving for Rough Play: The individual might constantly seek out rough play, like wrestling or jumping.
  • Frequent Physical Contact: They may crave physical contact and not understand personal space boundaries.
  • Excessive Jumping, Bouncing, or Spinning: They may frequently engage in activities that involve intense body movements.
  • High Pain Tolerance: They might not seem to notice injuries or may have a higher tolerance for pain than others.
  • Difficulty Sitting Still: They may find it hard to stay still and may constantly fidget or move around.
  • Heavy-Handedness: They might often break objects, not knowing their own strength or not realizing how hard they're pressing or pushing.
  • Craving for Tight Clothing or Swaddling: They might prefer tight clothing or enjoy being swaddled or wrapped tightly in blankets.
  • Frequent Stomping or Loud Footsteps: They might walk or run heavily, making a lot of noise with their feet.
  • Difficulty Understanding Body Position: They may seem clumsy, bump into things, or have difficulty coordinating their body in space.
  • Preference for Chewing or Biting: They might frequently chew or bite on objects, clothing, or themselves.
  • Excessive Throwing or Slamming of Objects: They might often throw things, slam doors, or make other loud noises.
  • Frequent Pushing or Leaning Against People or Objects: They may often lean against walls, doors, or other people, seeking the sensory input.
  • Seeks out activities involving jumping, bumping, and crashing
  • Kicks feet on the floor or chair while sitting at a desk or table
  • Bites or sucks fingers and objects
  • Prefers tight clothes, belts, hoods, and shoelaces
  • Loves to receive bear hugs
  • Grinds teeth throughout the day
  • Loves pushing, pulling, and dragging objects
  • Frequently hits, bumps, or pushes other teens
  • Chews on pens, straws, shirt sleeves, etc.

2. Difficulty With Movement

  • Clumsiness: They might appear uncoordinated and clumsy, frequently bumping into things or falling.
  • Difficulty Grading Movement: They might use too much or too little force when picking up objects, writing, or interacting with others, leading to objects being dropped or broken, or others being accidentally hurt.
  • Difficulty with Fine Motor Skills: Tasks that require precision, like buttoning a shirt or tying shoelaces, could be challenging.
  • Struggling with Gross Motor Skills: They may have difficulty with tasks that require whole body movement, like jumping, running, or climbing stairs.
  • Problems with Balance: They might have difficulty maintaining balance while standing or walking, particularly with their eyes closed.
  • Difficulty Navigating Spaces: They may struggle to move through crowded or narrow spaces and might frequently bump into things.
  • Trouble Learning New Physical Activities: They might have a hard time learning new motor tasks, like riding a bike or playing a new sport.
  • Difficulty with Sequencing Movements: Tasks that require a series of movements, like doing a dance routine or getting dressed, could pose a challenge.
  • Poor Posture: They might frequently slouch or lean on things for support.
  • Difficulty Judging Distances: They might struggle to judge distances accurately, which could affect their ability to catch a ball or use the stairs.
  • Difficulty Discerning Right from Left: They might struggle with discerning right from left, which can affect coordination.
  • Difficulty with Depth Perception: They might struggle to perceive depth accurately, affecting activities like sports or even navigating steps.
  • Has difficulty knowing how much to move muscles when doing tasks
  • Struggles with controlling writing/drawing pressure, making it too light or too hard
  • Misjudges the weight of objects
  • Does everything with too much force, such as walking, slamming doors, or pressing things too hard

Signs of Olfactory Dysfunction (Sense of Smell) 

1. Hypersensitivity to Smells (Over-Responsive)

  • Increased Sensitivity to Smell: The person is more sensitive to smells than is typical. Even faint smells might be perceived as overpowering or unpleasant.
  • Distorted Perception of Smell (Parosmia): Normal smells are perceived differently than they used to, often with a distorted or unpleasant interpretation.
  • Unpleasant Perception of Smell (Cacosmia): This is a specific form of parosmia where all smells are perceived as repugnant or foul, regardless of their actual odor.
  • Phantom Smells (Phantosmia): The person senses smells that aren't present in their environment.
  • Headaches: Some individuals may experience headaches as a result of being exposed to certain smells.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: Strong or particular smells can trigger feelings of nausea or even lead to vomiting.
  • Difficulty Eating: Due to the heightened sensitivity or altered perception of smell, individuals may have a hard time eating, as the smell of food may be overpowering or unappetizing.
  • Anxiety or Panic Attacks: If the hypersensitivity to smells is severe, it could trigger anxiety or panic attacks, particularly in environments with strong or numerous odors.
  • Avoidance of Social or Public Places: Individuals may begin to avoid places where there is a likelihood of encountering strong or numerous smells.
  • Impaired Ability to Identify Smells: Despite the hypersensitivity, there might also be difficulty in correctly identifying specific odors.
  • Dizziness or Lightheadedness: In some cases, exposure to certain smells could lead to feelings of dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Respiratory Symptoms: Hypersensitivity to smells may also induce respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose, or difficulty breathing
  • Refuses to eat certain foods due to their smell
  • May be bothered by strong cooking or household smells

