Skip to main content

Author: Locan Cook

Sensory Processing Disorder And Autism

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are two distinct but sometimes overlapping conditions that affect individuals in different ways. Each of them have their own unique blueprints and symptoms profiles, but also share many potential connections.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

autism and sensory processing disorder
  • Definition: SPD is a condition in which the brain has difficulty receiving and responding to information that comes through the senses. This can include sensory input from sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.
  • Symptoms: Individuals with SPD may be over-sensitive (hypersensitive) or under-sensitive (hyposensitive) to sensory stimuli. They might have strong reactions to certain sounds, textures, or lights, and their responses can interfere with daily functioning.
  • Diagnosis and Treatment: Diagnosis is often made by occupational therapists who specialize in sensory integration. Treatment typically involves sensory integration therapy, which aims to help individuals better process and respond to sensory input.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD):

  • Definition: ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication, as well as restricted and repetitive behaviors. It is a spectrum disorder, meaning that individuals with ASD can have a wide range of strengths and challenges.
  • Sensory Issues in Autism: Many individuals with ASD also experience sensory processing difficulties. They may be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to certain stimuli, similar to individuals with SPD. Common sensory challenges in autism include sensitivities to noise, lights, textures, and smells.
  • Overlap: Because sensory issues are a common feature in both SPD and ASD, there is often an overlap in symptoms. However, not everyone with SPD has autism, and not everyone with autism has SPD.

Overlap and Co-Occurrence:

  • Co-Occurrence: It’s not uncommon for individuals with ASD to also have SPD. The sensory challenges experienced by individuals with autism can contribute to difficulties in social interactions and communication.
  • Treatment Approaches: Many of the interventions used for sensory processing challenges in individuals with ASD are similar to those used for SPD. Occupational therapy, sensory integration therapy, and other strategies may be employed to help individuals manage and cope with sensory issues.

In summary, while SPD and ASD are distinct conditions, they can co-occur, and individuals with ASD often experience sensory processing challenges. Understanding and addressing sensory issues are important components of supporting individuals with autism, and interventions that focus on sensory processing may be beneficial for improving overall functioning and quality of life.

Relating to someone with Sensory Processing Disorder

Individuals with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) can have varying responses to sensory stimuli. Sensory processing challenges may make certain types of touch uncomfortable or overwhelming for some individuals with SPD. However, sensory experiences are highly individualized, and what one person finds challenging may may be a non-issue for another.

For some individuals with SPD, certain forms of human contact, such as cuddling or other types of touch, may be challenging due to hypersensitivity to tactile stimuli. They may find certain textures, pressures, or types of touch aversive or overwhelming. On the other hand, some individuals with SPD may seek out deep pressure, fluffy or soothing textures, or specific types of touch as a way to regulate their sensory system. This is known as seeking proprioceptive input, which can have a calming effect.

Can Dogs Have Autism?

Can dogs have Autism? Though there’s no simple diagnostic answer to that question, remaining open to the possibility that dogs can be Autistic can be a useful approach to treating troubling dog behaviors. remaining open to the possibility that dog behaviors can be Autistic while still keeping one foot firmly on the ground of reality-testing.

Autism is largely understood as a human neurodevelopmental disorder. What’s more, Autism isn’t a simple condition to understand much less diagnose, even in humans. And to top off the heap of qualifications like a big juicy Autism cherry, dogs can’t communicate their feelings in human language, which makes it hard to apply a human concept to an animal mind and receive reliably conclusive feedback about how it feels. These difficulties have complicated and slowed the research, despite significant interest in the apparent links between problematic dog behaviors and Austism.

In short, we are not yet able to say for certain whether dogs have Autism; ASD has not yet been clearly defined or diagnosed in like dogs. For that reason, it’s best to maintain a posture of openness to the possibility – but caution as to the certainty – that dogs can have Autism.

dog with autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex human behavioral condition. We recognize it as a complex aggregate of difficulties in social interaction, communication challenges, and repetitive behaviors. Dogs can also exhibit some, or even all of this aggregate. But ascertaining why that may be is, for the time being, beyond our ken.

