• Autism Help UK

What is the Difference Between Hypersensitivity and Hyposensitivity?

Updated: May 24, 2021

Senses can be processed differently in autistic people. They may find they are over or under sensitive to senses, or both. This is where these words hypersensitive and hyposensitive come in. Below we delve into what these words mean and how they can affect a person.


Hyposensitivity is where a person feels senses faintly as they are receiving little sensory information to process. For example, if you were to eat something spicy, a hyposensitive person may not find it spicy at all and want the food to be even spicier.


Hypersensitive is where a person feels senses strongly. They receive too much sensory information which can overwhelm the person and lead to outbursts. For example, background music in a supermarket can be very intense for a hypersensitive individual.

Hypersensitivity can lead to sensory overload, this is stressful and can cause anxiety. If you would like to learn more about this, read our sensory overload anxiety blog.

Signs of Hyposensitivity and Hyper Sensitivity

Taste (hypotaste or hypertaste)

People experiencing hypotaste may find flavours dull or may not taste anything at all. This is why they prefer spicier flavours and strong foods such as chillies. They also may eat, or put in their mouth, non edible items such as playdough. This is also known as a disorder named pica.

Tips To Help:

  • Make sure to have strong flavoured foods available to snack on.

  • Use a variety of different texture foods for meals.

  • Try including spicier dishes during the week.

  • Keep non-food items, your child tries to eat, out of reach.

  • Teach your child which foods are edible and which are not. Especially items that are dangerous to eat.

People experiencing hypertaste will find flavours to be stronger, with some flavours too overwhelming. This can cause them to gag or potentially vomit. As well as this, they may find certain foods are too rough on their tongue, causing discomfort. This usually results in a restricted diet.

Tips To Help:

  • Provide smooth snacks, such as yoghurts

  • Provide blander dishes that won't overwhelm the taste buds, such as mashed potatoes.

REMEMBER: Whatever dishes you do choose to prepare, whether they are spicier or blander, make sure they provide all the nutrience you or your child need.

Smell (hyposmell or olfactory hypersensitivities)

People experiencing hyposmell love strong scents as they struggle to smell faint scents or any scents at all. This may mean they try to smell everything, and even lick items to get a better sense. As well as this, they may fail to notice extreme odours, including their own body odour.

Tips To Help:

  • Buy strong scented washing supplies (such as body soap and shampoos) to encourage hygiene.

  • If they struggle with body odour, buy strong scented perfumes to help mask bad smells.

People experiencing olfactory hypersensitivities may find that certain smells are amplified, even very faint smells which can cause toileting issues. These smells can become too intense or overwhelming and cause the person to run away from the smell. As well as this, they may prefer to wear the same clothes daily.

Tips To Help:

  • Swap out fragranced items, such as deodorants and shampoos, for fragrance free options.

  • Reduce the use of scented items like candles and air fresheners.

  • Try using fragrance free washing liquid/powder to encourage your child to wear new clean outfits.

Sound (hypohearing or hyperhearing)

People experiencing hypohearing enjoy loud noises. They may create loud noises, such as banging doors, and seek out noisy places to stimulate their hearing. People with hypohearing may find they have partial hearing or none at all. This can make it hard to hear faint noises, such as background sounds.

Tips To Help:

  • Have times throughout the day where you or your child can make as much noise as they want.

  • Use visual aids so they can clearly understand what is being said.

  • Let others know that you or your child has hypohearing so they can communicate effectively.

  • Take up hobbies that involve loud noises, such as playing the drums.

People with hyperhearing dislike loud noises, finding them painful, and may cover their ears, or make repetitive noises, to block out as much loud noise as possible. They may find noises are magnified and are hard to block out, even quite noises such as a conversation far away. As well as this, they may find that noises become muddled up. This, along with the inability to block out noises, can make it difficult to keep track of conversation. However, they may be able to cope with sounds at a normal level.

Tips To Help:

  • Reduce unnecessary loud noises, such as loud phone ring tones.

  • Prepare yourself or your child for loud environments.

  • Use noise cancelling headphones or earplugs- however be careful as doctors recommend against frequent use of headphones and earplugs as a person can become dependent on them.

  • For adults- apply or volunteer in quieter environments, such as the library.

