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What is sensory seeking and sensory avoidance?

Sensory. What is sensory seeking and avoidance? Many new neurodivergent parents hear these words and don't quite understand the concept, so let's talk about it!

Typically, special kids either avoid sensory input or crave it! Sometimes both! How confusing can that be??

Sensory seekers crave deep pressure, running into things (yes, my daughter is three and jumps fr high heights on to a crash pad! Link will be provided later in the blog), spinning,weighted blankets,chewies,etc.

At the same time all the three of mine avoid NOISE at any cost. Toilets flushing, air dryers in bathrooms, vacuum cleaners, repetitive crying, high pitched sounds, the list goes on!

Many special kids also seek out stimming to regulate their emotions in regards to sensory issues. Ah, another word! Stimming?? Stimming is repetitive behaviors the child to regulate their emotions. Just a few are flapping, waking in tiptoes, loud pitched noises, repetitive routines, ecoholaia (repeating the same phrases over and over typically from television shows. Currently my son says.. "I like turtles, I like turtles, I like turtles" and randomly belts out his own language (no, not Spanish, we call it Jack speak). In our home, we allow and encourage stimming as long it is not hurting themselves or someone else.

In addition, many children experience pain differently. In my house we have both! My older does not feel pain. In fact we went to the dentist, the dentist looked at me with a serious face and said, "ma'am, Jackson has a rotting tooth with the nerve exposed, I can't believe he's not crying in pain". We ended up having the tooth pulled along with a few crowns.

On the other hand, my middle child is hyposensitive, meaning, if this child falls, he feels like he's broken a bone. Small owies turn into big events! Sensory is based on how a person experiences noise, touch, smell, pain, light, etc. We shouldn't punish them for it, but rather provide accomodations.

That being said, how can we determine which kind of input we should seek for our child, and which input we should avoid, and how to accommodate this sensory challenge to regulate emotions and behaviors.

Keep in mind. I'm not a doctor. I don't know everything about special needs and I don't claim to, but what I do know is my personal experience with three special kids. So, here we go!

Sensory seekers -

Seekers crave input. They want to run into things, watch things that spin (or spin THEMSELVES), stare at bright light, chew on non edible food items, flip light switches on and off, flap, swing, and jump (among others). Without input these children can struggle with attention, hyperactivity, inability to sit down, irritability, meltdowns among others. Before my youngest has her tutor come over we jump on the trampoline, use the sensory swing, and spin on the swing. I've found that without this "sensory diet" she isn't as cooperative with the tutor. Also, her tutor has instituted a type of education that is working best for her. Essentially she works on academics for a few minutes because she has a very short attention span, then jumps on the trampoline for a bit, that comes back to the academic portion. They do this back and forth for an hour twice per week. Does it work for everyone? No. Do all children require this type of input? No.

In addition, many sensory seekers have a high threshold for pain. In fact, often times, parents have a hard time figuring out in their child is sick or injured because first, they can't effectively communicate they're hurt, and second, it just doesn't hurt them. As an example, my oldest even when he was a baby, wouldn't cry when sick with an ear infection. The only way I knew is he would wake up and there would be yellow infected liquid on his pillow. They happened several times in his life and still does!

Here are a list with links that will provide input.

These are not inexpensive, so a bunch of soft blankets can provide the same sensory experience.

Sensory swing

Sensory bumble with fidgits -

Skywalker Trampolines Mini Trampoline with Enclosure Net

HearthSong Jump2It Fold 'n Store Indoor Trampoline, Holds Up to 180 lbs., 56" L x 35" W x 9" H

Kivik Kids Weighted Blanket 3 lbs 36x48 inches for 20-40 lbs Child,Dinosaur Print Blue Heavy Blanket for Toddler and Children Calming and Sleeping,Blue Dinosaur 36"x48"

Keep in mind, a weighted blanket should only be about 5-12% of a child's weight.

If your child starts to meltdown, use one of these input methods. They can save a meltdown or help the child regulate out of the meltdown. For example, of you see signs of a meltdown approaching, try to use one of these tools to prevent it. Look for cues and signs of an upcoming meltdown! They may pace, flap, change of facial expression, or have behaviors. Eyes are always open!

Sensory avoiders

Sensory avoiders are the exact opposite of seekers. Keep in mind, all children are different, so you may have a combination of sensory seeker and avoider all in one child!

Sensory avoiders don't like noise, light, hard fabric on their skin, being touched, (expectedly or unexpectedly), and clothing at all sometimes. When I go shopping for my oldest I literally walk about the store and feel the fabric on shirts to see if he'll like them. He won't wear thick cotton shirts they have to be thin. I'm pretty sure I look pretty silly walking around the store and touching all of the shirts, but if I don't, he won't wear them! All three of my kids are very sensitive to noise, so we have a stock of noise headphones.

One of the things I make sure Jackson knows is that he can ask people for more space. If they get close to him he has been taught to say "I need space" so providing your child the autonomy to advocate for themselves is so important now, and later in life. Don't get me wrong. This took many years for him to accomplish and he can still struggle with it, but we're making progress!

You can find headphones almost anywhere. Here is what we use.

Also, if your child is sensitive to fabric check out this website for options

I'm hoping this brief overview of sensory seeking and avoidance has provided you with some tools to add to your special needs toolbox. As always, feel free to reach out with to me with any questions concerns or if you would like any kind of suggestions that may help your child.



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