2. Hyposensitivity to Smells (Under-Responsive)

  • Decreased Sensitivity to Smell: The person may have difficulty noticing smells that others can easily perceive.
  • Impaired Ability to Identify Smells: Despite the presence of smells, the individual might have trouble identifying them correctly.
  • Inability to Detect Danger Signals: A person with olfactory dysfunction might fail to notice potentially dangerous smells such as gas leaks, fire, or spoiled food.
  • Reduced Taste Sensation: As smell is closely linked to taste, a reduced ability to smell can often lead to a diminished sense of taste or changes in food preferences.
  • Unintentional Ignoring of Personal Hygiene: Individuals may neglect their personal hygiene as they cannot perceive their own body odor or the smell of their surroundings.
  • Difficulty Eating: This can be due to not being able to fully enjoy the taste of food, as the flavor of food is largely determined by its smell.
  • Lack of Interest in Cooking or Eating: Without the ability to smell food, cooking and eating can lose much of their appeal.
  • Decreased Enjoyment of Pleasurable Scents: Individuals may miss out on the joy or comfort that certain scents, like the smell of fresh flowers or baked goods, typically provide.
  • Lack of Emotional Response to Smell: Smells can often trigger memories or emotions, and a lack of sensitivity to smell might impair this connection.
  • Lack of Awareness About Environmental Changes: People with hyposensitivity might not notice changes in their environment that are linked to smell, such as a new fragrance in the room.
  • Frequently Asking Others to Confirm Smells: Due to a reduced sense of smell, individuals may often ask others to verify or identify smells for them.
  • Has trouble telling apart bad smells
  • Uses smell as a way to interact with objects
  • May eat or drink things with harmful odors since they don't sense the smell
  • Unable to identify scents from scratch-and-sniff items
  • Ignores or doesn't register unpleasant smells

Signs of Auditory Processing Dysfunction (Sounds)

1. Hypersensitivity to Sounds (Auditory Defensiveness)

  • Heightened Reaction to Sounds: The person reacts strongly or negatively to sounds that others find tolerable or even pleasant.
  • Frequent Ear Covering: They often cover their ears to shield themselves from sound.
  • Avoidance of Noisy Environments: Individuals might avoid places with a lot of noise, such as shopping malls, restaurants, or busy streets.
  • Anxiety or Fear Responses: They might display signs of fear or anxiety in response to certain sounds.
  • Irritability or Agitation: There could be signs of irritability or agitation when exposed to specific noises.
  • Difficulty Concentrating: They may have trouble focusing or concentrating when there is background noise.
  • Discomfort with Everyday Sounds: Everyday sounds, like the vacuum cleaner, a ringing phone, or even someone chewing, could cause distress.
  • Difficulty Sleeping: They might have trouble sleeping due to environmental noises that others might not even notice.
  • Physical Discomfort or Pain: In severe cases, certain sounds could lead to physical discomfort or pain in the ears.
  • Withdrawal from Social Activities: To avoid potentially distressing noises, the individual might pull back from social activities or outings.
  • Frequent Use of Headphones or Earplugs: They might often use headphones or earplugs to reduce the volume of their environment.
  • Panic Attacks: In extreme cases, certain sounds could trigger a panic attack
  • Bothered by background noises (for instance, lawn mowing or outside construction)
  • Asks people to be quiet frequently
  • Refuses to go to places like movie theaters, parades, skating rinks, or musical concerts
  • Gets easily distracted by sounds others may not notice, such as the humming of appliances or ticking clocks
  • Fearful of certain sounds, such as a flushing toilet, hairdryer, or dog barking
  • Gets startled by loud or unexpected noises

2. Hyposensitivity to Sounds (Under-Registers)

  • Lack of Response to Sounds: The person may not respond to sounds that others usually notice, such as their name being called or a phone ringing.
  • Difficulty Following Verbal Instructions: They may have trouble understanding or following verbal directions, especially if there's background noise.
  • Inattentiveness: They might seem to zone out or appear distracted, particularly in noisy environments.
  • High Tolerance for Loud Noises: Individuals may not be bothered by loud sounds that others find uncomfortable or overwhelming, like sirens or loud music.
  • Fascination with Sounds and Noise: Some individuals may show a heightened interest in sounds and may enjoy making noise.
  • Frequent Requests for Repetition: They might often ask others to repeat what they've said, even in quiet environments.
  • Difficulty with Speech and Language Development: Children with auditory hyposensitivity may have delayed or impaired speech and language development.
  • Difficulty Locating the Source of a Sound: They may struggle to identify where a sound is coming from.
  • Preference for Loud Volume: They might prefer to listen to music, watch TV, or play games at a volume that others find uncomfortably loud.
  • Limited Reaction to Surprising or Sudden Noises: Sounds that would usually startle or surprise people might not elicit a strong reaction.
  • Talks to self through a task, often out loud.
  • Doesn’t respond to verbal cues or name being called
  • Enjoys excessively loud music or TV
  • Has difficulty understanding or remembering what was said
  • Appears confused about where a sound is coming from
  • Requires frequent repetition of directions

