Each person with sensory defensiveness develops his own set of
behaviors. Usually combinations of sensory avoidance and sensory seeking behaviors.
The following is a partial list of common symptoms to each of
the sensory systems. These symptoms may differ from mild, moderate, and severe levels.
Types Of Sensory Defensiveness:
People with tactile defensiveness avoid letting others touch
them, and may touch, grab, push others in an effort to control touching. They frequently resist
hair washing and cutting, nail clipping, face washing. They may act like their life is being
threatened when being bathed or dressed. Frequently irritated by clothing, waistbands, certain
fabrics, labels, or new clothes. They may avoid crowds and the unexpected touches that can occur. They
may be agitated or even go into a flight/fight response when bumped by someone
accidentally. They may be unnecessarily rough, bumping, crashing, and tackling on purpose as a way of
seeking sensation. They may be very over responsive or very under responsive to pain. They
often do not like to get their feet or hands dirty.
Some children dislike certain flavors, textures, or temperatures
of food. May be under/or over sensitive to spicy foods. They may avoid putting any objects in
their mouth, or may 'mouth' things, anything, constantly. They may intensely dislike tooth
brushing, and may cry; "It hurts!"
Many children have had a variety of feeding problems since
infancy. They may gag, overstuff, and choke. These are the children who will ‘eat anything’… or
will only eat very few foods.
An irrational fear of change in position or movement. These
children are often fearful of having their feet leave the ground, or having their head tipped
backward. They do not like swings, slides, or any movement that they are not firmly planted. Some
children do not want to learn how to swim, exhibiting the same insecurity when in water. Floating can be frightening for them.
This is a fear and avoidance of certain movement activities due
to poor postural mechanisms.
With this, children may be very oversensitive to light. They may
avoid going outside on sunny days. Complain it hurts their eyes. They startle more easily
and/or avert their eyes or seem to avoid eye contact. They may complain the TV is too bright. The
lights in the house, too bright. Fluorescent lighting may agitate them.
Over sensitivity to certain sounds, or frequencies. They may be
fearful, or irritable when subjected to certain sounds. They may cover their ears and cry.
Vacuums, motors, sirens, water running, toilets flushing, volume on the TV... many different
sounds can trigger a fearful, or aggressive response. Children may even make excessively loud
sounds to try to block out the offensive sounds.
Certain smells may make a child agitated. Smells may be
heightened and acute. May turn away from certain toys, foods, clothing, or people due to they way
they smell. May literally throw up if subjected to smells that make them nauseous.
Okay! Now that we see that there is more to this sensory
defensiveness than just the skin... let's talk about what we can do to help our kids overcome this.
Awareness: The single most
important step, I believe, is becoming aware of the symptoms and behaviors associated with sensory defensiveness. Usually done
with the assistance of a trained OT, who examines a thorough sensory history. Most of these
behaviors have been attributed to something else, other than a negative reaction to sensation.
Once we realize what are reactions, and not a deliberate plan of an obstinate, defiant child, we can
get to work on helping them.
Sensory Diet: This concept
is based on the idea that each child requires a certain amount of activity and sensation to be most alert, adaptable, skillful,
and calm. By careful planning we can use sensory input to help a child feel safe and organized in
thought and movement throughout the whole day.
We use special activities, geared to each child's particular
needs, at intervals during the day. When a disruptive event is about to occur, we can present
specific sensory input, which prepares the child, and prevents a defensive response. We use activities
that are appealing and fun to the child, which are much more effective when the child is
interested and especially when the child himself directs them.
Adult involvement and direction can be limited in that we can
make activities available, set up the environment, and supervise for safety. We often play with
our children, showing them different kinds of appropriate play that will help them.
An example: Ms. Wilbarger suggested for
one technique for Oral Defensiveness. Before each meal and tooth brushing... rub firmly and quickly on the roof of the mouth
with your finger covered with a washcloth. Push down on the lower teeth, or have the child bite
the washcloth to add some jaw muscle movement. This can be done several times a day. Doing
this PRIOR to a meal or tooth brushing may help to prevent the defensive response. If your child has a problem with oral sensitivity, over/or
under... ask your therapist to demonstrate this for you.
Also, ask your therapist to carefully list for you all the different
identified sensitivities, and appropriate play or exercises to help. Each child has different
SENSORY DEFENSIVENESS can be reduced and/or eliminated with the
correct amount and types of activities to address it. As this is reduced, the behaviors that
accompany it, will also be reduced. Keep in mind, therapy is maximized with family involvement.
Copyright © 2004 Michelle Morris. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author:
Michelle Morris is the mother of six, and parent of a child with a
Sensory Processing Disorder. She
is whole heartedly dedicated to promoting awareness and advocacy for families
with SPD children. She has published over 30 articles supporting and
educating parents about SPD.
The SPD Store - Your one stop shop for Sensory Processing Disorder products.
The Out-of-Sync Child
- The parents bible to Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist
- A comprehensive Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist; signs and
symptoms of tactile, auditory, olfactory and oral defensiveness, as well as
proprioceptive and vestibular dysfunction.
Leave Sensory Defensiveness And Return To The Sensory Processing Disorder Home
Contact Us /
Site Map /