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Autism and Temperature Awareness: Winter in Shorts

Updated: Jun 7, 2020

Does the autistic individual you know wear shorts in the winter or sweatshirts in the summer? Find it confusing?

One of the seven criteria that may be met within an autism diagnosis has to do with sensory processing difficulty. You may think there are 5 senses, but we really have 8.

One of the lesser known senses is called interoception. This is the ability of our brains to understand what our bodies are saying to us. Are we hungry, are we tired, are we in pain? Some in the spectrum may show hyper-awareness of physical cues (e.g., being aware and concerned about every little twinge and twitch). Others on the spectrum may show low interceptive awareness (e.g., not realizing her bone is broken, not detecting that his ear is infected until the eardrum bursts).

Part of interoception has to do with temperature awareness. For ASD individuals with low interoceptive awareness (low awareness of what the body is experiencing), it's a struggle to understand temperature sensations. One patient I worked with would drink scalding coffee unless his careworker made sure the temperature had cooled before serving him. Others might walk in barefeet and shorts down the driveway to get mail in a blizzard, and then in the summer turn around and wear sweatshirts in 90 degree weather.

Interoceptive processing deficits may explain many behaviors for the individual in the spectrum. The impact of these characteristics may range from minimal to quite profound. Supportive others and medical teams may help monitor interoceptive issues in the autism individual to preserve health and safety.

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