Signs of Visual Processing Dysfunction

1. Hyper-Responsiveness to Visual Sensation (Over-Responsiveness or Overreaction)

  • Difficulty with Bright Lights: They may find bright lights, such as sunlight or fluorescent lighting, to be overwhelming or painful.
  • Distress in Busy Visual Environments: Crowded places or environments with lots of visual stimuli (such as busy wallpapers, cluttered rooms) can cause distress.
  • Difficulty Making Eye Contact: They might avoid making eye contact due to it being uncomfortable or overwhelming.
  • Problems with Fast-Moving or Flashing Images: Quick or flashing images, such as those on TV or computer screens, might be disturbing.
  • Fascination with or Distress from Certain Colors or Patterns: They may be strongly attracted to or distressed by certain colors or patterns.
  • Difficulty with Reading or Writing: Words on a page may seem to move or blend together, making reading or writing challenging.
  • Avoidance of Visual Tasks: They might avoid tasks that require a lot of visual focus, such as puzzles or fine motor activities.
  • Frequent Squinting or Covering Eyes: They may often squint or cover their eyes to block out too much light or visual input.
  • Problems with Visual Discrimination: They might struggle to distinguish between similar-looking objects or struggle to find an object when it's among others.
  • Discomfort with Direct Light: They might be bothered by direct light, such as sunlight or a desk lamp, more than others.
  • Frequent Headaches: They may experience frequent headaches, possibly from eye strain or overexposure to certain visual stimuli.
  • Can’t tolerate specific lighting like fluorescent overhead lights
  • Struggles with puzzles and gets frustrated at the movies
  • Difficulty reading
  • Struggles with sudden changes in lighting and bright or flashing lights
  • Complains of headaches and discomfort in bright light or colorful lighting

2. Hypo-Responsiveness

  • Lack of Response to Visual Stimuli: They may not react to visual stimuli that others usually notice, like a new item in their environment or someone waving at them.
  • Difficulty Following Visual Directions: They might struggle with tasks that require visual attention, like copying from a board or following a map.
  • Trouble Recognizing Faces: They may have difficulty recognizing people, especially if they aren't very familiar or if they've changed their appearance.
  • Problems with Visual Discrimination: They might struggle to distinguish between similar-looking objects or struggle to find an object when it's among others.
  • Little Reaction to Bright Lights: Bright or flashing lights might not bother them as much as they would typically bother others.
  • Limited Eye Contact: They might not make much eye contact, but this may be due to a lack of noticing or interpreting visual cues rather than discomfort.
  • Difficulty with Reading or Writing: They might struggle to see the words on a page clearly, making reading or writing challenging.
  • Difficulty Navigating in Low Light: They may have trouble seeing in low-light conditions that others can navigate easily.
  • Frequently Bumping into Things: They might often bump into objects or people, suggesting a problem with spatial awareness or depth perception.
  • Difficulty with Tasks that Require Visual Coordination: Tasks such as catching a ball, tying shoelaces, or coloring within lines might pose a challenge.
  • May waves hands or objects in front of eyes
  • May be drawn to light up spinning objects
  • Struggles to understand what they see
  • Struggles with eye-hand coordination
  • Struggles to watch movies without discomfort
  • Has difficulty with reading and writing tasks

Signs of Gustatory Dysfunction (Sense of Taste)

1. Hypersensitivity to Oral Senses (Over-Responsiveness or Overreaction)

  • Picky Eating: They might be very selective with food, accepting only a limited range of food types and textures.
  • Distress at Toothbrushing: They may find toothbrushing uncomfortable or distressing due to the sensation of the toothbrush in the mouth.
  • Difficulty with New Foods: They might resist trying new foods, especially if they have different textures or temperatures.
  • Gagging on Certain Textures: Certain food textures might cause them to gag or choke.
  • Avoidance of Hot or Cold Foods: They may prefer foods at room temperature and avoid hot or cold foods due to sensitivity.
  • Difficulty with Dental Visits: The sensations associated with dental procedures may be uncomfortable or cause distress.
  • Overreaction to Mild Oral Discomfort: They might have an exaggerated response to small oral injuries or discomforts, such as a loose tooth or a small cut in the mouth.
  • Avoidance of Certain Utensils: They may prefer certain utensils over others due to the way they feel in their mouth.
  • Difficulty Wearing Orthodontic Appliances: They might struggle to tolerate braces, retainers, or other orthodontic appliances due to increased oral sensitivity.
  • Struggle with Certain Clothing Textures: They might be bothered by certain clothing textures or tags against their skin, which can reflect general sensory over-responsiveness.
  • Discomfort during teeth brushing
  • Intolerant to temperature extremes, such as hot or cold foods
  • Dislikes mixed textured foods, such chunky soup
  • Resists trying new foods and avoids certain textures
  • Has specific food or drink temperature preferences
  • Uses only specific utensils, such as a particular spoon or fork, or no utensil at all
  • Feels anxious when presented with new foods

