There can be a number of common problems when it comes to sensory processing issues for autistic children when they are in the school environment.

These include:


Noise in corridors, dinner halls, playgrounds and classrooms can make it difficult for an autistic person to filter out the important sounds from the general background noise.

Even what might be considered light background noise can be distracting or distressing to some autistic people

Noise sensitivity can make it hard to follow what the teacher is saying, join in with social conversations and focus on other tasks – such as writing or eating


School uniform and PE kit may cause sensory processing distress – as clothing or shoes may feel too tight, baggy, hot or itchy. The feel of the material, labels or seams may be too difficult to tolerate too.


Many autistic people are sensitive to lighting. Lighting levels that might seem fine to a neurotypical person may be highly distracting, visually confusing, distressing or even painful for an autistic person.


Many autistic people can be over-sensitive or under-sensitive to temperatures. Some too may not realise when they are struggling with this.

Basic needs

Autistic children who have problems with interoception (internal sensory processing) may also struggle to recognise when they are hungry, thirsty or need the toilet – or may only realise when the need is very urgent

Many autistic people find certain activities soothing to the senses – and this can have a positive effect on calming emotions and aiding concentration.

What might help:

  • Time-out cards – a card a child shows a teacher who will give them permission to take a break. For example, if the classroom is too noisy, they are struggling to concentrate, they are becoming anxious or overwhelmed
  • Permission to leave lessons early – to avoid corridors at particularly noisy times
  • Access to a calm quiet space – such as a chill out zone or sensory room – and permission to spend time here whenever needed
  • Permission to wear noise cancelling headphones, ear plugs or ear defenders
  • Sourcing more comfortable alternatives of school uniform items. Where these are not available, negotiate a compromise on school uniform with school
  • School staff accepting that some autistic people may need to wear less or more layers of clothing than is usual
  • Prompting children who struggle to recognise they are too hot or too cold to remove or add layers of clothing
  • Allowing and/or prompting autistic children to eat, drink or use the toilet whenever necessary
  • Allowing autistic children to engage in sensory seeking activities– such as fiddling with a sensory toy/object, doodling iff such activities do not distract or annoy other people

For links to all our school related articles, click on the link below:

Supporting your autistic child through school

Close search menu