How to Support Proprioceptive Seekers

Proprioceptive seekers crave sensory stimulation via movement, pressure, and physical contact with others. Seekers may seem to need constant stimulation. Seekers may seem to need constant stimulation. However, they tend to become more deregulated as they take in more input. Many seekers experience symptoms associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), such low impulse control, inability to focus, and behavioral problems.

See below for some ways to identify and support proprioceptive seekers.

Proprioceptive Seekers May:

  • Bump or crash into people or objects on purpose.
  • Enjoy rough play and constantly seem to be wrestling with siblings or friends.
  • Tend to stand too close to others or touch others without permission.
  • Crave bear hugs, holding hands, and other kinds of physical pressure.

How to Support Your Proprioceptive Seeker:

  • Assign chores that put pressure on joints, such as carrying groceries or laundry.
  • Encourage safe climbing, jumping, and contact games.
  • Use a weighted blanket and deep pressure therapy when needed.
  • Give hugs, cuddles, or other kinds of physical contact when asked.

Keep in mind that no two children are exactly alike, and most people exhibit both seeking and avoiding behaviors from time to time. If you think your child might be suffering from sensory processing issues, you should seek a professional assessment. The STAR Institute’s Treatment Directory is a great resource that can help you find therapists, doctors, and community resources in your area.

How to Support Interoceptive Seekers

Interoceptive seekers crave sensory stimulation via their own internal bodily cues. Seekers may seem to need constant stimulation. Seekers may seem to need constant stimulation. However, they tend to become more deregulated as they take in more input. Many seekers experience symptoms associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), such low impulse control, inability to focus, and behavioral problems.

See below for some ways to identify and support interoceptive seekers.

Interoceptive Seekers May:

  • Have disproportionately weak reactions to normally bodily cues.
  • Crave interoceptive input and have problems with self-regulation.

How to Support Your Interoceptive Seeker:

  • Work with an occupational therapist or develop self-regulation strategies.

Keep in mind that no two children are exactly alike, and most people exhibit both seeking and avoiding behaviors from time to time. If you think your child might be suffering from sensory processing issues, you should seek a professional assessment. The STAR Institute’s Treatment Directory is a great resource that can help you find therapists, doctors, and community resources in your area.

How to Support Vestibular Seekers

Vestibular seekers are desensitized to movement and gravitational pressure and crave sensory stimulation via constant physical activity. Seekers may seem to need constant stimulation. However, they tend to become more deregulated as they take in more input. Many seekers experience symptoms associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), such low impulse control, inability to focus, and behavioral problems.

See below for some ways to identify and support vestibular seekers.

Vestibular Seekers May:

  • Appear to have hyperactivity or behavioral issues. 
  • Constantly be in motion—running, jumping, spinning, or climbing on furniture, etc.
  • Love being upside down and spinning in circles, but never seem to get dizzy.
  • Engage in fast, impulsive, or unintentionally rough movement while playing.
  • Have trouble concentrating while sitting or be unable to sit still for even short periods of time.

How to Support Your Vestibular Seeker:

  • Play with sensory-rich toys such as swings, bicycles, and trampolines.
  • Provide a variety of seating options, such as exercise balls, or bean bags.
  • Use footstools or resistance bands around chairs to provide stimulation while sitting.
  • Schedule regular times throughout the day to run in place, do push-ups, or do jumping jacks. This can be especially helpful when transitioning from one activity to another.
  • Work with an occupational therapist to develop a sensory diet—a set of physical activities that can be done at home and are tailored to your child’s needs.

Keep in mind that no two children are exactly alike, and most people exhibit both seeking and avoiding behaviors from time to time. If you think your child might be suffering from sensory processing issues, you should seek a professional assessment. The STAR Institute’s Treatment Directory is a great resource that can help you find therapists, doctors, and community resources in your area.

How to Support Auditory Seekers

Auditory seekers are desensitized to sounds in their environment and crave sensory stimulation via loud or repetitive noises. Seekers may seem to need constant stimulation. However, they tend to become more deregulated as they take in more input. Many seekers experience symptoms associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), such low impulse control, inability to focus, and behavioral problems.

See below for some ways to identify and support auditory seekers.

Auditory Seekers May:

  • Seek out loud or busy environments.
  • Seem to always be yelling or speaking too loudly.
  • Make repetitive sounds, such as clapping, tapping, or clicking.
  • Have difficulty focusing on a task without humming or making noise.
  • Prefer to have constant background noise, such as music, TV, or a fan.
  • Insist on listening to TV or music at a volume that is uncomfortable to others.

How to Support Your Auditory Seeker:

  • Encourage playing with instruments and other noise-making toys.
  • Sleep with a fan, quiet music, or white noise machine.
  • Play TV, music, and games at an increased—but safe—volume.
  • Allow listening to headphones while studying or during dull/repetitive activities.
  • Schedule time throughout the day to sing, clap, or listen to music. This can be especially helpful when transitioning from one activity to another.

Keep in mind that no two children are exactly alike, and most people exhibit both seeking and avoiding behaviors from time to time. If you think your child might be suffering from sensory processing issues, you should seek a professional assessment. The STAR Institute’s Treatment Directory is a great resource that can help you find therapists, doctors, and community resources in your area.

