The Caregiver’s Guide to Communicating with an Autistic Senior

Humans are gifted to possess five senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Each one helps us to communicate with one another, savor our surroundings and enjoy some of the most basic parts of life. The same five senses, however, are affected and altered by the presence of autism. For that reason, it’s vital for caregivers to understand the most productive means and methods of communicating with an autistic senior.

Communication Issues

Just because a senior has autism does not mean she loses the basic five senses. However, the difference lies in the way a senior expresses herself.  Although seniors with autism can absorb and process each of the five senses, they have problems expressing things through language. That, in a nutshell, is the major barrier senior caregivers must overcome when communicating with an autistic adult.

To effectively communicate with a senior who has autism, it’s important to understand how each of the five senses are intimately affected by the disorder.


Autistic seniors experience hypersensitivity to lights. In addition, certain colors or color patterns can cause a heightened sensitivity. In a home setting, caregivers must pay attention to things like bright and flashing television screens, computers, tablets and smartphones. These can cause eye stress and, in extreme situations, seizures. Pay close attention to body language, as this is how autistic seniors will let caregivers know if lights or patterns become stressors.


Sound is extremely powerful for autistic seniors. Even the slightest ambient noise can elicit a meltdown. Sounds seem to be amplified and, when exposed to a particular offensive noise, provoke negative reactions.  Autistic seniors can’t tune out noises like other people do; they hear and feel each and every sound. Caregivers should be on the lookout for signs like covering of the ears or escalating anxiety.


The sense of touch is compromised due to the presence of autism. Many autistic seniors have altered signals that pulse through their nerves, often causing pain or a negative reaction when touched. In severe cases, even clothing can rub the skin and cause pain. Caregivers and loved ones who understand the way autism affects touch will improve communication.

Taste and Smell

The sensations of taste and smell are amplified by the presence of autism. Things that taste mildly bitter or sour to you will taste extremely bitter or sour to an autistic senior. When something tastes or smells bad to these seniors, the reactions are extreme. Understanding how taste and smell affects a senior with autism will help caregivers understand how to better communicate with them.

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