VOLUME 17, NUMBER 3, FALL 2002
needs of children with AS. Finally, we willpresent case studies demonstrating theapplication of sensory processing princi-ples.
Basic Characteristics of theSensory Systems
There are seven basic sensory systems within the nervous system: sound, touch, vision, taste, smell, movement, and body position. Myles, Tapscott Cook, Miller,Rinner, and Robbins (2000) provided asummary of the characteristics of thesesensory systems and their function inhuman beings (see Table 1). The visualand auditory systems provide informa-tion about the world, the touch and body position systems provide informationabout the person’s body, and the move-ment system provides information aboutthe interaction of the body in the world.The taste and smell systems provide amechanism for sustaining the organismby accessing information for obtainingfood, and for protection.The sensory systems provide the routefor the brain to receive information. Thefunction of the input mechanisms them-selves produce sensory acuity (e.g., whether the person’s eyes receive light,etc.). The brain is responsible for makingmeaning out of this information and fordesigning and implementing a response(i.e., processing). For children who have AS, the sensory input structures are usu-ally intact; the difficulty with sensory processing occurs as the child tries to usethat sensory input (i.e., process it) to re-spond to task and environmental de-mands.
A Model for SensoryProcessing
Dunn (1997) proposed a model forsensory processing that characterizes pat-terns of responding based on a per-son’s neurological thresholds and self-regulation strategies. Figure 1 summariz-es these relationships and provides basicinformation about the characteristics of each pattern of sensory processing. Theneurological threshold continuum movesfrom low to high thresholds, whereas thebehavioral response continuum movesfrom passive to active self-regulation stra-tegies. When these continua intersect,four basic patterns of sensory processingemerge, representing the anchor points of the continua.The neurological thresholds contin-uum represents the amount of input thenervous system requires before respond-ing. When a person has high thresholds,this means that it takes a lot of input forthe nervous system to take notice andthen generate a response. When a personhas low thresholds, this means that ittakes very little input for the nervous sys-tem to take notice, and lots of responsesare generated.The self-regulation continuum repre-sents the range of strategies a personmight use in responding to task and en- vironmental demands. A person who re-sorts to passive strategies has a tendency to let things happen; a person who usesactive strategies reveals a tendency togenerate responses to control input.The intersection of these continua cre-ates four basic patterns of sensory pro-cessing: low registration, sensation seek-ing, sensory sensitivity, and sensationavoiding. Low registration represents thecombination of high neurological thres-holds with a passive self-regulation strat-egy. Sensation seeking represents thecombination of high thresholds with anactive self-regulation strategy. Sensory sensitivity is the combination of low neu-rological thresholds with a passive self-regulation strategy, and sensation avoid-ing represents the combination of low neurological thresholds with an activeself-regulation strategy.
Children who have low registration pat-terns seem uninterested, self-absorbed,and sometimes dull in affect. They donot notice what is going on around themand miss cues that might guide their be-haviors. We hypothesize that most eventsin daily life do not contain a sufficientamount of intensity to meet these chil-dren’s thresholds; their passive strategieslead to their being somewhat oblivious toactivities. Some families report that theirchild does not respond to initial auditory information. For example, parents may be concerned about a hearing problembecause their child does not respond tohis or her name (Marks, Schrader, Ton-gaker, &Levine, 2000). Weimer, Schatz, Lincoln, Ballantyne,and Trauner (2001) reported a deficit inproprioception (sensory input from themuscles and joints) for children with AS, which may contribute to the characteris-tic of “clumsiness” cited by multiple au-thors (Attwood, 1998; Bonnet & Goa,1996; Gillberg, 1989; McKelvey, Lam-bert, Mottron, & Shevell, 1995; Tatum,1988; Wing, 1981). From a sensory pro-cessing point of view, these children may need a high amount of proprioceptiveinput to successfully participate in physi-cal activities. This would be achieved by adding weight to the child’s body or toobjects the child interacts with. For ex-ample, we might have the child weara weighted vest, or wrist and ankle weights, during specific activities. Theadded weight provides additional body sensory input so the child can be moreaware of body parts. Authors have alsoreported increased attention and de-creased fidgeting using weighted vestsfor children with autism and attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder (Fertel-Daly, Bedell, & Hinojosa, 2001; Van-denBerg, 2001; see Figure 2).
Children who have sensation-seeking pat-terns are very active, continuously en-gaging, and excitable. They take pleasurefrom sensory experiences and so gener-ate additional sensory input for them-selves. We hypothesize that they are en-gaging in active strategies to increaseinput as a means to meet high thresholds.For children who have AS, sensationseeking may manifest as the need tomove about the environment, for exam-ple, pacing back and forth when othersremain seated.Peculiarities that others might classify as speech and language issues also have asensory-seeking quality. For example, thechild might overuse hand gestures or