Understanding Sensory Basics
How Kids in Motion can Help!
Understanding your child’s development and behaviors can be challenging and overwhelming. With many different opinions and suggestions on what your child should or shouldn’t be doing can be stressful and confusing. Although, having the proper resources and education is important to improve your knowledge on ways to help your child develop to the best of their ability and Kids in Motion is here to help.
Difference Between Sensation and Perception
The human body’s ability to gauge, understand, and experience the world is rooted in its ability to sense, filter, and perceive stimuli from the environment. The quality and efficiency at which the body senses, filters, and perceives this incoming information influences how a person will interact with his or her surroundings resulting in development of behavior. Too much information without filtering (hypersensitivity) or too little awareness (hyposensitivity) to environmental stimuli leads to difficulty with regulation, attention, and orientation impacting engagement and participation in daily life tasks. The sense receptors are stimulated creating an electrical impulse that travels through the central nervous system to the brain where the signals can be decoded through a process known as transduction. The Brain’s ability to interpret the incoming information is known as perception. Children with sensory dysfunction are often described as irritable, impulsive, hyperactive, having anxiety, defensive, distractible, and or sensitive.
The proprioceptive system is the information the nervous system receives from the muscles and tendons of the body allowing a person to know where he/she is in her environment. If a child is hypersensitive to proprioceptive input, he/she may be rigid or uncoordinated, avoid playground activities, fatigue easily, spill cups often, and or require extra concentration to complete movement tasks. A child who is Hyposensitive and active with seeking input may be observed to crave hugs, crash/fall, seek out heavy work, and engage in rough house play. A child who is hyposensitive and inattentive can be described as having lack of inner drive for play, may lay on desk, described as a floppy child. They may become alert with heavy work activities including pushing, pulling, lifting, and bouncing.
Movement processing is controlled by our vestibular system, with receptors located inside the inner ear. The vestibular, along with our proprioceptive system, is responsible for our understanding of where the body is in space and how much movement is required for everyday living. Children who appear to seek out a great amount of vestibular input are often described as always “on the go.” The child’s need for activities and fidgeting behaviors could be due to his sensory system seeking input due to high threshold vestibular and proprioceptive system requiring lots of input to be satisfied. A child may also have a high threshold and be unaware of his or her surroundings described as aloof or lazy. Doing activities that give the child this input will assist his/her ability to regulate his/her sensory system.
The tactile system provides information about how our brain perceives input from touch. This includes light touch, pain, temperature, and pressure. A child who demonstrates difficulty with tolerating tactile input with hypersensitivity impacts grooming and dressing tasks often portrayed with aversion to clothing, hair brushing, nail cutting, and teeth brushing. A child who is hyposensitive in tactile discrimination and inattentive may not be aware of the feeling of objects or fabrics, be unaware of pain and temperature change, be unaware of messy hands or face, drop items frequently, and or have poor fine motor skills. A child who is hyposensitive but seeking may not get enough of messy play, bumps, rubs, and or crashes into others, touches people or objects to the point of annoyance, bites and chews on inedible objects such as pencils, sleeves, zippers, etc.
The olfactory system is our sensation of smell. A child with an over responsive olfactory system may complain about smells that others cannot smell. They may get nauseous during family cooking events or have meltdowns at places such as the mall with over stimulating food and perfume smells. A child that is under response to smell may be unaware of unpleasant odors and unable to smell meal. This poses a safety concern as some smells warn us of danger such as gas or fire and impacts our taste to avoid spoiled foods such as milk or cheese. A child who is sensory seeking for smells may constantly sniff people, food, and objects.
The gustatory system is the sensation of taste. A child who is over responsive may avoid certain tastes, textures, and temperatures presenting as a picky eater. He or she may also gag during meals. A child who is under responsive may be unaware of spices or flavors. A child who is sensory seeking may seek out hot or spicy foods, lick objects, and or mouth objects.
The visual system allows us the ability to see. A child who is over responsive to visual stimuli may have poor eye contact, cover eyes, sensitivity to bright light and colors, and is watchful. A child who is unaware may ignore obstacles in his or her path, stare, and or respond slowly to approaching objects. A child who seeks out visual input may love screen time, shiny objects, flickering lights, or watching objects that spin.
Auditory processing allows a person to hear his or her environment and this sense organ is located in the ear. Signs for auditory over responsiveness include frequently covering ears or complaints with loud noises. A child who may be under responsive to auditory stimuli may ignore ordinary sounds or voices appearing to be tuned out. A child who is under responsive but seeking welcomes loud noises and television volume, loves crowded and noisy places, and has difficulty with volume control.
What is the next step?
If you suspect your child may be experiencing sensory differences, please contact your pediatrician for recommendations for occupational therapy. Here at Kids In Motion Pediatric Services we offer free 15-minute screenings with an occupational therapist to see if an evaluation is recommended for your child. Upon evaluation, you and your occupational therapist will work together to create a “Sensory Diet” to help your child regulate in his or her environment. You will learn different sensory strategies to help calm or alert your child as well as have fun doing it.
Kids in Motion Pediatric Therapy clinic provides services in all areas from speech, occupational, and physical therapy to address the signs/symptoms stated above related to Sensory basics.
Speech therapy will help improve your child’s communication skills by learning verbal and/or nonverbal skills. A speech therapist will engage your child in a variety of auditory and verbal stimuli such as story books, picture cards, interactive games, actual objects, etc. using different approaches and techniques to improve language skills. A speech therapist can also teach the use of an augmentative communication devices, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), and American Sign Language. These devices and techniques can improve communication by using pictures and symbols to ask and answer questions when interacting with others.
Occupational therapy will use creative therapeutic activities to increase independence and success in ADL, fine motor, visual motor, and sensory processing skills. Occupational therapist will introduce innovative methods to improve self-dressing, self-hygiene and self-feeding skills. Your child will engage in client centered activities to increase strength and coordination/control in hands and upper extremities to complete age appropriate fine motor and visual motor skills with greater success. Occupational therapist will demonstrate and educate family on variety of sensory diet strategies specific for your child’s needs to improve regulation to perform optimally in everyday activities.
Physical therapy will help improve your child’s strength, coordination, and balance through therapeutic exercise and activities to increase success in age appropriate gross motor skills. Child will also engage in tasks such as obstacle courses incorporating variety of gym equipment to improve motor planning skills. Physical therapist may target gait retraining if toe-walking is present by working on your child’s range of motion, strengthening and incorporating different sensory techniques. Consultation with an orthotist can also be provided if needed.
Still have questions and concerns?
We are committed to helping children of all abilities achieve and live their full potential. With experienced and compassionate Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapists and four locations to serve you, we feel confident that you will be more than satisfied with the care and support your child receives.
Check out our free Interactive Online Screener – once completed, it will respond with ideas to help your child in the areas you specify they might be having trouble with or contact us at 248-684-9610.
Kranowitz, C. (2005) The Out of Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping With Sensory Processing Disorder. New York. The Berkley Publishing Group.
Buckner, MS, OTR, M. K. (n.d.). Therapy Street for Kids. Retrieved February 17, 2016, from www.therapystreetforkids.com
Dunn, W. (2001). The sensations of everyday life: Empirical, theoretical, and pragmatic considerations. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 55, 608-620
Thompson, S.D., Raisor J.M. (2013). Meeting the Sensory Needs of Young Children. Young Children NAEYC,34-43.