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SERENITY SOCIAL & SUPPORT SERVICES

Sensory Seeking & Autism

Updated: Jun 13, 2021

According to Amanda Morin, classroom teacher and early intervention specialist, "sensory input can help stimulate kids to feel less sluggish, soothe an “overloaded system” and help kids feel more organized in their own bodies and in space" (Understood.org).
 

Disclaimer:

This article provides general information only and is not intended to take the place of professional advice.


Serenity is not responsible for the results of decisions made resulting from the use of this information, and we recommend that you discuss your child's situation with their paediatrician.

 

Sensory seeking behaviours are often associated with Autism, ADHD, SPD & other neurodivergences. But what is sensory seeking?


Sensory seeking refers to the seeking out of sensorial experiences typically associated with a want to increase stimuli input (or sensory input) (Autism Spectrum Australia, 2017).


Stimuli is the plural of stimulus; something that causes growth, activity, or reaction (Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press).


So when we talk about stimuli input (or sensory input) in reference to Autism, we often talk about sensory seeking.


 

Stimuli/sensory input


Sensory inputs in reference to Autism include the familiar "five senses":

  • Sight;

  • Feel/Touch;

  • Taste;

  • Sound; and

  • Smell.

However, people with Autism have three other very important "sensory inputs" we don't often talk about in neurotypical contexts;

  • Space;

  • Movement & balance; and

  • Self-awareness.

The corresponding "proper" terms for each of the above sense are:

  • Visual;

  • Tactile;

  • Gustatory;

  • Auditory;

  • Olfactory; and

  • Proprioceptive;

  • Vestibular (Kidsense); and

  • Interoceptive.


We've included the Kidsense explanations of Proprioceptive and Vestibular "inputs" because they might be new to you:

  • Proprioceptive Sense: is the ability to interpret where your body parts are in relation to each other. It uses information from nerves and sheaths on the muscles and bones to inform about the position and movement of body through muscles contracting, stretching, bending, straightening, pulling and compressing.

  • Vestibular sense: is the ability to interpret information relating to movement and balance. The vestibular system uses the semi-circular canals in the inner ear to receive information about movement, change of direction, change of head position and gravitational pull. It receives information about how fast or slow we are moving, balance, movement from the neck, eyes and body, body position, and orientation in space.


Introceptive might also be new to you.


According to Miss. Jaime, OT: "Interoception is our ability to sense what is going on inside our bodies internally. It includes sensations such as thirst, hunger, fatigue, pain, breath, itchiness, nausea, temperature, etc. It also includes our sense of if we have a full bladder or bowel, and if we have “released” it". This is particularly notable for children experiencing toileting issues that can't be explained by other sensory input categories.


Thought they're a mouthful, these terms can be useful to know about when corresponding with NDIS plan reviewers, Paeds, OTs, Speech Paths and other professionals that may be working with your child.


For a more detailed explanation of each of the sensory input types, visit Kidsense and Miss. Jaime, OT.


Finally, here is a list of sensory input examples from Understood.org:

  • Sight: Visual patterns, certain colors or shapes, moving or spinning objects, and bright objects or light.

  • Feel/Touch: Touch from other people, touching and fiddling with objects, tight or soft clothing, and certain textures or surfaces.

  • Taste: Specific tastes (like spicy, sour, bitter, or minty) and textures (like crunchy, chewy, or mushy), chewing or sucking on non-food objects (like shirt sleeves or collars).

  • Sound: Loud or unexpected sounds like fire alarms or blenders, singing, repetitive or specific types of noises (like finger snapping or clapping).

  • Smell: Specific smells. Some kids like to smell everything, while some kids are able to detect — and object to — smells that other people don’t notice.


 

Sensory seeking behaviours


Sensory seeking behaviours, as you might expect by now, include behaviours that can be categorised under one of the "sensory input" categories listed above.


Here is a list of what to look for in a child who is a "sensory seeker" from Understood.org:

  • Standing too close when talking to others and not having a good sense of personal space. [This is something Serenity work on in our first lesson of What's the Buzz? Early Learner's - check out our What's the Buzz? programs here ];

  • Having an unusual tolerance for pain;

  • Walk with loud, heavy steps;

  • Enjoy jumping, hopping, and bumping and crashing into things and people — sometimes to the point of being unsafe;

  • Not know their own strength. (Kids may rip paper when writing, break toys, or hurt others by accident.);

  • Prefer “rough play” on the playground;

  • Touch people and objects often;

  • Seek out or make loud noises; and

  • Chew on shirt sleeves or collars and other non-food items.


 

Sensory seeking & regulation


According to Amanda Morin, classroom teacher and early intervention specialist, "sensory input can help stimulate kids to feel less sluggish, soothe an “overloaded system” and help kids feel more organized in their own bodies and in space" (Understood.org).


Sensory seeking needs aren't a bad thing.


Sensory seeking behaviours are often a child's way of expelling excess/pent up energy or self-soothing (for example, "hand flapping", as explained by The Sensory Toolbox.)


Sensory seeking needs can be managed with "fidget toys", weighted blankets, aroma diffusers, and more formal SBI (Sensory-Based Interventions) such as weighted vests, sensory diets, sensory activity schedules and Wilbarger’s brushing protocol (Autism Spectrum Australia, 2017).


If you're noticing that your child has sensory needs or behaviours, chat with a professional about what those needs might be.





Denali Wright, Serenity Social & Support Services, 2021.

 

Want to stay up to date with our thoughts on sensory seeking behaviours? We create fun infographics to share on Instagram and Facebook so that we can share bite sized snippets of info with Autism parents on the go!



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Sarah Davidson
Sarah Davidson
Oct 03, 2022

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