The Eight Senses

There are eight different ways in which people process sensory information around them. For some autistic people, they may be hyper or hypo sensitive to one or more of these senses or seek out certain sensory feedback. Click here to find out more about how a person might respond if they are hyper or hypo sensitive to each sense.

Here at Sensory Street we are interested in all of these senses and how these may affect autistic people’s experiences of public spaces such as shops, supermarkets and restaurants. Find out more here about how these can impact on a person’s life and how we want to support this in our research project.

Hearing (Auditory Information)

Auditory information is the sounds that we hear through our ears. These vibrations are processed by our cochlea and transmitted to our brain as electrical impulses.

Someone under sensitive to auditory information may like noisy paces or enjoy making loud sounds. They may also not acknowledge certain sounds.

People who are oversensitive to sound may find it hard to cope with background noise as these sounds can be magnified and may be distorted. This can make it harder to focus on conversations in crowded places. Reducing external noise or providing ways to reduce the sound such as ear defenders or headphones can help.

Vestibular

Our vestibular system controls our sense of balance and coordinating movement. This system in our inner ears tells our brain about our head position, how fast or slow we are moving as well as where we are in relation to other objects/people.  

Some people who are under sensitive to vestibular processing love to rock, swing, jump, bounce or spin. People who are over-sensitive can find it harder to control their movements, including having to stop suddenly and they may get car sick more easily.  

Taste (Gustatory Information)

Our sense of taste (also known as gustatory information) comes from receptors in our tongue, which can detect different tastes such as sweet, salty and sour.

When we are eating, our sense of taste works closely with our senses of smell and touch (to process the texture of food) to process different foods. 

Someone who is under sensitive to taste may like strong flavours or very spicey food. Some people also may eat non-edible items such as grass or stones (also known as pica).

People who are over sensitive to taste can find certain flavours or foods too overwhelming, and certain textures may also be difficult to eat. This means that they may have a restricted diet, only eating foods with certain textures (e.g. crunchy or smooth foods) or limited tastes.

Touch (Tactile Information)

The tactile system processes information gained through your skin. It processes and connects information about touch, pressure, temperature and pain.

Someone undersensitive to touch may have a high pain threshold and may prefer certain textures or firm pressure. Others who are over sensitive to touch can find it painful or uncomfortable. They may find wearing certain clothing more difficult (especially labels) as well as washing and brushing hair.  Difficulties with touch can also affect a person’s enjoyment of certain foods due to their texture.

Sight (Visual Information)

We process visual information through our eyes, which includes colours, patterns, shapes, depth and contrasts.

People with difficulties processing visual information may have poor depth perception leading to difficulties throwing/catching. Objects may appear dark or fragmented, with images appearing clearer in their peripheral vision. Increased sensitivity to light can make to go to sleep at night.

Proprioception

Proprioception is the feedback we receive from muscles/joints in the body. It helps us understand where our body is in space as well as our movements and actions. This sense is important for coordinating movements of the body.

People with proprioception difficulties can find it hard to judge personal space and distance from other people. This means they may bump into people/objects in rooms. Fine motor skills can be difficult e.g. tying shoe laces or using buttons.

Interoception

Interoception is all about sensations that happen inside your body and how these are being regulated.

It is also known as the ability to feel what is happening inside our body, such as feeling hungry, thirsty, hot/cold, nauseous or even that you need to use the toilet.

Interoception is most easily recognised through emotions. Many emotions are linked to physical sensations in the body, such as a faster heart rate when you feel scared.

Sometimes information from our other senses can disguise these or prevent us from recognising them easily at times. Someone who is over-responsive may feel inputs such as pain or hunger for longer periods than other people while others may not be aware of them until they are very intense.

Some people can also find it harder to read these signals, meaning it can be harder to know where sensations are coming from or what they mean. This can make it harder to meet your body’s needs or understand internal emotions.

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