Navigating Sensory Seeking Behavior in Adults with Autism


Sensory seeking behavior in adults with autism is a complex and significant aspect of their lived experience. It encompasses a range of sensory processing differences that can profoundly impact their daily lives, social interactions, and overall well-being. Understanding and addressing sensory seeking behavior is crucial in providing effective support and accommodations for individuals with autism.

Understanding Sensory Issues in Autism

Sensory issues are a common occurrence in individuals with autism, involving sensitivities to various stimuli such as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, balance, and internal sensations. These issues can manifest as both hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity, leading to sensory avoidance or sensory seeking behaviors. Hypersensitivity may result in sensory avoidance, while hyposensitivity can lead to sensory seeking.

For example, an individual with autism who experiences hypersensitivity to sound may find loud noises overwhelming and may exhibit behaviors such as covering their ears or seeking quiet spaces to alleviate the sensory overload. On the other hand, someone with hyposensitivity to touch may engage in sensory seeking behaviors by actively seeking deep pressure input to satisfy their sensory needs.

Sensory Seeking Behavior in High-Functioning Autism

In individuals with high-functioning autism, sensory seeking behaviors may present as increased movement, stimming, and difficulty recognizing internal sensations. Examples of sensory seeking behaviors in high-functioning autism can include talking faster or louder, covering ears or eyes, and increased stimming [1, 2].

A person with high-functioning autism may engage in repetitive movements or stimming, such as hand-flapping or rocking, as a way to seek sensory input and regulate their sensory experiences. Additionally, they may have difficulty recognizing internal sensations, leading to a heightened need for sensory stimulation to feel grounded and focused.

Sensory Issues Beyond Stereotypes

Autistic sensory processing disorder extends beyond common stereotypes, impacting the processing and response to sensory information, affecting daily life and social interactions. Symptoms of sensory processing disorder can include hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to sensory input, impacting any of the five senses and the sense of balance and body awareness.

It's important to recognize that sensory issues in autism can vary widely among individuals. For instance, while one person with autism may have hypersensitivity to touch, leading them to avoid certain textures of clothing, another individual may have hyposensitivity to the sense of taste, resulting in a preference for intensely flavored foods to satisfy their sensory cravings.

Impact of Sensory Seeking Behavior

Sensory seeking behavior can create challenges in everyday situations and lead to sensory overload in adults with autism. When experiencing sensory issues, autistic individuals may exhibit behaviors such as increased movement, covering ears or eyes, and difficulty recognizing internal sensations.

The impact of sensory seeking behavior on adults with autism can be profound, affecting various aspects of their lives. For example, in social settings, sensory seeking behaviors such as pacing or touching objects excessively may lead to social challenges and misunderstandings. Furthermore, sensory seeking can also affect an individual's ability to concentrate and engage in activities that are important for daily functioning.

Strategies to Manage Sensory Seeking Behavior

Accommodations for sensory issues can involve modifying the environment, using tools and strategies, and establishing new habits or routines. Self-advocacy is crucial for meeting sensory needs, and resources such as occupational therapy, feeding therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy are available to help with sensory issues.

In addition to these strategies, incorporating sensory diets or personalized sensory plans can be beneficial for individuals with autism. A sensory diet typically includes a tailored set of sensory activities and tools that are designed to provide the individual with the sensory input they need to self-regulate and remain focused throughout the day. These activities may include the use of sensory fidget tools, weighted blankets, or specific movement breaks to address sensory seeking behaviors.

Rights and Self-Advocacy

Individuals with autism have the right to request reasonable accommodations at work and school to address their sensory needs. Self-advocacy plays a significant role in ensuring that the sensory needs of individuals with autistic sensory processing disorder are met.

For instance, an adult with autism can self-advocate for accommodations such as a quiet workspace or the use of noise-canceling headphones in a busy office environment to manage their sensory needs. Additionally, they can communicate their sensory preferences and challenges to educators and employers to foster a better understanding of their unique sensory experiences.

Available Resources for Support

Various resources such as occupational therapy, feeding therapy, speech therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy are available to assist with sensory issues in adults with autism. Organizations like Autism Speaks provide resources and support for sensory issues, advocating for the rights and needs of individuals with autism.

In addition to professional therapies, support groups and community organizations dedicated to autism can provide valuable resources and a sense of community for individuals with autism and their families. These resources can offer guidance, emotional support, and practical strategies for managing sensory seeking behaviors and addressing the broader challenges associated with autism.

Research Insights

Researchers emphasize the need for further research and support services to enhance the quality of life for individuals with autistic sensory processing disorder [3, 4]. Understanding the diverse and individualistic nature of sensory reactivity differences is crucial for tailoring support and interventions to meet the unique needs of autistic adults.

Ongoing research in the field of autism and sensory processing aims to explore innovative interventions and therapeutic approaches to address sensory seeking behaviors and enhance the overall well-being of adults with autism. By gaining a deeper understanding of the nuanced sensory experiences of individuals with autism, researchers can develop more effective strategies to support sensory needs and promote positive outcomes for this population.


Understanding sensory seeking behavior in adults with autism is essential for providing comprehensive support and accommodations that address their unique sensory needs. By recognizing the diverse manifestations of sensory seeking behaviors and advocating for individualized interventions, we can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals with autistic sensory processing disorder [2, 4].

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