What is the fuss about Sensory Matters?

Written by Sensory Matters

Published 26 May 2022

We are all sensory beings, and understanding our unique sensory profile can help us understand ourselves and our children, as well as their needs, or reasons for behavior.

Our sensory systems guide our first few months after birth by stimulating so many reflexes which are the building blocks of development. Think of how a baby turns to feed and starts to suck with a light touch to the side of the mouth, or how a sudden noise creates a startle response – which is a protective response. Your baby turning his head leads to arm movements and initiation of reach while deep pressure into the palm of the hand forms that start of bonding as your baby ‘grasps’ your finger. Thus, in effect, our sensory systems support feeding and nourishment for our bodies, protect us from harm, initiate movement for later reach and movement, and form the foundation for attachment!

We see the interaction of sensory input becoming more complex with age – as our toddlers start to move and explore their space they use sensory inputs to gain control of their internal senses – knowing when they need the toilet, when they are hungry and what they want to eat; while movement and exploration form the foundation for motor planning and learning which is crucial as we grow. Also, an understanding of your child’s sensory modulation and regulation leads to the keys we need in supporting discipline and teaching our children how to self-regulate, which in turn forms the foundation for social integration and learning how to concentrate, participate and manage emotional regulation.

The magic and complexity of our children can start to become better understood by spending time learning about our sensory profiles. These are unique and while some children present with sensory processing challenges and disorders, many just have specific needs, that when met, support their ability to cope with developmental demands.

The diagram below indicates the process involved in interpreting and understanding information from the environment through the senses. The green item is the input e.g., a sound. Our brains will then register the information. At this point, your body orientates to the input, and then filtering occurs through the process of sensory modulation where the brain decides whether to ignore, amplify or focus on the input. This is where children may struggle with sensory modulation – being sensory defensive, sensory seeking, or underresponsive to input. From here the information is transported to different areas of the brain for interpreting, processing, organizing a response, and responding – through behavior. Children with challenges in this part of the process may present with dyspraxia or motor planning difficulties. Children with difficulties in sensory modulation and/or concentration and resulting anxiety can also struggle with this process.

As parents, we are familiar with most of our senses, but some are ‘hidden’ or ‘unfamiliar’ to us.

Sight and hearing are our information senses and are often the ones that may result in distractibility or highly reactive responses. They give us quick information about our environments and are also important for learning. Touch and smell are our social senses. This means that they also provide us with information from our environment, but are often used within social settings e.g. playing with others, cuddling with your child, or eating together as a family. Vestibular input, proprioception, and interoception are our regulation senses and give us information about our sense of balance, our body awareness, and our internal feelings e.g. of hunger, being tired, emotions (when I’m feeling anxious I feel my heartbeat, and my stomach ache, or when I’m feeling exciting I feel like jumping and get butterflies).

“Thanks” to covid we have seen first-hand how a lack of movement and lack of social interaction is now causing the ‘pandemic after the pandemic’ with children struggling with language delays, anxiety, inattention, and regulation. Our children – and us- have had less tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive input!

So back to the question – what’s the fuss about Sensory Matters? This aspect of development forms the foundation for so many skills and is vital for typical development. It’s worth fussing about.

Jacqui and Jacklynn

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