Bright Lights, Loud Noises


Also Read Part II – Therapies for Sensory Integration Disorder

People with Asperger Syndrome often have to deal with extreme sensitivities to everyday sights, sounds, smells and touch.

This sensitivity is not one of their “official symptoms” as described in the Physician’s Desk Reference doctors use for diagnoses. However, there are thousands of parent and therapist’s anecdotes about this condition. Some experts believe that while sensitivity may cause Aspies to tantrum and “act out” in the first place, after a while such behaviors become learned. Aspies hold on to them because of the rigidity of their personalities. Nevertheless, certain studies indicate that between 42% and 88% of people with Asperger Syndrome do experience such sensitivities.

Hearing problems are the most common. Some Aspies seem to hear sounds others do not. They can be driven to distraction by noises everyone else filters out, such as the buzz of fluorescent lights or the brush of corduroy against a desk. The inability to filter out background noises makes it hard for many Aspies to follow conversations or listen to their teachers’ directions.

Some sounds seem actually painful to Aspies. For example, a small child may scream at the sound of the vacuum cleaner; a teen covers his ears at the sound of a police siren. One little boy was so scared of the fire drill siren he sat in fear that it would go off. His mother had to home school him during Fire Safety Month.

Auditory sensitivity makes it hard for parents to take their Aspies to noisy places like video arcades or restaurants with singing waiters, etc.

Taste and Smell: Many experts conclude that Aspies rely more on their senses of smell and taste than sight and hearing. They have strong memories of smells; for example, they may be able to recognize people by their unique body odors.

Certain smells like food, cleaning fluids, perfumes, shampoos and lotions can make them nauseous. This makes it hard for them to handle routine places like the school cafeteria or shopping mall cosmetic counters.

An Aspie’s acute sense of smell and taste may also create eating problems. She may limit herself to certain foods, eat one food at a time, not allow foods to touch on her plate, and so forth.

Many Aspies vomit easily. Everyday substances like toothpaste can make them sick to their stomachs.

Touch: Aspies may be overly or under-sensitive to touch.

If overly sensitive, he may find tags on clothing very irritating. He may only wear certain fabrics or clothes that are old and soft from washings. He may refuse to work with certain textures like glue. He screams in the shower because he cannot stand the feel of water on his skin. One Aspie would hit anyone who touched him: a fact that his little brother manipulated to get him in trouble all the time.

Hyposensitivity can cause Aspies not to feel or report pain. They may not react to temperatures. One Aspie did not respond whenever his teacher tapped him to get his attention.

Visual problems are less common. Perhaps only one in five persons with Asperger Syndrome has them. However, some Aspies get upset by certain pictures, colors or bright lights. Some experience colors as sounds. They often stand too close to others or stare at them inappropriately. They can search for an object and not notice that it is right in front of them. The majority of Aspies have problems making eye contact with other people.

Proprioceptive and Vestibular disorders: These are about orienting yourself in space, keeping your body in balance and maintaining good posture and movement. In normal people, a complex network of nerves works together with the senses naturally. You can sit down without looking at your chair. You know where your feet are. You know how to straighten your shirt without looking into a mirror.

Aspies have problems with such abilities that operate on the unconscious level for normal people. This makes simple activities such as climbing stairs feats that must be learned. Activities that involve complex movements, changes in speed and hand-eye coordination such as handwriting or playing baseball become nightmares for many Aspies.

There are many therapeutic techniques to help Aspies with sensory integration and sensitivity. Early intervention is often crucial. To read more about such interventions, go to the article entitled “Sensory Integration.”

Also Read Part II – Therapies for Sensory Integration Disorder


“Autism Spectrum Disorders (Pervasive Developmental Disorders)” A detailed booklet that describes symptoms, causes, and treatments, with information on getting help and coping”, Published by The National Institute of Health, 2004, posted at

Bashe, Patricia and Barbara Kirby. The Oasis Guide to Asperger Syndrome. New York: Crown Publishers, 2005.

Jensen, Audra. When Babies Read. Philadelphia: Kingsley Publishers, 2005.

Kennedy, Diane. ADHD Autism Connection. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2002.

Lovecky, Deirdre. Different Minds. Philadelphia: Kingsley Publishers, 2004.

Myles, Brenda; Cook, Catherine; Miller, Nancy; Rinner, Louann; Robbins, Lisa. Asperger Syndrome and Sensory Issues. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing, 2000.

Myles, Brenda and Jack Southwick. Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing, 1999.

Powers, Michael. Children with Autism. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House, 2000.

Sohn, Alan and Cathy Grayson. Parenting Your Asperger Child. New York: Perigee Books, 2005.


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The team behind Your Little Professor is dedicated to providing factual information for parents and caretakers of adolescents on the Autism Spectrum Disorder. We believe in connecting families to the necessary resources in order to help individuals on the spectrum succeed in day-to-day life.

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