All the Senses

I have been thinking about Brandon and all of his sensory needs.  This is so common with folks with autism and Brandon has so many of them.  How have we managed all of this over the years?  What have we tried that worked?  What didn’t work? 

I am almost certain Brandon has sensory processing disorder.  Simply put, someone with SPD has difficulty processing information brought in through our senses.  Hearing, vision, smell, touch and taste ( Brandon needs in all of these areas.  All of them have been with him since he was very little.


Brandon does not like certain sounds.  He will cover his ears if he hears a baby crying.  If the baby is close to Brandon, he will cover his ears and walk away.  He does the same things when our dogs bark (so do I, because they are loud!).  Going to Wal-Mart on a Saturday morning with Brandon is something we will never, ever, ever do.  Trust me.  At that time, Wal-Mart is most likely crowded with loud, crying babies.  And people having different conversations and talking about different things.  And carts making noises, freezers making noises, etc. etc. etc. 

Brandon has his iPod and headphones with him whenever we leave the house.  We have been told before that we should take his iPod away as a disciplinary measure.  We will not.  His iPod and headphones provide a safe space for him in a very loud world.  If only we could get him to be a bit more gently with the headphones and not break so many.


Brandon has a couple of sensory issues related to vision.  He prefers darker lit rooms and no overhead lights.  Except the one in our family room.  He will turn that overhead light on sometimes when I leave the room.  I always turn it off when I get back and tell him that I am winning this one.  He doesn’t argue with me.  I honestly think he is joking with me and it makes me smile. 

He likes his disco light and will follow the lights on the walls and ceiling.  He spins his Mardi Gras beads so the sunlight bounces off of them.  In the evening, he gets close to a lamp and spins them.  He will occasionally take a 2-3 minute break to spin his beads and then he is okay for a bit.  It helps him calm himself.


Brandon smells everything he eats before he puts it in his mouth.  Even hot dogs and cheese. He doesn’t do this with every bite of food, but before the first bite, he is smelling it.  And if it does not smell right to him, he isn’t eating it.  He loves to smell people’s hair.  He loves to smell the hair of people we don’t know, so we watch for that when we are out.  Our friends and family know this is going to happen.  We choose to see it as Brandon giving us a quick kiss on the head.  With our friends who have less hair, Brandon will smell the bald head or the shoulder.  Same with someone wearing a hat. 

He smells candles, the mist coming out of the diffuser, shampoo, flowers, books, and on and on.  We were sitting on our patio the other night and had lit a citronella candle (I hate mosquitos and they seem to love me).  Brandon must think it smells good, because he kept smelling it and getting closer and closer to the flame.  We have to remember to blow it out before we come in so he doesn’t burn himself when he is outside without us. 


Touch is a big deal for Brandon.  He is not comfortable with too much touching from others.  It was hard to keep him holding my hand when he was little, because he doesn’t like it.  His hugs are a bit awkward and we have to remind him sometimes to put his arms around us and squeeze when we hug him.   Tags in shirts and pants have to be removed before they go into Brandon’s room.  If we forget, he will rip the tags out himself and has torn more than a few t-shirts.  Whoever came up with the tagless shirts is a genius.  We need that with pants now. 

Brandon also likes deep pressure.  When he was younger, he slept under a weighted blanket.  He had a weighted vest, also, but he didn’t like that as much.  Brandon likes what we call squeezes.  If he is feeling overwhelmed, he will ask us for squeezes.  With me, he prefers hand squeezes.  He wants me to squeeze his hand as hard as I can.  This always makes me a bit nervous because I don’t want to hurt him.  If I don’t squeeze hard enough, he tells me “more”.  Sometimes, I can almost feel him relax while I am squeezing.

He prefers Steve for head squeezes.  Steve puts his hands on either side of Brandon’s head and squeezes.  To be honest, there are times I have had a sinus headache that I think a good head squeeze would help me feel better.  Brandon likes us both for bear hugs.  Brandon does not put his arms around us with bear hugs.  He keeps them to his side and we squeeze. 

Brandon had a massage recently.  I had talked with Brandon about it before we went.  He and I had gone for a quick tour of the building before I made the appointment. I told him there would be a quiet room with no bright lights and that someone would be squeezing his arms and legs.  I forgot to tell him about the lotions.  He spent five minutes picking out the lotion that smelled right to him.  And then he laid quietly for 20 minutes.  We will be going back.

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