Some children are under-responsive to sensory stimuli. They essentially can end up functioning in one of two ways: either being a “sensory seeker” (you know, those children who are rather bouncing off the walls) or being sort of “bumps on the log”, (essentially because it takes such a high input of sensory input to get them to a normal state that they give up!) but share at their core challenges in processing sensory stimuli.
These children typically crave touch, sometimes repeatedly touching objects. They can be unaware of light touch or unaware that they are messy or dirty or have a runny nose, and have a very high pain threshold. They may mouth objects or even be self-abusive. They often have poor fine motor skills.
Sometimes children who are under-responsive to sensory stimuli have difficulty with auditory processing, say “What?” a lot because they are under-responsive to verbal cues, have a hard time localizing sound, and they like to have any recorded music or media LOUD.
In the department of vision, these children often have poor visual perceptive skills, difficulty discriminating shapes or letters, lose their place when they read or when they are copying something and essentially fatigue with school work. They often like lots of seasoning on food, have poor odor discrimination, and such.
Remember, this is just a very, very general picture and if you think your child is challenged by sensory modulation, please do find a therapist who specializes in sensory integration to provide a more personalized approach.
Proprioceptive activity is still a much-needed ally here, which includes heavy work. Vestibular work such as spinning can cause seizures due to variations in light, and in general must be approached cautiously as spinning and other forms of vestibular work can be calming or alerting, depending upon many variables.
Some children who are sensory seekers have a difficult time really getting their cups filled during traditional school. I have heard colleagues speak of bringing sensory seeking children into a self-contained therapy classroom (padded floors, padded walls and a ton of swings, platform swings) and just letting this child “go” to see how long, without form and just access to the equipment, it would take this child to calm down and be attentive to a task. By some reports, it could take the child an hour and a half to two hours to “calm down”. I personally do not think this is very valid in many ways, because I think energy without form is going to be just this free for all of energy, but it is interesting to see how much input these children’s bodies really need.
There have been some interesting studies regarding the use of sensory input to help children focus in the classroom. I am not endorsing any of these per se, but just passing them on for your own review:
1. Metronome use to aid in concentration. For more information you can see www.interactivemetronome.com and for further information about using music to help the brain, see www.musica.uci.edu Again, I think it is important for children to be able to have complete periods of stillness and silence, but I can understand how this is used in a more traditional setting at points.
2. Encourage the child to have a water bottle with a straw to suck on during work, allow gum chewing or mints during school work. (I personally do allow all of the above in our school, and little mint lifesaver type candy is a huge motivator for my own under responsive child.) There have been actual studies documenting just chewing gum during testing leads to higher test scores. Seriously.
3. Minimize visual stimuli in the classroom. Again, I wonder where the rainbow, garishly bright preschool classrooms originated? Nothing has shown them to be helpful to learning, and in fact, are detrimental. Waldorf Early Years classrooms with their soft walls, natural lighting , natural fabrics and textures fit the bill for learning.
4. Alternative seating equipment – you can find these all over on Amazon and other places. Some therapists use therapy balls in place of chairs, some use discs or air wedges.
5. Providing frequent breaks – we KNOW our kindergarteners need to have breaks about every 15 minutes for optimal learning, and adults themselves need breaks every 50 minutes for optimal learning. In an age where recess is being cut and play is considered an extra, no wonder our children’s senses are under complete assault.
6. Some children with under-responsiveness do well with a weighted lap pad, or other weighted garments. That usually is figured out by a therapist who can supervise such a thing.
Don’t forget your big guns of sensory input – hard, sweaty work; hard work; trampolines, climbing toys, mats for tumbling, and non-competitive extra-curricular activities such as gymnastics, karate, swimming, horse back riding are all recommended traditionally by therapists. I would add to this list BEING OUTSIDE – stomping through streams, crossing logs, hiking up and down grades, rolling through meadows of tall grass, being barefoot in the sand.
I would love to hear your stories about your children who have under-responsive sensory systems and how you have met those needs.