The public setting is a potential bomb of sensory overload for a person with autism. Understanding these challenges can help parents and therapists deal with negative behaviors that may occur. While the causes of autism and its symptoms are still largely a mystery, there has been some research into a specific gene mutation causing the hypersensitivity that is associated with autism.
When on an outing in public most people can block out ambient noise, smells, and visual stimuli. But for someone with sensory issues, can prove quite challenging. They have to sort through a variety of voices and beeps and rattles which may be quite unsettling. They are also bombarded with images, products, unfamiliar faces, and bright lighting. The brain of a person with autism is not wired to determine which sensory stimuli should be ignored. The frustration may be magnified by an inability to communicate or release these feelings. The child does not know what to expect and he does not know what is expected of him.
The best way to prepare a child for situation like this is through exposure to less stressful situations, that can be incrementally built up to more sensory challenging situations over time.
Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices offers Snoezelen or controlled multisensory environment (MSE) therapy for people with autism that consists of placing the person in a soothing and stimulating environment. These rooms are specially designed to deliver stimuli to various senses, using lighting effects, color, sounds, music and scents without being overwhelming.
Some communities are now offer ‘sensory friendly’ events. More than 150 AMC theaters across the United States seeking to make a difference in the lives of autistic and sensory disorder families by offering “Sensory Friendly Films” — a movie experience with the sound down, theater lights up and an atmosphere of acceptance.
Families have been very pleased with this initiative as it means their children get to enjoy one of life’s basic pleasures in a comfortable, accepting environment.