Making Sense of the Sensory

There is a lot of information out there on the sensory side of things when you google developmental delays and neuro diversity. Some of it is good and some of it is not, and some of it is just completely overwhelming.

At Play2Talk our first  focus is on identifying and using children’s sensory interests and differences as a way to capture and use their biggest motivations to teach communication and other new skills. In doing so, we attempt to make the sensory side of things a little less complicated, whilst still acknowledging the complexity of each individual’s neurological needs.

If we think about sensory processing as the need for balance and regulation, we are recognising that some children may need to have a different level of input in each area in order to support that balance. Traditionally, there has been a focus on calling these ‘sensory behaviours’ or referring to a child as being ‘sensory’, but in reality this does little to explain and break down these ‘behaviours’ into something meaningful.

So… back to the idea of balance.
We all process the world around us through our sensory systems. There are seven of these, and they need to work together to keep us feeling regulated. For neurotypical individuals, our visual system interacts with our auditory and tactile, alongside our proprioception which tells us where our body is in space and our vestibular system which informs our balance. All of these then interact with out olfactory and gustatory senses (smell and taste) and when everything works together, this is how we process the world around us. 

When young children have delays with their development, they often have differences in their neurological profiles and their sensory systems don’t always work together effectively. This can result in both sensory seeking and sensory avoidant behaviours across different domains,, and can be referred to as ‘sensory processing disorder’.
When first assessing children in Play2Talk, we ask parents to observe their child’s preferences and dislikes in order to see what sensory input they may be seeking, and what they may be avoiding. This is powerful information for supporting parents to capture their child’s attention and build motivating shared play routines. Often, the things that children are seeking out can be used very effectively to support play, social engagement and learning. The things that they dislike can then be avoided, so rather than having an unhappy and disregulated little one, it becomes a far happier play experience for everyone. Parents become the expert in their child’s sensory interests and can build shared play routines around these.
For example, if a child seeks out visual input we can capture their attention and focus through toys and activities that give them this feedback. Conversely, if children are showing auditory sensitivities then we hold out on the nursery rhymes for a while!! 

The ‘sensory side of things’ doesn’t have to be over complicated. Observe your child, see what it is they are seeking out or spending a lot of time doing and build your play around this particular sensory input. Remember, it’s all about balance and once you start providing your child with the input they are looking for, they will be happier, easier to engage and more ready to learn. Most of all, it’s about having fun- so seek out those smiles and look for that laughter!

Dr Ruth Glynne-Owen

November 2020

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