What is the Most Common Problem in Autism?

While the symptoms of ASD can vary widely, there are some common problems that are often associated with the disorder. In this article, we will explore the most common problem in autism and how it can affect individuals and their families.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
December 18, 2023
min read

Understanding Autism

To truly comprehend the challenges faced by individuals with autism, it is essential to first gain an understanding of what autism is and the common challenges associated with it.

What is Autism?

Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a complex neurodevelopmental condition that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. It is characterized by a wide range of symptoms and levels of impairment, making each individual's experience unique.

Individuals with autism may exhibit difficulties in social interaction, such as difficulties in understanding and responding to social cues, maintaining eye contact, and engaging in reciprocal conversations. They may also display repetitive behaviors, restricted interests, and a preference for routine and predictability.

It's important to note that autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that it manifests differently in each individual. Some individuals with autism may have exceptional abilities or talents, while others may face significant challenges in various aspects of life.

Common Challenges in Autism

While the challenges experienced by individuals with autism can vary significantly, there are some common areas of difficulty that many individuals face. These challenges can include:

  • Sensory Issues: Many individuals with autism experience difficulties with sensory processing, which can impact how they perceive and respond to sensory stimuli such as sound, light, touch, taste, and smell. Sensory processing disorder in autism is a common occurrence.
  • Communication Difficulties: Individuals with autism may struggle with verbal and nonverbal communication. They may have delays in speech and language development, exhibit echolalia (repeating words or phrases), or have difficulties understanding and using gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice.
  • Social Interaction Challenges: Interacting with others and forming meaningful relationships can be challenging for individuals with autism. They may struggle with understanding social cues, initiating and maintaining conversations, and developing friendships. These challenges can lead to feelings of social isolation and exclusion.
  • Repetitive Behaviors: Many individuals with autism engage in repetitive behaviors, such as rocking, hand flapping, or lining up objects. These behaviors serve as self-soothing mechanisms or ways to cope with sensory overload or anxiety.
  • Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: Some individuals with autism may exhibit hyperactivity and impulsivity, making it challenging to focus, sit still, or adhere to routines.
  • Anxiety and Depression: Anxiety and depression are common co-occurring conditions in individuals with autism. The challenges of navigating social situations, sensory overload, and difficulty with change can contribute to heightened anxiety and low mood.

Understanding these common challenges can provide a foundation for developing effective strategies and interventions to support individuals with autism in their daily lives. By recognizing and addressing these challenges, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for individuals on the autism spectrum.

man and toddler with tank top walking on pathway between brown leaf plants during sunset

The Impact of Sensory Issues

In individuals with autism, sensory issues can have a significant impact on their daily lives and overall well-being. Understanding the relationship between sensory processing and autism is crucial in providing appropriate support and interventions. Let's explore the connection between sensory processing and autism, as well as the types of sensory issues commonly experienced.

Sensory Processing and Autism

Sensory processing refers to how the brain receives and interprets sensory information from the environment. This includes the senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, and the sense of movement and balance. In individuals with autism, sensory processing can be affected, leading to differences in how they perceive and respond to sensory stimuli.

Some individuals with autism may experience sensory hypersensitivity, where they are overly sensitive to certain sensory inputs. For example, they may find certain sounds, bright lights, or certain textures overwhelming or uncomfortable. On the other hand, some individuals may have sensory hyposensitivity, where they have a reduced response to sensory stimuli. They may seek out intense sensory experiences or engage in repetitive behaviors to fulfill their sensory needs.

Understanding the sensory processing profile of individuals with autism is essential in tailoring interventions and creating a supportive environment.

Types of Sensory Issues

Sensory issues can manifest in various ways in individuals with autism. These issues can affect one or more sensory systems, leading to unique challenges and behaviors. Here are some of the most common types of sensory issues experienced by individuals with autism:

Sensory Issue Description
Auditory Sensitivity Heightened sensitivity to sounds, which can result in discomfort or distress when exposed to loud or sudden noises.
Visual Sensitivity Sensitivity to bright lights, fluorescent lighting, or specific visual patterns, leading to visual discomfort or difficulty focusing.
Tactile Sensitivity Hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to touch, making certain textures, clothing, or physical contact uncomfortable or overwhelming.
Gustatory Sensitivity Heightened sensitivity to tastes or textures of food, leading to selective eating habits or aversions to certain flavors or textures.
Olfactory Sensitivity Heightened sensitivity to smells, which can cause discomfort or distress in environments with strong odors.
Vestibular Sensitivity Sensitivity to movement and balance, leading to difficulties with coordination, spatial awareness, and discomfort with activities like swinging or spinning.
Proprioceptive Sensitivity Hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to body awareness, resulting in difficulties with motor skills, coordination, and body positioning.

