Many kiddos on the spectrum also have sensory issues as well. Some are sensory seeking, some are sensory avoiding. My son is sensory seeking; he is a “crasher banger”. He flaps, claps his hands together or against his legs, leans up against you, spins, rocks, swings, etc. He loves deep pressure, massage and swimming. He can spin in his swing for hours and never get dizzy. For the last 13 years, we have had one type of swing or another in our house. He uses the swing to decompress. Our current swing is a hammock swing hung from the ceiling on a swivel. This allows him to go in multiple directions. Sometimes he sits up in it, other times he hangs upside down. Kids like my son also usually like swimming. They have a hard time knowing where their bodies are in space, so the feeling of water all over their bodies orients them. Since many of our autism friends are drawn to water, it is a great idea to teach your child to swim at an early age. It is good therapy and just common sense.
Other kids avoid sensory input. They do not like to be touched. A gentle caress may actually cause them pain. Traumatic events include haircuts, hair brushing and nail clipping. They are sensitive to loud noises. Sirens and alarms are deafening to them. Fluorescent lights are torture. Smells are amplified a hundred times. These kids may react strongly and adversely to scented soaps, perfumes, and even grape bubble gum.
Now, it would be nice if kids all fell neatly into these two groups, but life is never that simple. A lot of spectrum kids are both sensory seeking and sensory avoiding. They may like deep pressure, but shun loud noises. They may like being in a crowd, but quickly melt down if it becomes too much.
How do I know if my kid is a sensory seeker or a sensory avoider? Watch and listen. Your child will show you. And, sometimes, a little bit of sensory input is enough. My son may like me to wrestle with him, but he is not going to like being dog piled by a mass of strangers. He likes to go to parties and see people, but after 30 minutes he may want to go home. I learned these things about him by trial and error. Unfortunately, meltdowns may be the best teacher. Things may be going along fine and then boom! he has had enough. At this point, I know when he starts pulling away from me during a massage, or heading towards to door at a party, it is time to call it quits and go home.
Does this mean you will never go out in public again? No! But it means you must take baby steps and respect what your child can tolerate. Look for sensory friendly, autism friendly venues. Go out in public during off hours. Never go out when your child is hungry, in need of a nap, or is just having an off day. And, it you do go out and things get overwhelming, go home, regroup and figure out a better way to face tomorrow.