2. Hypo-Responsiveness

  • Mouthing Objects: They might frequently mouth or chew on non-food objects, as they may seek oral input due to decreased sensitivity.
  • Overstuffing Mouth with Food: They may put more food in their mouth than is typical or safe, potentially due to a decreased sense of how much food is already in their mouth.
  • High Tolerance for Spicy Foods: They might enjoy eating spicy or intensely flavored foods that others might find overwhelming.
  • Difficulty with Chewing or Swallowing: There might be issues with processing and manipulating food in the mouth due to decreased oral sensitivity.
  • Frequent Drooling: They may drool frequently, possibly because they aren't as aware of the saliva in their mouth.
  • Little Reaction to Oral Injuries: They might not react much to oral injuries, like biting their tongue or cheek, due to decreased sensitivity.
  • Difficulty with Speech: They may struggle with articulation or other aspects of speech, possibly due to decreased oral awareness.
  • Preference for Textured Foods: They might prefer foods with a lot of texture, such as crunchy or chewy foods, as these provide more oral feedback.
  • Insensitivity to Temperature: They might not be as bothered by extremely hot or cold foods or drinks as others typically are.
  • Chewing on Clothing or Body Parts: They may often chew on their clothing, fingers, or other body parts, seeking oral stimulation.
  • Licking objects
  • Stuffs food into cheeks
  • Chews on clothing
  • Prefers spicy foods
  • Hums all the time
  • Prefers a vibrating toothbrush
  • Bites others

Signs of Interoception Dysfunction (internal sense in the body)

Interoception refers to our ability to sense what's going on inside our body, helping us to feel and understand internal signals like hunger, thirst, heart rate, and bowel or bladder urgency.

  • Difficulty Recognizing Hunger or Thirst: The individual might not realize when they are hungry or thirsty, potentially leading to skipped meals or dehydration.
  • Unaware of Body Temperature: They might not notice when they're too hot or too cold, which can lead to discomfort or potential health risks.
  • Inconsistent Recognition of Bathroom Needs: They may struggle to realize when they need to go to the bathroom, leading to accidents.
  • Overeating or Under-eating: They might eat too much or too little due to a lack of recognition of the feeling of fullness or hunger.
  • Difficulty Identifying Feelings: They may struggle to identify and express their feelings as interoception is closely linked to emotional self-awareness.
  • Unaware of Heart Rate Increases: They might not notice when their heart rate increases due to stress or physical exertion.
  • Difficulty Recognizing Fatigue: They may struggle to identify when they're tired, leading to overexertion or lack of rest.
  • Unaware of Physical Health Issues: They might not notice symptoms of illness or injury, such as a sore throat, headache, or a sprained ankle.
  • Difficulty Regulating Breathing: They may struggle to regulate their breathing during physical activity or stressful situations, not recognizing when they need to slow their breaths down.
  • Difficulty with Self-Regulation: They may have a hard time with self-regulation, including managing their behavior, attention, and emotions.

What's Next?

As a parent or professional handling a teenager or adult with SPD, your commitment to helping them can make a big difference in the quality of their lives. And with the right resources, you can do it!SPD is common in people with autism spectrum disorder. Have an autistic teenager? Get my Mega Bundle of Functional Life Skills Resources for Teens and Adults and feel confident in guiding them to a more fulfilling life.

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10 Exciting Sensory Activities for Autistic Adults

10 Exciting Sensory Activities for Autistic Adults

In this post you will learn about a variety of sensory activities for autistic adults to help enhance their everyday life.

As an autistic adult, finding ways to cope with sensory processing difficulties can be very challenging. However, sensory activities can be a godsend for managing these challenges and improving daily lives. 

Sensory activities for autistic adults can range from simple to complex, which can all fundamentally improve a person’s functional life skills. 

Let me share with you ten exciting sensory activities for autistic adults to help enhance their day-to-day lives. Whether you’re looking for relaxation or stimulation, these activities are a great way to engage the senses and have fun. 

What Are Sensory Activities And Why They’re Worth It

Sensory activities are those that involve the use of the five senses – sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound – to create a stimulating environment. Autistic adults who perform sensory activities experience a calming effect that reduces anxiety and helps them focus on tasks.

Studies conducted by the University of California found that sensory integration therapy reduced anxiety and depression in autistic adults by also improving social skills and communication abilities. 

Researchers from the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders also found that deep-pressure touch stimulation had a calming effect on autistic adults, reducing their anxiety. 

Sensory activities also improve communication skills by encouraging the use of language to express emotions and sensations. For example, using sensory bins filled with various textures can encourage autistic adults to describe how the materials feel, helping them develop their descriptive vocabulary. 

Sensory activities that involve music or sound can also help autistic adults learn to express themselves through music, rhythm, and tone. 