Understanding the specific sensory issues that individuals with autism may face is crucial in developing effective strategies and interventions. By recognizing and addressing these challenges, it is possible to create a supportive environment that promotes their well-being and helps them thrive.

Sensory Overload

Individuals with autism often experience sensory issues that can significantly impact their daily lives. One common challenge is sensory overload, which occurs when the brain becomes overwhelmed by sensory information. In this section, we will explore the definition and causes of sensory overload, as well as the signs and symptoms associated with it.

Definition and Causes

Sensory overload refers to a state in which an individual's senses are bombarded with more stimuli than they can effectively process. This overload can occur in any of the sensory domains, including sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. The causes of sensory overload can vary from person to person, but they generally stem from hypersensitivity to sensory input or difficulties with sensory modulation.

For individuals with autism, sensory overload can be triggered by everyday experiences that may seem ordinary to others. Common triggers include crowded or noisy environments, bright lights, strong smells, and certain textures. It's important to note that each person with autism may have different sensitivities and triggers, so what causes sensory overload for one individual may not affect another in the same way.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of sensory overload can manifest in various ways and may differ from person to person. Here are some common indicators to look out for:

  • Heightened sensitivity: Individuals experiencing sensory overload may become overwhelmed by even moderate levels of sensory input. They may be more sensitive to loud noises, bright lights, certain textures, or strong smells.
  • Emotional and behavioral reactions: Sensory overload can lead to emotional and behavioral reactions such as irritability, anxiety, restlessness, or agitation. Some individuals may exhibit avoidance behaviors, trying to escape or withdraw from overwhelming sensory environments.
  • Physical discomfort: Sensory overload can cause physical discomfort and distress. Individuals may experience headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, or even pain in response to sensory stimuli.
  • Communication challenges: During sensory overload, individuals with autism may struggle with communication. They may find it difficult to express their feelings or needs verbally, leading to increased frustration.

It's important to remember that sensory overload is not exclusive to autism and can occur in individuals without autism as well. However, it is more prevalent among individuals on the autism spectrum due to their unique sensory processing differences.

Understanding sensory overload and its associated signs and symptoms is crucial for parents and caregivers of individuals with autism. By recognizing the triggers and implementing appropriate strategies, it is possible to help individuals manage sensory overload and create a more comfortable and supportive environment.

Sensory Under-Responsivity

Individuals with autism often experience sensory issues, including sensory under-responsivity. This section will provide an understanding of sensory under-responsivity, its potential causes, and the signs and symptoms associated with this particular sensory issue.

Definition and Causes

Sensory under-responsivity refers to a decreased response or lack of response to sensory stimuli in the environment. Individuals with this sensory issue may have difficulty recognizing or responding appropriately to sensory input, such as touch, sound, taste, smell, or visual stimuli. They may require more intense sensory input to register and respond to sensations effectively.

The exact causes of sensory under-responsivity in autism are not yet fully understood. However, it is believed to be related to atypical neurological processing. The sensory processing centers in the brain may not receive or interpret sensory information in the same way as neurotypical individuals. This can result in a diminished response to sensory stimuli.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of sensory under-responsivity can vary from person to person. Some common indicators include:

  • Reduced reaction or lack of response to sensory stimuli, such as not flinching at loud noises or not noticing when touched.
  • Appearing unresponsive or unfazed by sensory input that typically elicits a response in others.
  • Seeking out intense sensory experiences, such as engaging in repetitive or self-stimulatory behaviors.
  • Exhibiting a high pain threshold and not registering pain or discomfort as expected.
  • Difficulty staying alert or engaged in activities that do not provide significant sensory input.

It's important to note that sensory under-responsivity can coexist with other sensory issues, such as sensory over-responsivity or sensory seeking behaviors. Each individual with autism may experience a unique combination of sensory challenges.

Understanding sensory under-responsivity is crucial for parents and caregivers of individuals with autism. By recognizing the signs and symptoms, they can better support their loved ones in managing and adapting to sensory experiences. Occupational therapists and other professionals specializing in sensory processing disorders can provide valuable guidance and strategies to address sensory under-responsivity.

Coping Strategies for Sensory Issues

Individuals with autism often face challenges related to sensory processing, but there are strategies that can help them cope with these issues. Here are three effective coping strategies for sensory issues in autism: creating a sensory-friendly environment, sensory integration therapy, and self-regulation techniques.

