If you have a child with poor sensory registration and/or sensory seeking behavior, keeping him or her safe can be a challenge. Both poor body awareness, as well as overt sensory seeking, create potential for injuries.
Poor Registration of Pain and Temperature
Many children with poor sensory registration are not aware when they are hurt, sick, cold or hot. When this is the case it is really important to be alert to subtle cues, including skin color, respiration, and changes in activity level, etc. Be sure to educate teachers about your child’s poor awareness. Teachers count on a child’s ability to report when they are seriously hurt or sick and your child may not be able to do this. Insist that your child dress appropriately for the weather. One excited mother sent me a picture of her son, who after two years of therapy finally complained of being cold after playing in the snow.
Poor Registration of Body Awareness (Proprioceptive)
The child with poor body awareness often does not have a good sense of where his or her body begins or ends. This child is often described as accident-prone. They have difficulty negotiating space without crashing into, stepping on, or knocking over things. Making their way across a busy classroom can be a real challenge.
- Using deep pressure and proprioceptive activities in therapy and as part of a home sensory diet will help develop your child’s body schema.
- Snug clothing, such as a neoprene vest, Under Armour, or a leotard can help provide feedback about body in space.
- It also helps to keep the child’s environment uncluttered and organized. Avoid breakables and cover sharp corners. Poor grading of movement means that flimsy toys are sometimes inadvertently broken, so chose well made, sturdy toys.
Poor Registration and Sensory Seeking (Vestibular)
These are the children who are driven to engage their environment in ways that are potentially dangerous. This is the three year old with autism whose parents were surprised by a knock at their door one morning. It was their neighbors, informing them that their son was on the roof of their house. Or the six year old, whose mom looked out the window to see him rolling down the hill in a half-barrel. These children certainly are at higher risk for injury as children. However my greater concern is for the untreated sensory seeker as teenagers and young adults. Often they become thrill seekers. They may be driven to engage in behaviors that are potentially very dangerous, such as driving fast, doing daring tricks on skateboard, diving into unknown waters, etc.
- These children need to have a structured daily diet that safely provides the type and degree of vestibular input they are seeking in a way that is organizing. It is usually a matter of trial and error to find what works best for a particular child.
- Vestibular input can include rotary (most intense), orbital, linear, and up-and-down. Optimally the child is in control of the movement, providing sensory motor feedback to the brain.
- Our goal in working with this child is to not only provide the daily input their brain needs to be organized and well modulated, but also to impact how the child’s brain registers vestibular input in the long term.
- For the older child, it is often important to have them involved in a sport activity on a daily basis, preferably one that they can carry into adulthood.
Understanding how your child processes sensory input can provide you insights into how to meet their sensory needs and how to keep them safe.
Bonnie Hacker, MHS, OTR/L
Bonnie is a pediatric occupational therapist with extensive experience working with children with sensory processing disorders. For the past 30 years, Bonnie has been in private practice in the Chapel Hill-Durham area of North Carolina and in 2001, she began Emerge-A Child’s Place