Despite the clear emotional connection, and the well-documented mirroring that dogs and humans display with one another, it’s important to recognize the essential differences between canine and human minds and bodies. While dogs may exhibit behavior that we believe resembles aspects of human autism, there is currently no empirically substantiated evidence of dog autism, and no medical or veterinary authority that recognizes dogs as mirroring this aggregate of symptoms we know as ASD. Therefore, at this moment, while we may feel, quite strongly perhaps even, that our dogs are autistic, there is no way to officially or credibly diagnose them with it.

autistic dog

However, despite the lack of medical recognition, it’s also important to maintain a stance of openness to the possibility that dogs indeed may have behaviors similar enough to human Autism to be considered Autistic. Simply writing off the possibility because no study has observed and catalogued the connection doesn’t in any way signify the lack of that connection. While it remains an unproven possibility that the many people who believe that dogs have Austism are misattributing the dog behaviors they observe to something specifically human, it’s also possible that the connection exists and we yet to find a way of proving it empirically.

There have been several studies attempting to identify this connection, and some researchers have come to believe that dogs do in fact mirror human behavior constellations reliably enough to diagnose those behaviors as the same. One such study published in 2017 in the Journal of Comparative Psychology stated “The domestic dog may be a promising model of complex human behavior, including core features of ASD”. Another opinion article, published in the journal Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science in 2019, argued that the symptoms considered Autistic in dogs “are functionally analogous to the human condition; and more likely [than rodents] to have similar etiology”.

That’s all well and good, but what are dog owners supposed to do when they see their dogs struggling with Autistic-seeming behaviors in their beloved pets? To a worried pet-owner, a diagnosis is beside the point: what we seek is relief. For relief, as pragmatists, we can experiment with treatments until we land on one that works. Beyond providing a roadmap for treatments, whether treatments for Autism are “for” humans with ASD or not is ultimately academic relative to the issue of whether they work (or don’t) for one particular dor or another.

So: if you observe behaviors in your dog that seem Autistic to you, talk to your vet about what you see. But it’s important to remember that veterinarians are scientists. Whether your vet is open to or dismisses the possibility that dogs can have Austism may say more about their relation to the yet-unexplained that it does about your dog’s behavior. So if you feel reassured by your vets’s response, all to the good. Follow his or her advice and hope for improvement. But if you find your vet’s response lacking in one way or another, don’t hesitate to be an advocate for your dog’s well-being and get a secondf opinion with anotheer vet, or better-yet, an animal behaviorist.

An animal behaviorist can help assess whether your dog’s behaviors are signs of a medical issue, anxiety, stress, a reasoanble or functional part of the dog’s behavior, or an aggregate of behavioral symptoms that is “Autism-like”. Whatever the end-result, what’s important is that you approach the evaluation of your dog’s behavior from a perspective that considers their specific needs, instincts, and communication methods rather than trying to fit them into diagnostic categories.

While some behaviors in dogs may appear similar to certain aspects of autism in humans, it’s important to remember that while it’s tempting to see ourselves in our dogs, and our dogs in ourselves, anthropomorphizing dogs can be misguided. Dogs may exhibit various behaviors for a range of reasons, including genetics, environment, training, or medical issues, and it’s important to consider their behavior from a perspective that is open t the possibility that dogs can have Autism, but recognizes the risks of . Some dogs may display behaviors that seem socially indifferent or repetitive, but these behaviors may have different underlying causes.

The History of Asperger’s Syndrome

It’s not that there was anything wrong with the children. But something didn’t seem quite right. Their behavior was awkward? Abnormal? But who defines “normal” anyway?

Dr. Asperger himself had always had trouble making friends. Some people called him “remote”. He preferred poetry to small talk. Perhaps in some way he identified with his patients. He made some notes in his book, and continued his observations.

The children did not appear particularly interested in each other, nor in him. They would speak when spoken to, but seemed to struggle with the process of having a conversation. When they did decide to communicate, it was a decidedly one-sided affair. The child would go on about a particular puzzle or toy. He or she would be completely absorbed with every minute detail of the subject being discussed, yet seemed neither to notice (nor to care) that the Doctor was not at all interested in the puzzle.


Dr. Asperger wasn’t really listening anyway. He was speculating; writing down everything he saw, and he was considering whether any of his fellow pediatricians had come across similar behavior in their patients. The children were certainly not stupid; in fact, some demonstrated above average intelligence in certain areas. One child was especially gifted when it came to solving math problems.

The year was 1944, and at his practice in Vienna, the Austrian pediatrician Dr. Hans Asperger was the first to describe in detail the developmental disorder that now bears his name. His observations and most of his work went largely unnoticed for decades. It was not until 1981 that Asperger’s syndrome (also called Asperger’s disorder) was acknowledged as a unique psychological condition.

It was Dr. Wing who reviewed Dr. Asperger’s notes and work and shed new light on the syndrome. Lorna Wing is an English doctor who has a particular and personal interest in developmental disorders. Her daughter was born autistic, and it was her published case studies during the 1980s that raised awareness about Asperger’s. She has since been active in making available information to the public about autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and related disorders.