Tips for Choosing the Best Sensory Activities for Autistic Adults

When choosing sensory activities for autistic adults, you must consider their individual preferences and support their sensory needs. For instance, some individuals may enjoy movements like dancing or yoga, while others may prefer tactile stimulation, like playing with playdough. 

You will also need to ensure that the activities are safe and they don’t cause any sensory overload or discomfort. For example, loud noises or bright lights may be overwhelming for some individuals, so it’s best to avoid activities that involve these sensory stimuli. 

By providing a variety of sensory activities that match an individual’s preferences and needs, you will create a therapeutic environment that promotes relaxation, communication, and social interaction for your loved one. 

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10 Sensory Activities for Autistic Adults 

Whether you’re looking to help your autistic adult relax or engage in a more active sensory experience, the following activities offer a wide range of options. I’ve also provided suggestions on how to modify each activity to meet different sensory needs, so you can get them up and running in no time. 

1. Kinetic Sand Play

Kinetic sand is a tactile sensory experience that can help soothe individuals with processing difficulties. The kinetic sand can be molded into shapes and designs, which helps with fine motor skill tuning. 

To make the experience more enjoyable, you can incorporate small objects like shells or miniature toys to hide and find. 

sensory activities for autistic adults kinetic sand

2. Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is a sensory activity that involves using essential oils to create a calming atmosphere. The oils can be used in diffusers, applied to the skin, or added to a bath. Lavender is a popular choice for relaxation, while peppermint can help with focus and energy. 

sensory activities for autistic adults aromatherapy

3. Music Therapy

Music therapy can be a helpful sensory activity for individuals who enjoy sound. Consider playing different types of music, from calming instrumental pieces to upbeat tunes for dance parties. Encourage your autistic friend to sing along or play instruments if they are interested. 

sensory activities for autistic adults music therapy

4. Yoga

Yoga is a fantastic sensory activity that incorporates breathing and movement to promote relaxation and body awareness. Yoga can also go a long way in aiding balance and coordination. 

There are many online resources and videos that can guide individuals through yoga sequences designed specifically for people with sensory processing difficulties. 

sensory activities for autistic adults yoga

5. Sensory Bins

Sensory bins can be customized to an individual’s sensory needs, incorporating different textures, scents, and objects. Fill a container with materials like rice, beans, or water beads, and add small toys or objects to find and manipulate. 

sensory activities for autistic adults sensory bin

6. Art Therapy 

Art therapy is an incredibly effective sensory activity for individuals who enjoy creative expression. Consider offering different types of art materials like paint, clay, or markers. Encourage your loved one to experiment with colors, textures, and techniques. 

sensory activities for autistic adults art therapy

7. Cooking

Cooking is a great sensory activity that can help with practical skills like following directions and measuring ingredients. Try mixing up different textures and smells by using herbs, spices, and different types of food. Make sure to choose a recipe that matches their skill level and interests.

sensory activities for autistic adults cooking

8. Exercise

Exercise is a sensory activity that can be a lifesaver for individuals with sensory processing difficulties, as it can help them feel more grounded and aware of their bodies. Consider activities like walking, biking, or swimming.

sensory activities for autistic adults exercise

9. Sensory Bottles and Lights

Sensory bottles and lights can be a calming sensory activity that promotes visual stimulation. Fill a clear plastic bottle with water, glitter, and small objects like beads or sequins. Then, encourage your loved one to shake the bottle and watch the objects move around. 

sensory activities for autistic adults sensory lights

10. Gardening

Gardening is a great sensory activity that incorporates tactile experiences like digging in the dirt, planting seeds, and watering plants. Gardening can also help with practical life skills like responsibility and patience. 

Remember to choose activities that match your loved one’s preferences and interests to ensure they are engaged and motivated to participate. If you need help with that, check out my Teen Sensory Processing Guide Ebook for more support and ideas. 

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Sensory Activities for Autistic Adults

Sensory activities can have a profound impact on the lives of autistic adults, helping them develop vital skills and manage their sensory needs. 

By engaging in sensory activities, they can improve their mental health, communication skills, and social skills. Incorporating sensory activities into daily routines is a great way to improve overall well-being and quality of life.

Make sure to utilize the resources provided above for guidance on effectively implementing these activities and starting your journey today!

sensory activities for autistic adults
Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder in Teenagers

Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder in Teenagers

In this post you will learn everything you need to know about sensory processing disorder in teenagers, including treatment approaches, resources, and more!

Whether we fully grasp that or not, so much of our day-to-day function is dictated by our senses. Smelling smoke, tasting how much salt or sugar is in our food, feeling our skin getting sore, or getting overheated during exercise are just a few examples where our senses make all the difference. 

So if our brains have difficulties with some sensory input, it only makes sense that our everyday functioning will suffer from it. That’s what sensory processing disorder is all about, and it’s a double whammy for teenagers. 

But how can we make it better for them? Thankfully, there’s a lot that we, as caregivers and professionals, can do. Let’s dive into everything you need to understand about sensory processing disorder in teenagers and the best ways to manage it.

