Writing Autistic

Writing Autistic – Co-Morbid Conditions – Sensory Processing Disorder

When it comes to autism, the autism itself often isn’t the thing causing issues. It’s usually either ableism/disablism, or co-morbid conditions.

Autism is just a different way of thinking.

Co-morbid conditions can be anything from Specific Learning Difficulties (e.g. Dyslexia) to mental illness (e.g. OCD) to Sensory Processing Disorder, which is what I’m going to talk about today.

Sensory Processing Disorder is when your brain doesn’t interpret sensory information properly. Our sensory organs actually receive more information than we get. Our brains just can’t handle every little thing at once, so it filters out things like the feel of your socks against your skin, and the sound of the clock ticking.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is when it either doesn’t filter out enough, and you receive too much input to handle, or it filters out too much, and you don’t get all of the information you need.

This is just one of those annoying things that Autistic people have to put up with.

It’s also one of the things that mostly gets seen through Allistic eyes.

“Oh no, look how terrible it is for me, my child freaks out when I take them to the shops. Oh woe is me!”

*Rolls eyes*

Look, it’s not exactly fun for us, either. You think I like the fact that concerts are sensory hell for me? That crowded shops give me similar symptoms to vertigo if I’m not wearing headphones? That someone wearing strong perfume makes me queasy and gives me a headache?

But one thing I’ve learned as an adult is that these things can all be mitigated.

I can wear headphones in crowded shops.

I recently saw someone suggest carrying a little pouch of coffee beans to counter strong smells.

I can leave concerts and have a break to eat and drink before returning, allowing myself time to recuperate.

If an Autistic person is constantly melting down because their sensory needs aren’t being met, then that’s a problem.

Please don’t have your character meltdown because of sensory overload and then frame it as their fault. If they’re not looking after their sensory needs, chances are that it’s because of outside factors.

There’s also the fact that SPD can work the other way, and you can be under sensitive to things.

When thinking about your Autistic character’s SPD, it’s best to lay out the senses and figure out if your character is over or under sensitive to certain things, and if they’re sensory seeking for certain things.

I’ll fill out this one for myself to show you:



Particularly Defensive Against: Oily textures, felt and light skin-on-skin.

Seeks: Soft, furry things.

Overload Sensations: The touch will linger and I’ll flap my hands and make whining noises (like a sad puppy).


Not sure. (This is okay – not all senses have to be notably over or under sensitive.)

Particularly Defensive Against: Nothing.

Seeks: Acidic foods. I will drown anything in vinegar.

Overload Sensations: Not Applicable



Particularly Defensive Against: Heavy perfume/cologne/fragrance and bin bags.

Seeks: Nothing.

Overload Sensations: Queasiness and headaches. I will usually eat/sleep to make myself feel better.



Particularly Defensive Against: Bright lights.

Seeks: Nothing.

Overload Sensations: Light on its own tends not to overload me.



Particularly Defensive Against: Chaotic sounds. If I can’t predict where the sound is going, like with background chatter or certain kinds of music.

Seeks: Nothing.

Overload Sensations: Vertigo symptoms. I get dizzy and feel faint.



Particularly Defensive Against: Cold.

Seeks: I don’t like hot weather, but I will drink/eat things that are still hot and really like hot water bottles.

Overload Sensations: Nothing.

Proprioception (Where You are in Space)

Under-sensitive (This ties into dyspraxia, which I will deal with in another post.)

Particularly Defensive Against: Nothing.

Seeks: Nothing.

Overload Sensations: Not Applicable.


Not sure. (For the love of Gandalf, please don’t portray your Autistic character as not feeling pain. Many of us have atypical reactions to pain, but we’re never completely immune to it and malicious people sometimes use this reasoning as an excuse to abuse us.)

Particularly Defensive Against: Nothing.

Seeks: Nothing.

Overload Sensations: Not Applicable.


Oversensitive (I will overcompensate on bikes and the like.)

Particularly Defensive Against: I will get travel sick easily. I’ll get travel sick looking at my phone while walking.

Seeks: I like balancing on things.

Overload Sensations: Not Applicable.


The best way to approach this in your writing is in the little things.

Don’t have them go into sensory overload every chapter. It’s not believable.

But do have them decide against buying a nice item of clothing because it feels scratchy. Do have them being annoyed by their bright bulbs and wondering how much it would cost to replace them with ones with controllable brightness. Do have them forcing themselves to smile through the suffocating stench of a colleague’s perfume.

Another thing to bear in mind is that these can sometimes change. People can go from under to oversensitive about things over time. It can change rather rapidly when they’re stressed or tired.

So, I hope this post has helped with your understanding of how to write SPD. If there’s anything that still needs clearing up, I’ll be happy to do so.

More on SPD.

This was originally posted to on 16/5/15.

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