Autism and sensory sensitivity

For those who haven’t seen it before, I thought I’d share this video from the National Autistic Society which illustrates how distracting sensory sensitivity can be for people with autism and other neurological differences (this condition is common in people with autism, though of course not every autistic person has it – as you’ll see by the comments posted below the video!)

This video mainly illustrates sensitivity to sound, but as you may know, sensory sensitivity can also involve sensitivity to vibrations, light, colour, taste, smell, touch, texture, sight, etc. – or a combination of these.

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However, just to complicate things, some people with autism also have hyposensitivity, which is when someone is “under-sensitive” to stimuli and has trouble processing information through their senses. Again you can have a combination of hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity within an individual, and this can be impacted by context (e.g. stress).

Of course some people are able to take advantage of the sensitivity that neurological differences can bring, however I think the video cleverly highlights how difficult it can be to concentrate for some people with autism, and why you might find yourself repeating yourself many times to a student or graduate with autism, or why they might find job interviews, job fairs, assessment centres or careers meetings particularly stressful.

It’s very brief and you’ll need headphones on for the full effect.

NAS video – Autism and sensory sensitivity.

Claire Byron, AGCAS Disability Task Group, Newcastle University


Reasonable adjustments at interview


Requesting that ‘reasonable adjustments’ are made for disabled applicants at interview ensures equality of opportunity. Clearly what is appropriate will vary in relation to the sort of post applied for and for each individual. When working with disabled students and graduates a good starting point is to explore the support given and coping strategies which they used to undertake their course at university and also whether there are aspects of the selection process which concern them.

It’s important that candidates’ check what format the interview will take. Will this be a one to one or a panel interview; will psychometric tests be involved; is there a group discussion or a presentation and are there any written tasks? Clearly in order for an employer to make the appropriate adjustments the applicant will need to have disclosed their disability.  There is however, no obligation for them to do this prior to the offer of an interview, unless they are applying to a √√ user and want to take advantage of the interview guarantee scheme.

Adjustments which a disabled candidate might commonly request in the selection process could include allowing extra time on psychometric tests or written exercises, or making materials used available in an appropriate format. It could also be appropriate to ask for short breaks between the various selection elements, especially for candidates whose disability affects the speed of information processing and in some cases, written not verbal instructions.  

Issues such as the layout of the interview room and access to specialist software may be important for a visually impaired candidate, whilst the support of an interpreter may be appropriate for an individual who has a hearing impaired. For those with Asperger Syndrome having clear and precise details of the interview arrangements in advance is important, as is ensuring that there are no unexpected changes to the  schedule. There might also be adjustments needed to the lighting, ventilation or temperature, as some disabled applicants are hypersensitive to sensory input.

Hilary Whorrall, AGCAS Disability Task Group, University of Sheffield Careers Service.