What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory processing disorder, or SPD, is a dysregulation of how the brain reacts to sensory input. An individual with SPD could be hypersensitive to certain senses and/or hyposensitive to others. 

For example, a child or a teenager may feel physical pain in their eyes because of fluorescent light but wouldn’t notice if they had an open, bleeding wound.

Someone with SPD could be perfectly comfortable in really cold weather without wearing a safe amount of clothes but would get nauseated and highly irritable on a mildly hot day.

It’s important to note that the dysregulated reaction to sensory input isn’t just psychological; kids with SPD exhibit a measurable difference in their neurological response to stimuli.

Is It a Symptom of Autism?

As of this moment, SPD isn’t recognized as a diagnosable condition in the DSM-5, or at least not on its lonesome. It is, however, considered a symptom for multiple diagnoses, including ADHD, ASD, and schizophrenia.

What Is Sensory Seeking?

Just like some sensory input triggers discomfort and anxiety, some input brings visceral comfort and joy. That’s why some kids and teens with SPD (and other disorders) will engage in sensory-seeking behavior that ranges from harmless fun activities to dangerous or “weird” behavior.

Some examples of sensory-seeking behavior are touching different objects, surfaces, or people, repetitive motion, restless legs, hitting things, yelling or singing loudly, and thrill-seeking activities.

Sensory seeking isn’t problematic in itself but becomes an issue when the behavior is unacceptable like breaking things, deemed odd by the teen’s peers like rocking or petting people’s hair, or harmful to the individual like skin picking.

SPD Treatments

There’s a lot that you can do as an occupational therapist or parent of an SPD teen. One of the greatest things about working with teens is that they get to be directly involved in their own treatment. 

Working with a therapist may be really difficult for teens, but living in an environment where clothes feel like barbed wire and normal everyday sounds feel like nails on a board is harder.

Since this is a disorder of the nervous system, it’s crucial to establish a baseline of safety and comfort before attempting to develop better reactions. The following approaches can be done separately or in sequence, depending on how well-adjusted your teen is with their SPD.

SPD-Conscious Lifestyle Changes

The first and probably most important treatment of SPD is to construct an environment where your teen has sensory safety. The purpose of this approach is to eliminate sensory triggers and replace them with grounding ones. This is the most effective way to achieve comfort and trust.

It requires a full understanding of the kind of sensory input your teen struggles with and the kind that brings them comfort. This is also the one part that’ll win a particularly defensive personality over.

Want to listen to super loud music? Let me soundproof your room. Super picky eater? Let’s choose a collection of feel-good but also healthy snacks that are stocked at all times. That may also mean that they stop or replace activities that trigger them.

For example, a teen with tactile sensory issues may struggle with a sport like tennis because of the sweaty grip of the racket but feels right at home in the water. This means it’s time to drop tennis classes and explore the possibility of doing swimming lessons instead.

It also extends to accommodations at school and home, such as wearing noise-canceling headphones in class, allowing them to leave class early to avoid busy halls, getting them their own chair in the living room that has comfortable upholstery, covering fluorescent and harsh lights, etc.

Sensory Diets

If your teen has a sensory-safe environment at home and is able to minimize the negative sensory experience at school, then it’s time to think about planning positive experiences into their routine.

A sensory diet is a fancy way to say scheduled sensory de-stress time. A teen’s sensory diet probably won’t include a session of playtime with shaving foam paint, though it definitely could.

Some simple things you could plan for your teen include having dedicated walk times between classes (outside of recess,) allowing them to sit on the floor in class, or having alone time at the gym to stretch or move freely.


The final phase of managing SPD is talk therapy. I say final, not because it needs to be done last, but because it’s of a lower priority compared to establishing a sensory safe zone for your teen. 

There’s a lot that therapy can do for individuals that have SPD, and their chances of success are even higher if they understand that what they choose to focus on during therapy is in their control.

If you feel like your teen is ready to have that conversation, sit down with them to set goals for their SPD treatment.

Do they want to focus on getting more comfortable with new sensations? Are they more interested in learning to communicate their unique needs effectively to those around them? Do they still need to experiment with different sensory experiences to know what feels safe?

Talk therapy can help an individual with SPD understand their own sensory needs better and work through triggers with tools such as mindfulness and nervous system regulation activities.

Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder in Teenagers

Final Thoughts

For a teenager with sensory processing disorder, life can feel hard. Of course, as with all teenagers, their ability to translate their hard into your own can be uncanny.

If you feel like things are going downhill with your kid, don’t despair. Teens are usually resistant to everything, including things that used to work well for them, so it’s only natural that your journey with a teen will have some hiccups. 

In fact, this is such a recurring problem that it needs to be addressed in depth, which is why I made a Teen Sensory Processing Guide for parents, occupational therapists, teachers, and any professional working with SPD teenagers.

This ebook will help you understand SPD on a deeper level, come up with a plan for and with your teen to go about their day smoothly, and figure out their own sensory needs.

