The sensory system plays a crucial role in how children experience and interact with the world around them. For children with autism, this system can work in unique ways. Imagine the sensory system as a portal that gathers information from our senses—like touch, sight, sound, taste, and smell—and sends it to the brain for processing. In children with autism, this processing can sometimes be different. Some children may be extra sensitive to certain sensations, finding them overwhelming or uncomfortable. Others might seek out strong sensory experiences to feel more connected to their environment. Understanding your child's sensory system can help you create a supportive environment where they feel comfortable and safe. By recognizing and respecting their sensory preferences, you can help your child thrive and navigate their world with greater ease and confidence.
What is a SENSORY SEEKER?
A sensory seeker is a term used to describe a child who actively seeks out sensory experiences and stimuli to satisfy their sensory needs. These needs might include a desire for movement, touch, visual input, sounds, or other sensations. Sensory seeking behavior can manifest in various ways. For example, a sensory-seeking child might enjoy jumping on trampolines, spinning, touching different textures, or making loud noises. It's important to understand that sensory seeking is a natural way for some children to explore and engage with their environment.
For parents, recognizing sensory seeking behavior in your child can provide valuable insights into their preferences and ways of interacting with the world. It's essential to support and channel their sensory seeking tendencies in positive ways, such as providing opportunities for safe physical activities or creative sensory play. By understanding and embracing your child's sensory seeking nature, you can help them find joy and comfort in sensory experiences while also promoting their overall development and well-being.
How can I tell if my child is a SENSORY SEEKER?
As parents, understanding your child's sensory preferences can be a fascinating and insightful journey. To determine if your child might be a sensory seeker, observe how they interact with their surroundings. Do they often seek out activities that involve movement, such as spinning, jumping, or climbing? Are they drawn to textures, like touching different fabrics or surfaces?
Notice if they enjoy strong sensory experiences, like playing with Play-Doh, finger painting, or exploring various scents. Pay attention to their reactions to sounds, lights, and other sensory stimuli. If you find that your child actively seeks out and engages with sensory-rich activities, they may have sensory seeking tendencies. Embracing and encouraging their sensory exploration can help you provide a supportive environment that caters to their unique sensory needs, allowing them to thrive and experience the world in their own remarkable way.
What can I do as a parent?
Parents can play an enriching role in supporting their sensory seeking children by engaging in a variety of activities that cater to their unique sensory preferences. Consider creating a sensory-rich environment at home, filled with tactile experiences like sand, water play, or textured fabrics. Encourage movement through activities like dancing, jumping on a mini trampoline, or bike riding. Explore hands-on art and craft projects that involve different textures, colors, and materials, allowing your child to immerse themselves in creative expression. Outdoor play, such as nature walks, exploring different surfaces, or even playing with bubbles, can provide a sensory-rich experience. Providing sensory tools like fidget toys or sensory balls can offer calming input when needed. By embracing these activities, parents can create a safe and stimulating space where their sensory seeker can freely explore, engage, and develop a strong sensory foundation that contributes to their overall growth and well-being.
Engage in active play and make it a routine. Engage your child in activities
like dancing, jumping on a trampoline, or playing catch, which provides the movement input they seek. Take outdoor adventures, exploring nature trails and playgrounds where they can run, climb, and play freely. Enroll them in sports or physical classes for organized movement experiences that also foster social skills. Create indoor obstacle courses or practice yoga and stretching exercises to promote coordination and relaxation. Sensory tools like resistance bands or sensory balls can offer tactile input. Remember, short movement breaks during homework or chores can help them focus better. If possible, set up a swing or hammock at home for swinging fun. Positive reinforcement for their engagement in movement activities can encourage them to explore and thrive. Each child is unique, so observe their preferences and adapt these ideas to suit their needs. Let's embark on this journey of discovery and growth together!
What is a SENSORY AVOIDER?
A sensory avoider is a term used to describe a child who tends to shy away from certain sensory experiences or stimuli due to heightened sensitivity. These children may find certain sensations overwhelming, uncomfortable, or anxiety-inducing. Sensory avoiders might be cautious about touching certain textures, wearing specific fabrics, or being exposed to loud noises, certain movements, or bright lights. It's important to understand that sensory avoidance is a natural response for some children and can be a way for them to manage their sensory sensitivities.
