People with special needs often experience some form of sensory imbalance. Their brains process sensory information differently.
In general, some are sensory seeking, which means they need more sensory stimulation to function. They may like to touch things with different textures, hug people tightly, or move their bodies a lot.
Some are sensory avoidant. These children require less stimulation. They may be extra sensitive to noise and light, do not enjoy certain smells, or shy away from walking on sand or grass.
We have 7 senses. In addition to the senses of sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing, there are also the proprioceptive and vestibular senses.
Proprioception refers to the sense of understanding where parts of the body are in relation to space, while the vestibular sense relates to how the body is able to balance.
6-year old Lucas has ASD and is sensory seeking. That means he under-reacts to sensory input, and he needs more of it to function. It also means he will look for more proprioceptive input, like touching people and hugging them, or crashing into things to feel the sensations in his body. It also affects his vestibular sense. He likes to rock back and forth, jump, or spin around.
Here are some ways we can better support the sensory needs of kids like Lucas.
"Let me play outdoors!"
Movement meets the proprioception and vestibular needs of children. It helps them to better understand where the parts of their bodies are, and also develops their sense of balance.
“Help me get used to different foods”
Children with special needs may be fussier with food. They may find certain textures unappealing and it can be difficult to get them to try new foods. This may affect their nutrition.
One way to introduce a new food is to involve the child in the preparation process. For example, you can go shopping for a vegetable together, then watch a video on where it grows when you get home.
“Find out what calms me and give me time to do that”
Each child is different and will require different strategies to meet their sensory needs. This is why it’s so important to observe the child and notice his responses to his environment carefully.
In Lucas’ case, his parents have noticed his need for more sensory input. His daily routine and environment is set up to facilitate him meeting those needs.
The next time you see a child who seemingly can't keep his hands to himself, or one who appears insensitive to pain, consider that the child may have special needs, which affects his ability to process sensory input. By observing the child's behaviours in different environments, it is possible to gradually understand what sensory stimulation he is seeking or avoiding, and then design suitable interventions.
In the next lesson, we will ride the roller coaster of emotions and learn how we can help kids like Lucas manage and express their emotions.