Is Your Child a Sensory Seeker or Avoider? Or Both?
As you sit here reading this article, your brain is analysing input from your environment. The neighbour’s dog may be barking. Or the kids are watching TV in the other room. You may feel a breeze from the ceiling fan, or the weight of your sweater on your body.
Your brain takes this sensory input and filters it by importance. However, for kids with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), this organization process is difficult. Why?
Because their nervous system is overstimulated.
Their brain is unable to determine which sensory input is more important. In an attempt to organize the brain, children with SPD tend to display two different types of behaviours (or even a mixture of both). Some children are sensory seeking while others are sensory avoiding.
As an SPD parent, it is important to recognize which category your child falls into. This will not only help you give your child the sensory input they crave but help them organize sensory input.
Sensory seekers are always looking for stimulation. They have a hard time sitting still, always need to touch something or talk excessively. Often, these behaviours are shrugged off as “typical boy behaviour” or misdiagnosed as ADHD.
Examples of Sensory Seeking Behaviours:
- Loves crunchy and spicy foods
- Problems sleeping
- Constantly roughhousing with siblings or other children
- Craves bear hugs
- Chewing on inedible objects like the remote control or shirt collar
- Do not have a sense of personal space, tend to stand too close
- Smells everything, even bad smells
- Loves running and spinning in circles, merry-go-rounds, and amusement park rides
- High pain threshold
- Constantly bumping into the sofa, walls, or people
- Cannot sit still, constantly fidgets
- Craves visually stimulating TV screens, video games, shiny objects; can watch TV or play video games for hours
- Have a hard time monitoring their own volume
- Doesn’t know their own strength
- Enjoys jumping, hopping, and crashing into things
Sensory Input for Sensory Seekers
- Take your child to the playground. Jumping, climbing, and running are resistive input that their bodies crave.
- Deep Pressure Therapy. Use a weighted blanket/sensory bed sheet or lap pad to put pressure on your child’s sensory receptors.
- Hard Work. Have your child help you with chores around the house. Picking up grocery bags, carrying the laundry basket, and gardening all require strength.
- Vestibular Input. Swinging on playground swings or sensory swing, and hanging upside down stimulates the inner ear.
Sensory Avoiders are opposite of sensory seekers. They are picky eaters, cover their ears, and avoid being messy. They are constantly overwhelmed by their environment and tend to display more ritualistic behaviours.
Examples of Sensory Avoiding Behaviours:
- Avoids hugs
- Won’t wear shoes or certain clothing; easily irritated by tags or specific fabric
- Walks on toes
- Frightened by loud and unexpected noises; covers ears
- Complains about smells
- Does not like being messy or dirty; avoids playing in the sand or dirt
- Picky Eaters
- Like their own personal space
- Does not like water on their face; hates taking a bath or shower
- Worried about being touched by other kids while playing
- Like a routine and changes to that routine can cause a sensory meltdown
- Avoids playground equipment
- Low pain threshold
- Avoids crowds; prefers quiet environments
Sensory Input for Sensory Avoiders
- Sensory friendly clothing. Try to cut off tags, send an extra pair of clothes with your child in case they get messy.
- Introduce textures slowly. Start with dry materials first (like sand, flour, and rocks) and allow the use of tools when using messy materials.
- Deep Pressure Therapy. Tools like weighted blankets/sensory bed sheets and sensory swings put pressure on sensory receptors and have a calming effect on the nervous system.
- Routine is key. Prepare for doctor appointments, haircuts, and any other non-routine activities in advance. Schedule quiet breaks throughout the day and try to reduce noise.
It is important to remember that your child can be both a seeker and an avoider.
Also, remember that your child’s needs may change from day to day, and they should never be forced to participate in any activity. If your child starts having a sensory meltdown, they are not ready. Before trying out these activities, please consult your child’s occupational therapist.