How to Promote Emotional Self-Regulation Among Autistic Teens and Young Adults

How to Promote Emotional Self-Regulation Among Autistic Teens and Young Adults

In this post you will learn helpful strategies for encouraging emotional self-regulation in autistic teens and young adults to improve their well-being and daily functioning.

Traversing the complex world of emotions requires self-regulation. However, young adults on the autism spectrum take a unique approach to controlling their sensory input, regulating emotions in a capacity different from others. 

As a parent or caregiver, you must understand the unique experiences and needs of an autistic teen to build an effective support system. 

To help you, I’ll discuss the value of focused interventions and approaches when addressing such demands. I’ll also explore evidence-based strategies and helpful tools that support emotional self-regulation in this demographic. 

Understanding Emotional Self-Regulation in Autism 

Self-regulation is essential in autism because it can help people overcome their daily difficulties. It requires mental, emotional, and behavioral control to support flexibility and well-being. 

We can empower young adults to thrive and realize their full potential by understanding emotional regulation in autism and helping them self-regulate. 

What Is Self-Regulation?

Self-regulation refers to the ​ability to control emotions and behaviors​, which helps people adapt and fulfill the demands of various situations. 

It is particularly relevant for people with autism, as it helps them manage sensory sensitivity, emotional fluctuations, and social interactions. It entails identifying internal states, using tactics to modify them, and adjusting behavior.  

Common Self-Regulation Difficulties Faced by Autistic Individuals

As a parent or caretaker, you may identify behavioral patterns in your autistic teens that point to problems with self-control. 

These actions could include meltdowns or tantrums due to sensory overload and struggles in switching between tasks. They could also be impulsivity or acting without carefully considering the consequences or difficulty regulating anger or frustration. 

For some people, a crowded place with loud noises can be overstimulating, whereas, for others, a shift in their usual patterns or daily activities may result in emotional dysregulation. 

Social interactions can be tough. Challenges with self-regulation can include the inability to read nonverbal cues or acting without thinking about the implications.

Impact of Self-Regulation on the Independence and Quality of Life

What may seem like a basic skill plays a transformative role in enhancing the well-being and independence of autistic children. 

Besides promoting independence and autonomy, self-regulation positively impacts their daily activities, social relationships, mental health, problem-solving, and decision-making. 

Young adults who are in control of their emotions, behaviors, and sensory sensitivity can live comfortably, form meaningful relationships, and constructively cope with their feelings. 

These benefits help teens make thoughtful decisions and develop the self-assurance to achieve personal goals. 

Strategies for Effective Self-Regulation 

Young adults must have a fundamental grasp of emotions and functional life skills to develop self-regulation abilities. These abilities include distinguishing between various emotions and how each feeling appears both externally and internally.  

Effective self-regulation strategies are essential tools for developing this foundation. They work in real-world situations and can help improve self-awareness, emotional control, and impulse management. 


Co-regulation from a loving and trustworthy parent or caregiver can do wonders for an autistic child or young adult. The adults must stay calm and reinforce the self-regulatory exercises through example, serving as role models. 

You can help your teens regulate their overwhelming emotions through emotional support and demonstrations of regulation techniques. Focus on their needs. Provide guidance at the right time and help them develop effective regulation skills. 

Provide Sensory Support 

Catering the sensory sensitivities of your teens or kids can have a huge impact on their development. 

Create a relaxing and sensory-friendly environment for your teens. Make it a place where they can thrive and explore their potential. 

Sensory support can be providing noise-canceling earphones if you live in a noisy neighborhood and playing their preferred music. It can also be offering fidget toys or other sensory tools to increase focus and self-regulation.

You can also use smartwatches as a sensory tool if they have sensory tracking and calming apps with features that can help people regulate their emotions. 

Use of Visual Support

Some people learn new information easier with visual aid. If your teens are the same, use visual support such as social stories, visual cues, flashcards, and practical demonstrations when teaching them self-regulation. 

Visual support will help them understand expectations and social protocols better. For example, emotion charts can depict different levels of emotions, helping your teens identify how they feel in certain situations.

Communicate Clearly 

Giving direct instructions and leaving no room for confusion is crucial in self-regulation. Make sure you don’t confuse your teens when you ask them to do tasks. The best way to do this is to simplify your language when communicating with them. 

Reduce the number of directions and break it down into manageable steps. Also, remember to keep your tone calm and understanding. 

Do Calming Activities 

When confronted with an outburst or an intrusive situation, teens and young adults with autism could benefit from soothing activities. 

Deep breathing exercises and calming activities are all beneficial under trying circumstances. These acts can distract teens from the issue and help them relax. 

Let your teens decide which calming activity they prefer, and help them practice it regularly. Soothing activities can be anything from using stress-relief items like a fidget spinner or stress ball to listening to music.

Engage in Physical Activities 

Many sports require team coordination and high-level communication, which might not be an autistic young adult’s strong suit. However, regular exercise, such as yoga or dancing, can help release tension.  

