Intro & Visual
My oldest child is on the Autism Spectrum, which means that I have had to get familiar with sensory sensitivities and how to help a little person navigate them. So, for the next four weeks, I thought I’d take you through all the things I’ve learned about sensory needs, in the hope that someone out there won’t have to figure it all out on their own like I did. (Well that, and I put a whole lot of work into the last blog post, so I kinda just wanted to stretch it out and milk it a bit, you know? Blogger’s prerogative?)
Here is where I would like to put the disclaimer that I am NOT a medical professional. I am just a parent sitting on a bunch of information that may be helpful. And I like being helpful.
Introduction to Sensory Needs
Many people struggle with significant sensory needs, including those diagnosed with a Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism, and ADHD. Individuals with Down Syndrome often have vision and hearing issues that can be accommodated with sensory products as well.
Many people, even those without a diagnosis, find they prefer one sense over the others and “seek out” input as a way of calming or stimulating themselves. For some people, massage, music, or delicious foods become must-haves in their lives because of their comfort value. If you are like this, then you are already well on your way to understanding a “sensory-seeker”.
Sensory processing issues can take a few forms. A person can be over-responsive to a certain sense, which causes input from that sense to be overwhelming and even painful. Sometimes this is known as a sensory-aversion.
A person can be under-responsive to a sense, which can cause problems all its own. (Imagine being under-responsive to touch, and not being able to feel when you are being burned by hot water!)
And a person can also be sensory-seeking. This means that they require/crave more input of this sense than the average person. Sensory-seekers are often looking for ways to fill this need, but may hurt themselves accidentally in the process. (A person who is auditory-seeking, for example, may listen to music so loud that they damage their hearing.)
Those with sensory processing issues can often display both aversions and seeking behaviors at the same time. They might be adverse to one sense, but seeking in another.
Many of us are familiar with “the five senses” — vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. There are also two more that that you may have not heard of, but are very important: vestibular, and proprioceptive. (More on them in part 4.)
Today I will start with visual, and will continue with the other senses in the next three parts of this series.
P.S. Just gonna add one more disclaimer here… If you suspect you or your child may have severe sensory issues, it is important to discuss your concerns with your doctor, or Occupational Therapy provider. They can help.
If someone is under-responsive to visual stimuli, they may get accused of “being blind” by their friends and family. This is different from a vision problem requiring glasses, but rather a slower response time in the brain of processing what is being seen. The best “treatment” that I know for under-responsive vision is patience and understanding from family and friends.
If someone has an aversion to visual stimuli, they may become distraught in bright, colorful environments, that they find too overwhelming/stimulating. Ways to be considerate of this is to lower lights, keep rooms neutrally decorated, and allow breaks in a dark place.
If someone is visual-seeking, they will enjoy lights and colors and even appear to be mesmerized by them for long periods of time. They may be very passionate about movies. There are many ways to add visual appeal to an environment. Ideas below.
Things that May Help Visual Over-Responsiveness/Aversions:
- Fluorescent Light Filters
Check with your local fire department before installing
- Alternative Low-Lighting
Such as string or strip lights, lamps, incandescent lights with dimmer switches
- “Sensory Shopping” hours at commercial locations, where stores lower their lights, turn off the music, and refrain from noisy announcements of the speaker system.
- Lights on Dimmer Switches
- Light Filtering or Blackout Curtains
Things that May Help Visual Sensory-Seekers:
- Murals with lots of detail and color
- Mirrors of various sizes, shapes, and magnification.
- Visual-Tracking Wall Panels
Activities or art that provide lots of visual stimulation and eye movement
- Murals & Wall Decals
Shown are some that won’t break the bank!
- Light Effects & Visual-Tracking Art
There are a growing number of budget options for home use
- Visual-Tracking Toys
Toys that require lots of eye movement
- High-Contrast, and Color-Experimentation Toys
Search “Sensory Videos” or “Autism Sensory Therapy” on YouTube
Next week, I’ll talk about auditory (hearing) & tactile (touch) sensory needs, so stay tuned! (And if you haven’t already, consider adding your email address to the the “Subscribe” box on this blog. This is not a newsletter or anything that will flood your inbox. You’ll just receive a notification each each time I publish a new blog post so you don’t miss out.)
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