Making Sense of Senses

* What to look for:

o What sensory experiences does your child seek out?

o What sensory experiences does your child avoid?

o Where does your child struggle?

A Child Can Be:

* Over-responsive

* Under-responsive

* Sensory-craving

* Over-Responsive

o This person is hypersensitive or hyper-alert to sensory input.

o They may be a “sensory avoider”- avoiding sensory input because it is too overwhelming.

o This may be a child who is fearful and cautious or negative and defiant.

o This may also be a child who has a quick, intense “fight or flight” response to harmless sensations.

* Ex: A child covering their ears because something seems too loud to them that doesn’t seem that loud to most others around.

o People with SPD who are over-responsive are often diagnosed as ADHD (predominantly inattentive type) because it looks like they cannot pay attention, but they are actually paying attention to everything…every sound, every touch, every noise, etc. They can be hyper-alert.

o To help a child who is sensory over-responsive:

* Lower the sensory load

* Offer non-messy tactile play (ex: Ziplock bag of finger paint)

* Think, “push-pull-lift-carry”- give them opportunities to get proprioceptive input by pushing, pulling, lifting and carrying objects.

* Have an area for escape from sensory overload (tent, calming corner, bedroom, ect)

* Deep pressure is always better than light touch- avoid tickling, loose fitting clothing, tags in shirts

* Allow the child control during new sensory activities- do not force it.

* Having a consistent routine will help them know when to expect specific sensory experiences. Provide warnings if change to their routine is coming.

* Under-responsive

o This person may be unaware of most sensory input; they do not recognize sensations or respond typically.

o This person may be a “sensory disregarder”- might be inattentive, self-absorbed, or disengaged.

o This may also be a child who has slow, sluggish responses to ordinary sensations; he can appear lost.

o This can also be a child who has limited perception of pain; poor self-protection; may hurt themselves or others unintentionally.

* Ex: A child who does not pay attention when you are speaking directly to them OR a child who does not feel the sense of needing to use the restroom until it’s too late OR a child who hugs you too hard not understanding why they hurt you.

o To help a child who is sensory under-responsive:

* Intense sensory input is needed to get the child in gear.

* So, intensify the sensory load

* Think again, “push-pull-lift-carry”

* Provide deep pressure

* Provide heavy work activities and resistive experiences for active play like tug-of-war and stretching exercise bands. (also oral motor exercises can be great proprioceptive activities: drink smoothie through a straw, blow bubbles, chew big bubble gum, blow pin wheels, chew on a chew tube, blow whistles/kazoo)

* Play peppy, sing-along music

* Provide opportunities for movement- swings, trampoline, running, somersaults, etc.

* Sensory-craving

o This is a child who seems to have a constant response to every novel stimulus

o They are often in constant search for more, more, more; never “filled up” or satisfied

o They appear to be impulsive with dare-devilish behavior and a tendency to get into trouble.

* Ex: A child who wants more volume, more swinging, or one who touches everything.

o People with SPD who are sensory-seeking are often diagnosed as ADHD (predominately hyperactive/impulsive type) because they seem hyperactive as they crave sensory input.

o To help a child who is sensory-craving:

* Gently interrupt activity (ex: child spinning incessantly, gradually stop or reverse their spinning)

* Introduce functional tasks (ex: offer mulch to carry or vacuum cleaner to shove) to help meet the sensory need

* Allow opportunities for sensory input throughout the day- build it into your daily routine

* Switch to another sensory domain:

* Ex: from vestibular spinning to proprioceptive pushing

* OR from proprioceptive pushing to vestibular spinning

* Be aware that you may see all of these three depending on the eight senses.

o Ex. A child may be under-responsive in auditory processing so they may commonly not hear you but be over-responsive in tactile/touch processing meaning that any touch can seem painful to them, and sensory-seeking in vestibular meaning they like to twirl around and around regularly.