Sensory Seeking vs. Sensory Avoiding in Children with Autism

One of the most common differences is in the way they respond to sensory input. Some children with autism are sensory seekers, while others are sensory avoiders. In this article, we will explore the differences between the two and how it can impact your child's development.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
November 26, 2023

Sensory Seeking vs. Sensory Avoiding in Children with Autism

What is Sensory Seeking?

Sensory seeking is a fascinating topic that has been studied in depth for its impact on child development. Children who actively seek out sensory input, as we mentioned earlier, might enjoy loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, and rough play.

They might also enjoy activities that involve jumping, spinning, or other forms of movement. These children seek out these experiences because they provide a sense of pleasure or excitement that they crave.

It's important to note that children with autism who are sensory seekers might have difficulty regulating their behavior and emotions. They might have a hard time sitting still or following directions, which can be challenging for their caregivers and teachers. It's essential to understand that every child is different, and the degree to which they seek out sensory input will vary.

If you suspect that your child might be a sensory seeker, it's important to consult with a qualified healthcare professional who can help you better understand their unique needs. There are many resources available online, such as the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, that can provide helpful information and support for families of children who are sensory seekers.

In conclusion, understanding sensory seeking is crucial to providing the right support and care for children who experience it. By recognizing the signs and symptoms of sensory seeking, we can better understand and meet the unique needs of these children.

What is Sensory Avoiding?

Sensory avoiding, on the other hand, is a term used to describe children who actively avoid sensory input. Children who are sensory avoiders might be bothered by loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, or certain textures. They might also avoid activities that involve movement, such as swinging or jumping. Children who avoid these experiences do so because they cause discomfort or anxiety.

It's important to note that children with autism who are sensory avoiders might have difficulty processing information from their environment. They might become overwhelmed by sensory input and have a hard time focusing or completing tasks. The inability to process sensory information can also make it challenging for them to understand social cues or interact with others in a socially appropriate manner.

Parents and caregivers should be aware of the signs and symptoms of sensory avoiding in children with autism. They can work with therapists and other healthcare professionals to develop strategies to help the child manage their sensory issues. There are also many resources available online, such as Autism Speaks, that can provide more information and support for families dealing with sensory issues in children with autism.

child playing with dried leaves

How can Sensory Seeking and Sensory Avoiding Impact Your Child's Development?

Both sensory seeking and sensory avoiding can impact your child's development in different ways. As a parent, it can be difficult to understand what your child is going through when they exhibit these behaviors. However, it is important to recognize that these behaviors are a part of their sensory processing system and can be managed with the right support.

Children who are sensory seekers might have difficulty focusing in school or completing tasks. They might also have a hard time understanding social cues or interacting with others in a socially appropriate manner. This can lead to frustration and anxiety for both the child and the parent.

On the other hand, children who are sensory avoiders might have difficulty processing information from their environment. They might become overwhelmed by sensory input and have a hard time focusing or completing tasks. This can also lead to frustration and anxiety.

If your child is a sensory seeker or a sensory avoider, it is important to understand their needs and provide them with the appropriate support.

This might include providing them with a sensory diet, which is a set of activities that are designed to meet their sensory needs. It might also include working with a therapist who specializes in sensory processing disorder. The therapist can help your child learn how to manage their sensory input and develop coping strategies.

There are many resources available online for parents of children with sensory processing disorder. One such resource is the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation (https://www.spdfoundation.org/), which provides information and support for families.

Another helpful resource is the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder (https://www.spdstar.org/) which provides education, research, and advocacy for individuals with sensory processing disorder.

Tips for Identifying Whether Your Child is a Sensory Seeker or a Sensory Avoider

Identifying whether your child is a sensory seeker or a sensory avoider can be challenging, especially if they have not been officially diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder. However, there are some signs and behaviors that can help you determine which category they fall into.

Sensory Seeking

  • They enjoy loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, and rough play.
  • They seek out activities that involve jumping, spinning, or other forms of movement.
  • They might have difficulty sitting still or following directions.
  • They might touch everything in their environment or put objects in their mouths.

Sensory Avoiding

  • They are bothered by loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, or certain textures.
  • They avoid activities that involve movement such as swinging or jumping.
  • They might become overwhelmed by sensory input and have a hard time focusing or completing tasks.
  • They might cover their ears or eyes to block out sensory input.

It's important to remember that every child is different and may exhibit some behaviors from both categories. If you suspect that your child has sensory processing issues, it's important to consult with a qualified healthcare professional who can provide an accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

The Role of the Nervous System in Sensory Processing

Sensory processing is a complex process that involves the nervous system, which receives and interprets sensory input from the environment. In children with autism, the nervous system can be affected, leading to difficulties in processing sensory information.

The nervous system is responsible for sending signals to the brain when sensory input is received. These signals are then interpreted by the brain, which allows us to respond appropriately to our environment. However, in children with autism, the nervous system can become overwhelmed or under-stimulated, leading to difficulties in processing sensory information.

