When the sensory information that the brain receives does not get organised or processed efficiently, three main clusters of behaviours are generally observed – sensory defensive, sensory seeking and sensory under-responsive. It is important to keep in mind that each person’s response to sensory information is unique and although it may be different to the typical or expected response, it is a real response or reaction for that person and should be acknowledged as such. For example, if a child’s sensory system is sent into a reflexive fight or flight response at the touch of different textures such as sand or playdough, they cannot control this response and telling them that it’s ok and to just give it a go is likely to be more harmful than helpful.
Children who present as sensory defensive can exhibit behaviours such as:
- Responding negatively to light touch sensations
- Avoiding messy play and certain textures
- Appears irritable or fearful when others are close by
- Fearful of using stairs
- Avoids groups movement activities
- Distressed by loud or high pitched noises
- Avoids bright light
- Avoids eye contact
- Over responds to painful experiences
- Can appear stubborn, rigid, inflexible and wilful.
Children who present as sensory seeking, tend to exhibit the following behaviours:
- Touches and feels everything
- Likes to be barefoot
- Gets very close to others and touches them
- Seeks out movement
- Constantly chewing objects
- Can appear aggressive
- School work is often messy and unorganised.
Children who under respond to sensory information, tend to:
- Unaware of messiness on face
- Shows little response to pain from scraps and cuts
- Doesn’t realise if something is dropped
- Lacks inner drive to be active
- Can appear clumsy and uncoordinated.
Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you’d like to:
- organise a staff inservice
- refer a child with sensory processing difficulties to an OT
- share ideas and tips about sensory friendly classrooms.
Written by Madeline Avci. Mum of 3 active boys. Occupational Therapist. Owner of Jump Up for Kids (including Jump Up Outdoors). Madeline is passionate about making the outdoors part of everyone’s day and supporting families to navigate the challenges of our modern world.