Swimming is a great sport for autistic teens because it involves water play and fundamental strokes. Such activities can improve self-control, increase bodily awareness, and release endorphins, improving their mood. 


Providing for the needs of autistic teenagers and young adults can be challenging and overwhelming. But remember that it’s normal to feel that way. It doesn’t devalue who you are as a person or parent. 

Be patient. Remember that you have been blessed with a child with needs that are a bit different from others, and you must adjust accordingly. Help them self-regulate to improve their overall well-being.

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5 Engaging and Meaningful Activities for Autistic Adults

5 Engaging and Meaningful Activities for Autistic Adults

Are you searching for fun activities for autistic adults to establish a new routine, promote sensory and processing abilities, and learn life skills?

If the answer’s yes, then this guide is for you. 

Encouraging adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to engage in educational, recreational, and social activities will have lasting benefits. In other words, these activities aim to help autistic adults lead a whole and more fulfilling life. 

So, for those interested in learning specific autism-friendly activities, make sure you check below.

Why Activities and Hobbies are Important

To maintain overall physical and mental wellness, you need to have adequate activities and hobbies. That applies to all people.

Through music, dancing, cooking, and even walking, autistic adults will experience an increased quality of life. It’s important to know that activities don’t stop at a certain age. On the contrary, they should be constantly promoted.

Hence, through activities, autistic adults will have a chance to:

  • Improve communication skills
  • Increase independence
  • Feel joy and fulfillment
  • Promote fine motor skills
  • Feel accepted as a member of the community 

However, it's crucial to plan all activities according to the interests, abilities, and strengths of the adult. So, let’s jump to it. 

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5 Fun but Practical Activities for Autistic Adults

1. Music Classes

Music is a broad medium that surpasses all abilities and disabilities. And considering that sound, or, in this case, music, is a primary human response, many autistic adults have a positive reaction to it.  

Through music activities – repeating particular rhythmic patterns, repeating the melody, trying to remember a song, and eventually playing an instrument with or without someone – you’ll address behavioral, sensory-motor, social, communicative, physical, psychological, and cognitive functioning.

What's great about music is that you can adapt all the activities related to it to meet the needs of each individual since sound is flexible and malleable. 

The most common musical instruments used for autism are percussion instruments, ukulele, keyboard/piano, and guitar. 

2. Dance Classes

The aim of each dance is to raise awareness of body movement so that you can communicate through that movement. Note that the only universal language is the one transmitted through our bodies and moving patterns. 

Therefore, your goal is to join the moving pattern of the autistic individual through dance therapy or any dance-related activities so you can then modify, improve and grow that pattern. In other words, you’re communicating with them by moving with them. 

And, there’s no need to say that you’re improving sensory-motor skills, or in other words, increasing body awareness in the process. 

3. Arts and Crafts

A great tool for nonverbal expression is art. Painting, drawing, building, assembling, sculpting, and writing are therapeutic, calming, and, most of all, fun.

Autistic adults will have the opportunity to explore different mediums and learn how to express themselves by using those mediums. Art and autism complete each other, and by creating any piece of art, the person will improve his motor skills, increase self-esteem, develop social skills, and fulfill sensory needs.

Here are some fun arts and crafts ideas: 

  • Finger painting
  • Sensory bottles
  • Bubble wrap abstract painting
  • Sand art projects

4. Outdoor Activities/Sports

You don’t have to go to fancy gyms or sports halls; a simple walk in the park or the neighborhood can also do wonders for adults.

Spending time outdoors is healthy for both the mind and body, so it’s crucial to have regular outdoor recreational activities (adapted to the person's abilities). It’ll improve the person’s mood and help improve their attention span and motor skills. 

All the following activities are a great way to spend time with the autistic adult in your life:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Hiking
  • Horseback riding
  • Biking
  • Fishing
  • Camping
  • Gardening

If we’re talking about a group of autistic adults, you can prepare simple obstacle games. They would need to interact with each other and be active all the time during the activity.

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5. Cooking

Cooking activities are not only fun, interactive, and great for bonding but also essential for life in general.

Learning how to cook is fundamental to life. And, when you’re preparing the food together, you’re giving the autistic adult a sense of teamwork and connection. 

Before you start cooking or baking, make sure you’ve got the right recipe. Choose according to the autistic individual because they can be quite picky when it comes to the smell and texture of the food. 

Easy and quick meals would be:

  • Pancakes
  • Gluten-free pizzas
  • Smoothies
  • Sandwiches
  • Homemade chicken nuggets
  • Sugar-free blueberry muffins

Helping Learn New Skills

Helping autistic adults learn new challenges and skills is not an easy task, but through certain activities, the process of learning can become, if not easier, more fun. 

The most important thing is to create a safe and supportive environment where autistic individuals have the freedom to engage. Try various activities, be creative, and pay attention to what the autistic adult finds most pleasing. And most of all, enjoy!

Let me know if you try any of these activities for autistic adults, and if you have more interesting ideas, don't hesitate to share them with me.