A day at the Dollywood Family Amusement Park is filled with enough sights, sounds and colors to overstimulate anyone — especially those with autism.
That’s why Dollywood safety manager Judy Toth, who noticed an influx of families with children on the spectrum at the Tennessee park, decided to take action to help make their trip all the more memorable.
The result? A first-of-its-kind calming room that serves as a refuge of sorts for families seeking a break from the non-stop hustle and bustle of the 150-acre theme park.
“[It’s] sensory overload when you come to a theme park,” Toth tells PEOPLE. “And I couldn’t quite grasp at the beginning, you know, why are they coming? Knowing that something could potentially trigger their child. But realistically, it was just that they want their child to do what any other child does.”
The calming room first opened in the spring of 2016 after Toth observed that families with children on the spectrum were having to either end their trip early or slip someplace quieter, like a bathroom or a first-aid tent. Click here to read the rest of the story
These are what usually come to mind when we think of the Senses-The Five Senses.
Notably, it was Aristotle who defined the senses in this way. He even gave them a name: “The 5 Outward Wits.” The idea stuck and even today we often think of the senses as these 5 independently operating systems that arise from our interaction with the world outside of ourselves. However, a growing body of research demonstrates that the senses are much more varied and complicated than once thought.
Understanding the workings of our sensory system is crucial if we are to properly understand and support children on the autism spectrum. Difficulty with regulating sensory input is a common occurrence in autism. When the brain cannot effectively filter or organize sensory input, the sensations can break through in a manner that is experienced as harsh and overwhelming. This results in sensory sensitivities. Click here to read the rest of the story.
Dysfunctional sensory system is a common Symptom of Autism as well as other developmental disabilities. In this, sometimes one or more senses can either be hypo or hyper sensitive to stimulation and can lead to behaviors like rocking, spinning, and hand- flapping, irritability and hyperactivity.
There are three basic senses that are critical for our survival- tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive. Sensory Integration techniques or therapies of these senses can facilitate attention and awareness, and reduce overall arousal.
In this article, each of these sensory systems will be covered. There also will be a Do-it-yourself (DIY) activity mentioned to overcome dysfunction and improve functioning of these sensory systems. Click here to read the rest of the story.
Tactile difficulties occur when the nervous system dysfunctions and the brain is unable to process information through the senses. Some children and adults with this form of sensory processing disorder will be over sensitive to touch. Between 5 to 13 percent of the population is diagnosed with sensory processing disorder.
Common Signs of Tactile Difficulties
Difficulty with having nails cut or teeth brushed
Becomes upset when hair is washed
Dislikes any clothing with tags including clothes, hats, shoes, and complains about the type of fabric and the style
Dislikes getting their hands dirty or messy
Overreacts when they are touched by other people
Oversensitive to temperature change
Over or under reacts to pain
Prefers deep pressure touch rather than light touch
Avoids messy textures
Prefers pants and long sleeves in hot weather
Eyes may be sensitive to cold wind
Avoids walking barefoot
Avoids standing close to other people
May be anxious when physically close to other people
Strategies for Handling Tactile Defensiveness
Use deep pressure
use weighted items including blankets, vest and backpacks
Seek out an OT
Utilize a sensory diet
Minimize time expected to stand and wait in line by having the child go first or last in line
Allow the child to wear a jacket indoors
Encourage the child to brush his or her body with a natural brush during bath time
Hyperlexia is described as a syndrome where children have the precocious ability to read words and sentences far beyond their chronological age. Some children read as early as 15 months old. Although these children can read words at an early age, they are unable to comprehend its meaning and also lag in speech and social skills. Children with hyperlexia also have an obsession with letters and numbers including writing numbers and drawing shapes in letters.
Dr. Darold A. Treffert, through his research identified three subtypes:
Hyperlexia Type1: is described as neurotypical children who learned to read early through words and pictures.
Hyperlexia Type 2: children who are able to memorize words in a book and may have what is referred to as splinter skills including the ability to display remarkable gifts in the area of art, music, calendar calculations, sensory and reading. Typically the child will also have a diagnosis of autism. Hyperlexia is not considered a disorder, rather it is part of the autistic diagnosis. While symptoms of hyperlexia in autistic children tend to disappear as they grow. Many autistic adults report still having hyperlexia.
Hyperlexia Type 3: children will show autistic-like characteristics including sensory processing disorder and communication which led to being misdiagnosed with autism. Although they have a fascination with words and numbers, challenges arise with language and social skills. Some may begin to regress after the age of 24 months.
Rebecca Williamson Brown, describes hyperlexia as having two types:
Type 1: children display excellent visual memory however often display expressive language challenges and tend to have a lower verbal IQ due to lack of meaning of words. These children tend to have a lower verbal IQ and tend to show similarities to autistic children.
Type 2: Language appears to be normal however, the child seems to have difficulty with expressive language and shows challenges with visual motor integration skills.
Symptoms Associated With Hyperlexia
Social skills deficits
The ability to memorize words without the ability of understanding its meaning
Learns to read early compared to peers
Strong memory skills
Challenged in using verbal language
Teaching Students with Hyperlexia
Children with hyperlexia learning language without understanding the meaning of words. According to Katz, (2003), children with hyperlexia typically:
Learn best visually
Demonstrate significant difficulties processing what they hear
Have extraordinary verbal limitations
Learn expressive language by echoing or memorizing sentence structure
Have strong auditory and visual memory
Think in concrete, rigid and very literal terms
Demonstrate an intense need to keep routine
Have highly focused interest
Have difficulty with reciprocal interaction.
The following strategies are helping when teaching children with hyperlexia:
Use rote learning
Use examples rather than explanations
Use visual list
Pair oral with visual instructions
Provide relaxation tools
Use high-interest activities
Adults with Hyperlexia
While little research exits on adults with hyperlexia. Most research indicate that children will outgrow hyperlexia which is not the case for all children self-reporting adults indicate mis-diagnosed with ADHD and often Asperger’s. In adulthood, adults still struggle with the “W” questions and continue to have social and sensory issues. As children, they had the ability to read words above what was expected at their age. Socializing is still a challenge as well as thinking in concrete and literal terms. Many also expressed that they are echolalic and will repeat back a question asked of them.
The following may be helpful for an adult with hyperlexia:
Harsh light may be difficult to work under. Provide a quiet workspace with soft lighting.
Do not force team activities and office events can cause anxiety for people with hyperlexia
Be specific in your request
Visual job aids are helpful
Write down instructions.
Allow time for processing verbal information
Katz, Karen (2003), Hyperlexia: Therapy that works: A guide for parents and teachers. The Center for Speech and Language Disorder