By the 1990s, Asperger’s was being diagnosed as a specific condition related to, but distinct from, autism. Generally speaking, autism is considered a more extreme pervasive developmental disorder, or PDD. Those who suffer from PDDs are slow to develop basic social and communication skills. Non-verbal communication cues that make up a large part of our daily lives are lost on many who suffer from Asperger’s syndrome. A wink, a nod, a shrug; none of these register with a person living with the disorder. Direct eye contact is rare and uncomfortable.

Men and women living with these conditions may be physically awkward and exhibit repetitive, compulsive behaviors. They can barely tolerate changes to their schedules, and can make cleaning or dressing into an essential ritual. In extreme circumstances, they may pull at their hair, continually wring their hands or tear at their fingernails.

Some people who suffer from PDDs never manage to overcome these difficulties. In certain individuals their conditions worsen over time. Without therapy and treatment they can become completely withdrawn and unresponsive to the people around them. Those who are autistic are particularly at risk.

However, those who live amongst us with Asperger’s are less likely to exhibit extreme behavior. If an early diagnosis of their condition is made and the people around them understand the syndrome, they have an excellent chance of remaining a productive and participatory member of their community.

One quality that does seem beyond the scope of many who live with Asperger’s and other PDDs is empathy. Many with developmental disorders are unable to take an outsiders perspective; to step into another person’s shoes and see something from their side. To a person with Asperger’s, often the only perspective that they can comprehend (and care about) is their own.

Some experts suggest that those born with Asperger’s are more like “high functioning” autistic people. They are not developmentally disadvantaged, but developmentally “different”. What they lack in social skills, they may more than make up for with particular, highly specialized talents. Music is one area where those who have Asperger’s may demonstrate incredible talent, often at an early age.

People born with Asperger’s disorder may remain undiagnosed for several years. As babies they may be irritable, and perhaps a little slower to crawl and walk on their own. As toddlers, they appear somewhat clumsy, and lack physical coordination at the playground. Motor skills may be slower to develop than their peers.

Unless their behavior is extreme, most parents will dismiss early signs of developmental disorders in their child. It’s not until they begin having difficulty at school that a specialist is consulted. In certain circumstances, a child may be mistakenly diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Individuals who have one of either of these two conditions are likely to have difficulty socializing and may exhibit “inappropriate” behaviors. Both groups may be introverted, and ignore other people and subjects that do not interest them.

A major difference however, is that ADHD patients often have difficulty focusing on one thing for any period of time. They are incapable of sustained concentration, and can become frustrated when made to sit and finish a task. Individuals with Asperger’s disorder are highly selective when it comes to focusing their attention. But once they apply themselves to a task well-suited to their particular talents, they are often far more productive than their peers.

We are still in the early stages of understanding Aspergers, autism and other pervasive developmental disorders. So it is understandable that opinions differ over who we consider to have a disability or disorder, and who is simply different. People living with Asperger’s often find that their condition can be managed by avoiding situations or stimulus that makes them uncomfortable. By taking the time to find an occupation where they can fully apply themselves, they turn their “disability” into a tool that builds their inner confidence and strength.

Toward A Better Understanding Of Asperger’s In Adults

Asperger’s syndrome is one of a group of conditions known as pervasive developmental disorders, or PDDs. Autism is also a PDD, albeit a more severe manifestation than Asperger’s. Until recently, adults living with Asperger’s (AS) had received very little attention or support.

Slowly, that is starting to change. More research is being done and as we better understand the symptoms of Asperger’s we are becoming more adept at diagnosis. Our doctors and therapists have developed tests to differentiate Asperger’s from other PDDs and related psychological disorders.


Asperger’s was first described in 1944 by Austrian pediatrician Dr. Hans Asperger. He noticed that some of his young patients seemed withdrawn and uncommunicative. They displayed average or above average intelligence, in some cases showing exceptional talent in one specific area. Clearly, there were strengths and weaknesses associated with the condition. Dr. Asperger wrote extensively about his observations, but his work received scant attention from his peers.

It wasn’t until the 1980s when an English doctor published a series of case studies that AS was given further attention. In 1994, Asperger’s was officially recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) It has only been in the last decade or so that diagnostic norms and standardized testing have been developed.

What Is Asperger’s In Adults

Do you have a developmental disorder, or are you just different? “Act normally” we are told growing up. But who defines “normal”? What is considered acceptable behavior in one part of the world may be taboo in other cultures. The language, customs and social norms a hundred years ago are very different from those we are used to today.