Sight (hypovision or hypervision)

People experiencing hypovision struggle to see objects. They may appear dark or just see the outline of the object. This can cause them to trip over items and appear clumsy. This may mean that when they enter an unfamiliar environment, they will walk around feeling everything to make themselves familiar where things are. As well as this, they love bright lights and vibrant colours.

Tips To Help:

  • Keep room layouts the same to reduce falls and bumps.

  • Get bright and vibrant toys and objects to spark senses.

  • Teach your child not to look directly at the sun, as this will damage their eyesight.

People experiencing hypervision have acute vision which allows them to notice tiny things, such as fluff on the carpet. Their vision may also be distorted, which may make objects and lights appear wavy. As well as this, they tend to hate bright lights and will try to avoid them by looking down or covering their eyes.

Tips To Help:

  • Change out bright fluorescent bulbs.

  • Get sunglasses- this can be especially useful in places where fluorescent lights are used, like supermarkets.

  • Use blackout curtains to reduce sunlight.

Touch (hypotactile or hypertactile)

People experiencing hypotactility enjoy pressure, whether this is from a tight hug or tight clothes, as this helps them to feel. They also may not feel pain or temperature. This can become dangerous, as they might not notice bad injuries. As well as this, they are more prone to self-injuries, such as banging their head against the wall or biting themselves to feel.

Tips To Help:

  • Get a weighted blanket.

  • Have textured toys for your child to play with

  • If your child purposefully bangs their head, get a head protector.

People experiencing hypertactility dislike being touched or the feel of rough textures, including certain foods, as they feel uncomfortable or cause pain. This may mean they refuse to wear certain clothes, especially on hands and feet, or touch certain objects. Since they don't like being touched, it can be difficult to cut fingernails or hair, with some children responding with panic attacks. As well as this, due to their sensitivity, they may hate cold or hot temperature.

Tips To Help:

  • Let your child know if you are about to touch them so they can prepare themselves.

  • Have a sensory box- a box full of different textures your child can gradually feel.

  • Provide smooth textured foods for your child to eat, such as mashed potatoes or yoghurt.

  • Choose clothes that you or your child find comfortable (also remove labels from clothes!).

  • Let your child do any touch involved routines, such as brushing their hair or teeth (based on their age and ability to do these activities).

Balance (vestibular hyposensitivity or vestibular hypersensitivity)

People experiencing vestibular hyposensitivity enjoy and seek out movement. They may rock back and forth, or spin around for long periods of time without getting dizzy.

Tips To Help:

  • Let your child enjoy movements, such as spinning and rocking. Just make sure their area is safe and clear from objects they may bump into.

  • Visit places that encourage this sense, such as parks with seesaws and roundabouts.

People experiencing vestibular hypersensitivities may struggle with balancing and find it difficult to crawl or walk on uneven surfaces as well as getting car sickness easily. They may struggle to control their movement which can make stopping or playing sports difficult. Also, they may fear having their feet off the ground and find that movements, such as spinning, disorientates them.

Tips To Help:

  • Get a motion sickness band.

  • Look forward- when traveling in the car, make sure they have a clear view of the road so they can look forward rather than to the side. This helps a lot with car sickness.

  • If playing sports or games, have a line put down so they have an idea of where to stop.

Body Awareness (proprioceptive hyposensitivity or proprioceptive hypersensitivity)

People experiencing proprioceptive hyposensitivity may find it difficult to judge spaces. This may mean they stand too close to others or they may struggle to navigate a room, bumping into objects and tripping over items along the way. As well as this, they may not be aware of their body senses, such as feeling hunger.

Tips To Help:

  • Use corner protectors so if you or your child does fall, they don't hit sharp edges.

  • Have set timers for body sensations- e.g. a timer for meal times so you or your child knows when to eat and/or a timer for when to use the toilet.

  • Make sure your floor is free from objects and wires to reduce tripping over.

  • Arms length rule- teach how far to stand from others by using their arm to measure distance.

People experiencing proprioceptive hypersensitivity may struggle with their fine motor skills, such as moving small objects or holding a pencil. They may also move their whole body to look at something.

Tips To Help:

  • Play games and activities that build up fine motor skills. For example you could do puzzles, build with building blocks, or use a threading and lacing board.

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