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How to spot if your child has sensory needs

Sensory processing is how your nervous system takes in, understands, and reacts to information from your surroundings. It's like your brain making sense of what you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell.  Sensory processing is vital in our everyday tasks, whether it's getting dressed, eating a meal, playing in the park, or even learning new things at school. It's how your child learns to navigate and interact with the world around them.

So, let’s look at the senses:

  • Vision: This is all about how your child sees the world. It's not just about 20/20 vision, but also noticing colours, movement, and depth. A child struggling with visual processing may bump into things or have difficulty with tasks like puzzles.

  •  Auditory: This sense helps us interpret the sounds around us. Children with auditory processing difficulties may seem to 'zone out' in noisy environments or have trouble following verbal instructions.

  • Tactile: The tactile sense is all about touch - from the feeling of a hug to the texture of their food. Some children may be overly sensitive to certain fabrics or dislike getting messy.

  • Gustatory: This is our sense of taste. Children with gustatory sensitivities might be picky eaters, prerrering to stick to certain textures or flavours that are predictable.

  • Olfactory: Our olfactory sense is related to smell. Kids with strong olfactory reactions might be bothered by smells others hardly notice, like a scented candle or certain foods. Once you are aware that things like playdough and wax crayons smell strongly, it can help understand behaviour and aversions.

  • Proprioception: This sense helps us understand where our bodies are in space. If this sense is underdeveloped, children might be clumsy, bump into things, or have a hard time judging how much force to use (like hugging too hard). Good luck doing up buttons when you cant see them!

  • Vestibular: This sense is related to balance and movement. Children struggling with vestibular processing might get dizzy easily, have trouble with activities like riding a bike, or seek out lots of movement.

  • Interoception: This is our body's internal messaging system, letting us know when we're hungry, tired, or need to use the bathroom. Children with interoceptive challenges might struggle to identify and express their needs. For example only going to the bathroom when they are desperate or having a high pain threshold.


Sensory Seekers

Some kids are 'sensory seekers', they seem fearless, constantly on the move, and might chew on things more than their peers. They're like little adventurers, always seeking more sensory input because their brain isn't reacting as strongly to the signals from their senses.

  • Little awareness of personal space, standing too close to others

  • Walking with loud and heavy footsteps

  • Unaware of own space

  • Seeking out loud noises

  • Roll around on the carpet

  • Can watch the TV whilst dancing

Sensory Avoiders

On the other hand, some kids are 'sensory avoiders'. They might react strongly to loud noises, avoid certain textures or foods, or find playground swings overwhelming. Their brains are getting signals that might feel too strong, leading to what's often called 'sensory overload'.

  • Not liking hugs or kisses

  • Uncomfortable or often surprised by loud noises and bright lights

  • Sensitive to background noises that other people do not notice

  • Not liking swings, slides or other playground equipment

  • Difficulty knowing where their body is in relation to other people and objects

  • Preferring to be in quieter environments and avoiding crowds.


Final thoughts

Identifying sensory needs can help us support the child and identify situations before they become too much. This means we may be able to avoid unnecessary episodes of melt downs and shut downs. If we know what is likely to trigger or calm, we can adapt the environment without putting any 'blame' on the child.

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