Sensory Processing for Parents

Understanding Sensory Processing:
Many children have sensory processing difficulties. This is because some children have difficulties organising and responding to information coming through their senses. This can affect them in different ways. They can be either overly sensitive to sensory input, under sensitive, or they could possibly be affected by both. As a parent, it can be difficult to understand why your child reacts so negatively to a particular sensation that you find completely normal. It’s important to keep in mind that everybody reacts to sensations differently. Do you like spicy or strong foods? Do you wince when loud noises like alarms go off? Can you concentrate while the TV is on? Do you like rollercoasters? What about hugs? Each of us has different preferences, likes and dislikes. It’s the same with your children! Children with sensory processing difficulties react differently to other children. They either seek out sensation (seeking/seeker), avoid sensations (avoiding/avoider), need more stimulation to react to sensations (registration/bystander) or need less stimulation to react to sensations (sensitive/sensor).

How To Help These Children Learn:
Children who are seeking/seeker usually enjoy touching everything and moving a lot. They work best when they have external stimulation (like fidget toys and sensory boxes) when completing activities.

• Children who are avoiding/avoider usually don’t touch things and don’t participate in things other children their age do. They work best with minimal visual and verbal distractions.

• Children who are registration/bystander usually don’t react or notice things other people do. They work best with lots of clear instructions and a lot of sensory input.

• Children who are sensitive/sensor are usually hesitant to participate in activities that they have never done before and might appear to overreact to sensations. They work best with minimal sensory input and basic prompts.

How To Help These Children Self-Regulate:
Like everyone, children who are
• Seeking/seeker
• Avoiding/avoider
• Registration/bystander
• Sensitive/sensor
All have sensations that they really enjoy, sensations that help them relax and sensations that help them stay alert. Using these can help regulate your child. If you are unsure what things to try, start with things that help you. Do you use candles or scented oils to relax? Does eating sour candy help you stay alert? Does a big hug help you calm down? Does going to the gym help you feel energised? Try these out with your child and see how they react!

Written by KTC Occupational Therapist, Jessica Gray. 

Sensory Seeking vs Sensory Sensitive

What is sensory seeking/sensory sensitive behaviour?

Sensory seekers are under sensitive to sensory input, while sensory avoiders are oversensitive. Some kids may show a combination of these reactions.

Sensory-seeking behaviour is a term used to describe a large class of responses that occur to meet a sensory need. Individuals engage in sensory-seeking as a way to obtain feedback from the environment.

3 Main Types of Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory Modulation Disorder. The child experiences difficulty processing sensory information into appropriate behaviours/responses which match the intensity of the sensory information (Miller, 2006). 

There are 3 types of SMD:
1. Sensory Over-Responsivity (sensory defensiveness) This is where children respond more intensely & faster for longer durations e.g. becoming really upset when touched by another child standing in line (Miller, 2006).
2. Sensory Under-Responsivity – These children show less of a response to sensory input than would be expected for the situation, they take longer to respond and require more intense input before they even respond e.g. having a high pain threshold (Miller, 2006).
3. Sensory Seeking – These children have a intense craving for sensory experiences and will actively seek this out, often in ways that aren’t matched or appropriate to the environment e.g. running around during group time (Miller, 2006).

Sensory-Based Motor Disorder. This is where the child has trouble controlling, planning and supporting their movements into a smooth, coordinated and sequence way.

There are 2 types of SBMD:
1. Dyspraxia – These children have difficult processing sensory information to create physical, unfamiliar or sequenced movements e.g. difficulty riding a bike (Miller, 2006)
2. Postural Disorder – These children have difficulty maintaining enough control of their bodies to meet the demands of a given motor task e.g. difficulty remaining in an upright sitting position for writing tasks (Miller, 2006)

Sensory Discrimination Disorder. This is where the child experiences difficulty distinguishing between similar sensations. They need additional time to process sensory information and their capacity to perceive the information as quickly and naturally as other children do is reduced. For example they may unable to up their buttons or find their pencil in their pencil case without looking (Miller, 2006)

Article from: Sensational OT Kids

Children who have sensory issues may have an aversion to anything that triggers their senses, such as light, sound, touch, taste, or smell. Common symptoms of sensory processing issues may include hyperactivity or frequently putting things in their mouth.

Knowing your child's triggers can help you find ways to help your child cope.

There is a broad selection of sensory tools (also known as sensory toys) available that can help to support both sensory seekers and sensory avoiders. These can include fidget toys, oral support products, weighted items, visual and audio sensory products and much more. To view a full range of products available, visit Sensory Store.