What it is safe to say, is that while the ways that adults communicate with one another may vary, there is always communication. Relations between people may differ based on gender, age, class and so on. However, people want and need to relate to each other. We strive to find our place in the social structure of our community, regardless of what culture or time period we live in.

There are some individuals who don’t want to (or are unable to) be a part of the human hive. They may lack the necessary social skills to interact with members of their community or even with their own family. In social settings, they feel out of place and awkward. To others, these individuals may come across as strange, selfish or even rude.

This behavior is symptomatic of Asperger’s syndrome. Some of these adults with aspergers, or adult “Aspies” may never have been diagnosed with AS but have lived with it all their lives. They are often of above average intelligence, and may show exceptional talent in their field of expertise. They may find two-way conversations impossible, preferring to ramble on at length about something they themselves find especially fascinating.

Social situations make them uncomfortable and they often act awkwardly or even inappropriately. This often interferes with their ability to form lasting friendships, and even maintain relations with close family members. Physical manifestations of Asperger’s Syndrome include an unwillingness to make eye contact with other people and an inability to understand non-verbal cues. A nudge and a wink or rolling your eyes at someone with Asperger’s is unlikely to elicit any response.

More extreme symptoms are highly ritualized or repetitive patterns of behavior. Pulling at one’s hair or wringing one’s hands can be compulsive activities that may help a doctor diagnose adult Asperger’s. Schedules are very important to those with AS. Any disruption to their daily routine can cause extreme anxiety.

How To Diagnose Asperger’s in Adults?

There are a variety of methods that doctors and therapists use to assist them in their diagnosis of AS. These will involve interviews and questions about a person’s past and current relationships. Any previous psychological evaluations will be taken into account. Sometimes a family member may be invited to sit in on the session to give feedback as well.

Naturally, the therapist will carefully observe the reactions and behavior of the patient during their time together. It is critical that the therapist have experience with other adults that have been diagnosed with Asperger’s. A child or teenager will exhibit somewhat different symptoms from an adult with AS. The longer an individual has lived with the syndrome, the more likely they are to have altered their behavior and routine to accommodate the condition.

Self-diagnosis is now fairly common in individuals with Asperger’s. It has only recently reemerged as a developmental disorder that is receiving research funding and media attention. People are reading about AS and seeing the symptoms in themselves. An immense array of information and opinion can be found on the internet. Individuals who think they may have AS will often find checklists, online tests and so forth.

It is not uncommon for a spouse or family member to recognize signs of Asperger’s syndrome in a loved one. They may suggest that the person speak with a family doctor about arranging for a professional diagnosis and formal AS testing.

Adult Asperger’s Test

Formal tests for Asperger’s syndrome involves finding a specially-trained therapist or neurologist with first-hand experience treating adults with Asperger’s. Your own doctor is unlikely to be able to conduct tests for Asperger’s but may be able to recommend a specialist that you are comfortable with. If not, a local autism support center should be able to provide a referral.

Asperger’s syndrome was only recognized and listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) in 1994. Hence, there are relatively few experienced therapists and standardized tests available for suspected AS cases. The criteria that are included in the DSM IV are particularly concerned with “qualitative impairment in social interaction”.

Examples of these behaviors would include an inability to comprehend and utilize common nonverbal cues like a smile, a wink, or a pat on the shoulder. Individuals who look away during conversation or make inappropriate (or no) facial expressions are displaying possible signs of Asperger’s disorder.

Body posture is also carefully observed when testing for adult AS. Does the patient seem hunched over? Are his arms crossed and his legs tucked under the chair? A therapist who is conducting a test for adult Asperger’s will be watching a patient’s body language while listening to their spoken language.

Short of a diagnosis by a medical professional, there are ways to get a quick and dirty assessment of where a subject might fall on the spectrum. Online tests for Asperger’s in adults have helped many thousands of people seeking immediate (albeit preliminary and qualified) answers. One of the most popular of these is our very own Adult Asperger’s Test. While these tests should never be taken as anything more than educational or informative, they can help with a certain amount of guidance in determining if a subject may be an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome. Our Asperger’s test for adults, thorough and well-respected, can be found here.

There will also be tests that focus on intelligence, pencil and paper and computer-based exercises incorporated into the testing program. As we learn more about the condition, the tests and diagnostic tools that are available to doctors will surely improve.

Disclaimer: Aspergers Quiz does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatments. provides information of a general nature and is for educational purposes only. If you have any concerns or question about your own health, you should always consult a doctor or health care professional. By using the Aspergers Quiz website, you indicate your agreement and acceptance of our Terms Of Use.