Creating a Sensory-Friendly Environment

Creating a sensory-friendly environment at home, school, and other settings can greatly benefit individuals with autism. This involves making adjustments to the physical environment to reduce sensory triggers and provide a more comfortable space. Some strategies for creating a sensory-friendly environment include:

  • Noise reduction: Minimizing loud or sudden noises by using soundproofing materials, closing doors, or using white noise machines.
  • Lighting adjustments: Using natural lighting or dimming lights to reduce harsh or flickering lights.
  • Sensory breaks: Designating quiet spaces where individuals can take sensory breaks when feeling overwhelmed.
  • Organization and structure: Maintaining a tidy and organized environment to reduce visual clutter, which can be overwhelming for some individuals with autism.

By creating a sensory-friendly environment, individuals with autism can experience a calmer and more predictable atmosphere, which can help manage sensory challenges more effectively.

Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory integration therapy is a specialized form of therapy that focuses on addressing sensory processing difficulties. It aims to help individuals with autism improve their ability to process and respond to sensory information in a more organized and efficient manner. Through a variety of activities and exercises, sensory integration therapy can help individuals with autism:

  • Improve sensory perception and discrimination.
  • Enhance body awareness and coordination.
  • Develop appropriate responses to sensory stimuli.
  • Regulate arousal levels and emotional responses.

Sensory integration therapy is typically provided by occupational therapists who are trained in this specific approach. They tailor the therapy to meet the individual needs of each person, incorporating activities that address their sensory challenges.

Self-Regulation Techniques

Self-regulation techniques empower individuals with autism to manage their sensory experiences independently. These techniques help individuals recognize their sensory triggers and develop strategies to cope with them effectively. Some common self-regulation techniques include:

  • Deep breathing: Teaching deep breathing exercises to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety in response to sensory overload.
  • Visual supports: Using visual supports, such as visual schedules or social stories, to help individuals understand and prepare for sensory experiences.
  • Physical activities: Engaging in physical activities, such as exercise, yoga, or sensory-based activities, to help regulate sensory input and promote self-calming.
  • Sensory tools: Utilizing sensory tools such as fidget toys, weighted blankets, or noise-canceling headphones to provide comfort and regulate sensory input.

These techniques can be tailored to fit each individual's unique sensory needs and can be practiced in various settings to promote self-regulation.

By implementing these coping strategies, individuals with autism can learn to navigate their sensory challenges more effectively and improve their overall quality of life. It's important to work closely with professionals, such as occupational therapists, who can provide guidance and support in implementing these strategies.

Seeking Support for Sensory Issues

When it comes to addressing sensory issues in individuals with autism, seeking support from professionals and connecting with support groups can be highly beneficial. The following are some avenues to consider:

Working with Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists play a crucial role in helping individuals with autism navigate their sensory challenges. These professionals specialize in assessing and addressing sensory processing difficulties. Through individualized therapy sessions, occupational therapists work with individuals to develop strategies and techniques to manage sensory issues effectively.

During therapy, occupational therapists may utilize various techniques, such as sensory integration therapy, to assist individuals in regulating their sensory responses. They also collaborate with individuals and their families to develop personalized sensory diets and strategies that can be implemented at home, school, or other environments.

Collaborating with Special Education Professionals

Special education professionals, including teachers and support staff, play a vital role in creating inclusive and supportive environments for individuals with autism. These professionals are trained to understand the unique needs of individuals with sensory issues and can implement strategies to accommodate their sensory sensitivities within educational settings.

By collaborating with special education professionals, parents can ensure that their child's sensory needs are addressed in the classroom. This may involve making modifications to the physical environment, implementing sensory breaks, or providing specialized sensory tools and resources.

Connecting with Support Groups

Support groups provide valuable opportunities for individuals with autism and their families to connect with others who understand their experiences. These groups offer a platform to share challenges, seek advice, and gain emotional support from individuals who have firsthand experience with sensory issues in autism.

Support groups can be found both online and in local communities. They often organize regular meetings, workshops, and events where parents and individuals with autism can come together to share their stories and learn from one another. Participating in support groups can help reduce feelings of isolation and provide a sense of belonging.

In addition to occupational therapy, collaboration with special education professionals, and joining support groups, it's important to work closely with healthcare providers who specialize in autism spectrum disorders. These professionals can offer guidance, assess the specific sensory needs of individuals with autism, and recommend appropriate interventions.

By actively seeking support and connecting with professionals and support groups, parents and individuals with autism can find valuable resources and strategies to address sensory issues effectively. Remember, every individual with autism is unique, and finding the right combination of support and interventions is key to promoting their overall well-being.


In conclusion, communication difficulties, sensory sensitivities, and repetitive behaviors and routines are some of the most common problems in autism. While these symptoms can be challenging, it is important to remember that individuals with ASD are unique and may experience these problems to different degrees. With proper support and understanding, individuals with autism can lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.


steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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