Many children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders experience a multitude of sensory symptoms. These sensory processing integration issues or sensory processing disorder (SPD) can include issues relating to temperature regulation. The person with Autism may not be able to adequately adapt to changing temperatures, and/or may not feel temperatures the same way a neuro-typical (NT), person without Autism, does.
What is Temperature Regulation?
Temperature regulation is an automated body system that regulates the body’s core temperature in response to outside stimuli. The temperature of the body is regulated by neural feedback mechanisms in the brain, which operate primarily through the hypothalamus. It has the remarkable capacity for regulating the body’s core temperature which keeps your body temperature somewhere between 98F and 100F. When your body is exposed to heat or cold conditions this system balances your internal temperature with the temperature outside.
Do People With Autism Have Difficulty With Temperature Regulation?
Children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders suffer from temperature regulation problems, sometimes as a part of overall sensory processing issues. They may exhibit hyper or hypo sensitivities to heat and cold. A manifestation of this is the child who does not feel cold in the winter and continuously peels off his clothing or coat despite the cold weather. The child who has difficulty cooling down after a short time in the sun may also begin to shiver after a brief period in air conditioning.
Adults and children with Autism may become overheated quickly when taking even moderately hot showers, feel dizzy, light-headed, or report seeing spots. They may need an extraordinary amount of time to cool down before resuming activities such as dressing and drying hair after the shower is complete. The same person may feel overheated, enter an air-conditioned room, and then begin to feel cold much more quickly than others around them. Is Temperature Regulation Part of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD, formerly known as “sensory integration dysfunction”) is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. People with Autism commonly suffer from SPD, and temperature regulation issues are just one small aspect of the overall sensory processing system. In addition to becoming too hot or too cold too quickly, other evidence of temperature regulation issues in persons with Autism can include a strong preference to eating foods only at room temperature (not too hot or too cold). Children may refuse bathwater that is too warm insisting on tepid waters, or either extremely hot or cold waters.
Living with temperature regulation issues can put a person in a constant state of discomfort. They may be unable to sweat as other people do to cool down or may sweat too much for the perceived temperatures. The important thing to remember is that the person with Autism experiences temperature regulation issues and does not feel the temperatures in the same way that you do. What you may see as an extremely cold day, may actually feel warm to the person with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. This discomfort can lead to or contribute to sensory overload, shutdowns, and meltdowns.