When the nervous system is overwhelmed, it can lead to sensory overload and cause anxiety and stress. This can cause children with autism to become agitated or withdrawn. On the other hand, when the nervous system is under-stimulated, it can lead to a lack of awareness of their surroundings and difficulty focusing on tasks.

Understanding how the nervous system works in relation to sensory processing is crucial for parents and caregivers of children with autism. By recognizing these challenges and working with healthcare professionals who specialize in sensory processing disorder, parents can help their child learn coping strategies and develop skills that will enable them to better manage their sensory needs.

Sensory-Friendly Home Strategies

Creating a sensory-friendly environment at home can be a game-changer for children with sensory processing issues. By making a few simple adjustments, you can create an environment that is more comfortable and less overwhelming for your child.

Here are some strategies for creating a sensory-friendly environment at home:

  • Create a calm and quiet space where your child can go to decompress when they become overwhelmed.
  • Use noise-cancelling headphones or white noise machines to reduce the impact of loud noises in the environment.
  • Use soft lighting or dimmer switches to help regulate the amount of light in the room.
  • Choose furniture and decor that is comfortable and safe. Avoid items with sharp edges, bright colors, or complex patterns.
  • Incorporate textures that your child finds comforting, such as soft blankets or pillows.
  • Provide opportunities for movement throughout the day. This could include things like exercise balls, trampolines, or swings.
  • Consider using aromatherapy with scents that your child finds calming.

By incorporating these strategies into your home environment, you can help support your child's sensory needs and create a more comfortable living space for everyone. Remember that every child is different, so it's important to experiment with different strategies and find what works best for your family.

Therapies for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder

There are various therapies available that can help children with sensory processing disorder. These therapies aim to improve the child's ability to process and respond to sensory input, as well as develop coping strategies to manage their sensory needs.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy (OT) is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals perform daily activities and tasks. For children with sensory processing disorder, OT can be an effective way to improve their ability to process and respond to sensory input in a more organized manner.

During OT sessions, the therapist will work with the child on activities that are designed to provide the right amount of sensory input. The therapist might also use equipment such as swings or weighted blankets to help the child regulate their responses to different sensations. Over time, these activities can help the child learn how to better manage their sensory needs in everyday life.

Speech Therapy

Speech therapy is another type of therapy that can be helpful for children with sensory processing disorder. Speech therapists work with children who have difficulty communicating or interacting with others due to sensory issues.

During speech therapy sessions, the therapist will focus on developing communication skills such as language, social interaction, and problem-solving abilities. They might also work on improving the child's ability to process auditory information and respond appropriately.

Other types of therapies that might be helpful for children with sensory processing disorder include physical therapy, music therapy, and art therapy. It's important for parents and caregivers to consult with healthcare professionals who specialize in treating children with sensory processing disorder to determine which therapies might be most effective for their child's unique needs.

By incorporating these therapies into their child's treatment plan, parents can help them develop skills and strategies that will enable them to better manage their sensory needs and thrive in everyday life.

Tips for Communicating Your Child's Sensory Needs to Teachers and Caregivers

When it comes to your child's unique needs related to sensory processing, it's essential to communicate effectively with their teachers and caregivers. By doing so, you can help ensure that they receive the support and accommodations they need to thrive.

One way to communicate effectively is by providing specific examples of your child's behaviors and how they relate to sensory processing. For example, if your child becomes overwhelmed by loud noises, let their teacher know that they might need a quiet space to retreat to when the classroom gets noisy.

It can also be helpful to provide information about what strategies work best for your child. For example, if you've found that weighted blankets help them regulate their responses to different sensations, share this information with their caregivers.

Finally, be sure to listen carefully to their feedback and concerns. Teachers and other caregivers might have valuable insights into your child's behavior in different settings. By working together and sharing information, you can create a more supportive environment for your child both at home and at school.

FAQs

Can sensory processing issues only affect children with autism?

No, sensory processing issues can affect anyone, regardless of whether or not they have autism. However, children with autism are more likely to experience sensory processing issues.

How do I know if my child's behavior is related to sensory processing issues or something else?

It can be challenging to determine the root cause of your child's behavior. If you suspect that it might be related to sensory processing issues, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional who specializes in this area. They can help you identify any underlying issues and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Can sensory processing issues be cured?

There is no cure for sensory processing disorder, but there are many strategies and therapies that can help manage symptoms. With the right support and treatment, children with sensory processing disorder can learn how to better manage their needs and thrive in everyday life.

Will my child outgrow their sensory processing issues?

It's possible that your child's symptoms might improve over time as they develop coping skills and strategies. However, it's important to remember that every child is different, and some may continue to experience symptoms throughout their life.

What should I do if I suspect that my child has sensory processing issues?

If you suspect that your child has sensory processing issues, it's important to consult with a qualified healthcare professional who specializes in this area. They can provide an accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan for your child's unique needs.

Final Thoughts

Sensory seeking and sensory avoiding are two different responses to sensory input that are common in children with autism. Understanding your child's needs and providing them with the appropriate support can help them to thrive and reach their full potential. If you are concerned about your child's sensory processing, it is important to speak with a healthcare professional who can provide you with guidance and support.

Sources