For parents, recognizing sensory avoidance behavior in your child can provide valuable insights into their comfort zones and potential triggers. It's essential to create a supportive environment that respects and accommodates their sensory preferences. By gradually introducing sensory experiences in a controlled and gentle manner, you can help your child build tolerance and confidence. By understanding and embracing your child's sensory avoider tendencies, you can provide the reassurance and guidance they need to navigate their world with greater comfort and ease.
Not recognizing that your child is a sensory avoider can have significant impacts on their well-being and development. Children who experience sensory sensitivities but don't receive appropriate support may face challenges in various aspects of their lives. Unaddressed sensory avoidance can lead to heightened stress and anxiety, as your child may constantly encounter overwhelming or uncomfortable sensations without the tools to cope.
In educational settings, sensory avoiders might struggle to focus or engage in learning due to sensory distractions. This can potentially affect their academic progress and overall enjoyment of school. In social situations, they might avoid certain activities or interactions, leading to feelings of isolation or difficulty forming friendships.
Over time, unmanaged sensory sensitivities could impact your child's self-esteem and self-confidence, potentially hindering their willingness to explore new experiences and opportunities. It's important to recognize and validate your child's sensory avoider tendencies so that you can create a nurturing and accommodating environment. By acknowledging their unique sensitivities and seeking appropriate strategies, you can help your child thrive, build resilience, and confidently navigate the world around them.
How can I tell if my child is a SENSORY AVOIDER?
Understanding your child's sensory preferences is a valuable key to unlocking their world. If you suspect that your child might be a sensory avoider—someone who tends to shy away from certain sensory experiences—it's essential to be attentive to their behaviors and responses. Look for signs like strong reactions to textures, sounds, movements or lights that seem out of proportion, or if they consistently avoid specific situations or activities.
Notice if your child has clothing preferences or if they cover their ears or eyes in response to certain stimuli. Watch for any heightened anxiety, aversions to certain foods, or challenges with transitions. Sensory avoiders might also be sensitive to touch or display limited play preferences.
Recognizing these signs can provide valuable insights into your child's comfort zones and help you create a supportive environment. Validating their sensory experiences and seeking guidance from a sensory specialist or occupational therapist can ensure your child's unique needs are addressed. By understanding and embracing your child's sensory sensitivities, you empower them to navigate their world with greater ease and confidence.
What can I do as a parent?
If your child is autistic and tends to avoid certain sensory experiences, there are proactive steps you can take to provide them with the necessary support. Careful observation of your child's reactions and cues will help you understand which sensory inputs they find overwhelming or uncomfortable. Gradually introducing sensory stimuli and creating a safe, calming space for them to retreat to can be beneficial. Empowering your child with choices and using visual supports like schedules or social stories can reduce anxiety and uncertainty. Collaborating with professionals to develop a personalized sensory diet and providing sensory tools such as headphones or comfort items can also help. Respecting your child's boundaries, offering breaks, and celebrating their successes will boost their confidence. Additionally, sharing your own coping strategies can teach your child effective ways to manage sensory sensitivities. Remember, tailoring these strategies to your child's unique needs is key. By creating an environment that accommodates their sensory preferences, you empower your child to confidently navigate the world.
Can my child be both, a SENSORY SEEKER and a SENSORY AVOIDER?
It's not uncommon for children to display a fascinating blend of sensory seeking and sensory avoiding behaviors. Your child might be one of these remarkable individuals, navigating the world with a combination of curiosities and sensitivities that make them truly special.
Sensory seekers are those who actively seek out sensory input, whether it's through movement, touch, or engaging with their environment in vibrant ways. On the other hand, sensory avoiders may show a preference for quieter, calmer spaces and might shy away from certain sensations that feel overwhelming.
It's essential to remember that your child's sensory journey is as unique as they are. They might revel in the joy of spinning or jumping while feeling uncomfortable with certain textures or sounds. This blend of seeking and avoiding is a testament to their complex sensory system and their individual way of processing the world around them.
As parents, your role is to embrace this unique sensory profile and provide a nurturing environment that accommodates both their sensory seeking and avoiding tendencies. Balance is key. Offer a range of sensory experiences that cater to their seeking desires, while also respecting their need for comfort and calm. By observing and understanding their cues, you can tailor activities and strategies that help them thrive.
Remember, you're not alone on this journey. Occupational therapists and sensory specialists are valuable allies who can offer expert guidance, helping you navigate the intricate landscape of sensory seeking and avoiding. Together, we can create a harmonious space where your child's sensory experiences are celebrated, supported, and cherished.
Reach out if you have more questions.
Your TAR team