Sensory

Our senses 

We use our senses on a daily basis to process our environment, however, for some children they are unable to understand their senses or can become overwhelmed with sensory inputs. So what senses are we talking about? Our bodies have 6 senses, they are;

 

  • Visual - the way our eyes view colour, objects etc 

  • Auditory - the way we hear sounds, voices etc

  • Smell and taste - the way we process odours, and the way food and drink feels and tastes

  • Vestibular - this is our sense of balance and how we move in our environment 

  • Proprioceptive - this sense allows us to know where our body is - body awareness. It is the resistance within muscles and joints

  • Tactile - touch is used for a number of things and it is not just limited to certain body parts but exists all over. Touch sense can be used as a protection, i.e. to find out whether something is too hot it is also used to help refine fine motor skills i.e. knowing how much pressure to use when writing with a pen

Sensory overload

Some children may have difficulty processing the sensory inputs in their environment; this is called sensory overload.  Sensory overload is where the brain is either struggling to understand and sort the sensory input/inputs that are being received or struggling to filter the input/inputs in order to carry out a task.  When a sensory overload takes place a child could display the following behaviours;

 

  • Fight behaviour i.e. shouting, hitting themselves, others or objects

  • Flight behaviour i.e. running away or hiding

  • Freeze behaviour i.e. hands over ears, humming and/or rocking

Sensory differences

Not all sensory inputs cause an overload. Some sensory inputs are welcomed and these can assist a child during a sensory overload. It all depends on how hypersensitive or hyposensitive the child is. Some examples are below

 

Hypersensitive

Visual:

  • Dislikes bright lights

  • Distracted by visual information

Auditory:

  • Is easily startled

  • Noise levels feel magnified

  • Talks loudly

Smell & Taste:

  • Dislikes strong tastes

  • Tastes or smells objects, clothes etc

  • Gags easily

Vestibular:

  • Dislikes spinning, jumping

  • Dislikes busy places with lots of movement

  • Avoids feet off ground e.g. avoids swings

Proprioceptive:

  • Dislikes being too close to others, may need to go at front or back of a line/queue

  • Removes self from crowds e.g. busy shops

Tactile:

  • Only likes certain textures

  • Can react aggressively to touch

  • Feels pain and is very sensitive to temperature

Hyposensitive

Visual:

  • Needs more visual information to react

  • Likes bright, reflective or spinning light

Auditory:

  • Enjoys loud music

  • Fails to pick up expected cues

Smell & Taste:

  • Eats non-food items

  • Likes crunchy foods

  • Under reacts to strong smells

Vestibular:

  • Is always on the go

  • Constantly fidgeting/tapping

  • Runs rather than walks

Proprioceptive:

  • Bumps into or trips over things/people

  • Stands too close to others

  • Puts self into small spaces/corners of room

Tactile:

  • Takes firm touch to respond to stimulus

  • Is sometimes heavy-handed

  • Has difficulty responding to pain/temperature

What can help

By exploring your child’s sensory needs and the environment they are in, small changes can be made to make a big improvement in your child’s behaviour.  Children can use negative behaviour as a way of communicating how they are feeling. By incorporating strategies to assist them with their sensory needs, children will learn to develop their communication skills and thrive.  Below is a list of quick fix calming strategies which can help a child during a sensory overload:

 

  • Sitting under a heavy blanket e.g. weighted blanket or a heavy duvet

  • Hands on head and pressing down

  • Slow rocking e.g. rocking chair

  • Squeezing and relaxing a small fidget toy e.g. a ball

  • Snuggling into a small space

  • Using breathing techniques e.g. smells the roses, blow out the candles

  • Stroking something fluffy

  • Squeezing and relaxing hands

  • Bear hug