Sensory struggles during the winter months

Sensory Struggles in Winter

Winter is here! For many of us, winter is a time of outdoor play, indoor coziness, and creating memories with family and friends. However, winter can bring a whole new set of challenges and for families with sensory needs.

This month, we’re taking a look at some common sensory struggles in winter and offer a few suggestions for keeping your child regulated, engaged, and safe during the cold months. Have another tip? Let us know in the comments!

Challenge #1 – Outdoor Winter Activities

Winter games like sledding, ice skating, and playing in the snow are generally great for seekers, particularly: tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive. However, children with sensitivities and discrimination issues often struggle with these activities.

Proprioceptive and tactile avoiders may be unable to tolerate cold wind on their faces, fast movement, or being close to other children. Visual avoiders may become overwhelmed by the glare of snow and ice. Finally, those with vestibular, proprioception and visual discrimination disorders may have difficulty walking on snow or ice and keeping a safe distance from other children. 

Tips and Tricks:

  • Ease your child into new activities. Hold his hand and practice walking on ice and snow, slowly pull him around the yard in a sled, and help him pack snowballs.
  • Practice new or scary activities at home. Skate on the kitchen floor in your socks, have a snowball fight with socks or stuffed animals, or race to put on your snow gear.
  • Break down overwhelming or scary activities into small, manageable steps. (“First we sit on the sled, second we push, and third we lean back and ride.”)
  • Experiment with outdoor games and activities that don’t require being in close proximity to others, such as geocaching, Pokemon Go, or simply making snow angels.
  • Be mindful of seeking behavior in activities like sledding, skiing, and ice skating. If your child is being unsafe, try to figure out the sensation he’s craving and help him find other ways to achieve it.
  • Wear sunglasses or baseball hats to reduce glare from ice and snow.

Challenge #2 – Winter Clothing and Dry Skin

Even children without sensory issues can struggle with winter clothing. For tactile avoiders, however, getting into winter gear can feel completely overwhelming: sweaters are itchy, boots are heavy, coats are bulky and restrictive. They may find dry, irritated skin to be extremely painful but, along with olfactory avoiders, be unable to tolerate certain lotions or skin care products. On the other hand, those with tactile discrimination disorder and interoception discrimination disorder may not notice cracked or bleeding skin.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Avoid clothing made out of bulky or scratchy materials like wool. Stick to soft, comfortable layers of fleece, cotton, or flannel, and remember to remove the tags!
  • Have your child try on and approve every piece of outdoor gear―coats, hats, gloves, you name it. If you can, buy extras of smaller items in case something gets lost.
  • Find alternatives to uncomfortable items. Experiment with earmuffs instead of hats, hand warmers instead of gloves, or snowboarding pants instead of snow bibs.
  • Apply moisturizer frequently, especially after bathing. If your avoider can’t stand lotion, experiment with body bars, coconut oil, shea butter, or aloe vera gel.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day. Add fruit slices, flavor packets, or seltzer to combat flavor fatigue.

Challenge #3 – Sensitivity to Cold and Heat

Not everyone experiences the sensations of winter in the same way. Tactile avoiders may feel unbearably cold while playing outside or uncomfortably hot in certain types of clothing. On the other hand, tactile seekers may love to play outside on very cold days, hold snow in their bare hands, or take extremely hot showers. Finally, those with tactile discrimination disorder and interoception discrimination disorder may be unable to feel extreme temperatures at all, making them susceptible to frostbite or overheating.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Check in with your child frequently, especially during outdoor play, to make sure he’s not become overheated or becoming too cold.
  • Ease your child into the colder temperatures. Use indoor sensory bins to help him get used to the texture and cold of ice and snow.
  • Be mindful of seeking behavior around extreme cold. Put time limits on outdoor play and make sure gloves, hats, and coats are being worn.
  • Combat feeling cold by taking warm baths, heating up towels or clothes in the dryer prior to dressing, and making hot chocolate after playing outside.

Challenge #4 – New Foods and Smells

For most of us, winter means tweaking our diets to include more hot and multi-textured meals like stews, soups, and crockpot dishes. Many fruits and vegetables are out of season and will have a significantly different taste or texture than they do in the spring and summer. All of these changes can be extremely upsetting to gustatory avoiders and tactile avoiders. In addition to struggling with new foods, olfactory avoiders may be bothered by cleaning, cooking, and other household smells they might not notice when the windows are open.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Introduce new foods slowly and methodically. See our previous article for a step-by-step guide.
  • Have your child help plan and prepare meals. This will get him familiar with new smells, textures, and ingredients without having to taste them.
  • Know your child’s favorite foods and have a way to make them inside. For example, you might buy a George Foreman grill or grill pan to make burgers or hot dogs.
  • Be conscious of cleaning, cooking, and other strong or unpleasant household smells. Open the windows when possible and keep the house well-ventilated.

Challenge #5 – Staying Active

We all have different reactions to being cooped up inside on a cold winter day. Vestibular seekers and proprioceptive seekers may become manic and start bouncing off the walls, while vestibular avoiders and proprioceptive avoiders may become withdrawn and almost completely sedentary. No matter whether your child is seeking or avoiding, engaging in regular physical activity is critical for relieving anxiety, improving concentration, and transitioning between activities.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Schedule times throughout the day to do jumping jacks, stretch, or run in place. This can be especially helpful when transitioning into a new activity.
  • Have a designated area of the house where “rough” play is okay. Include things like pillow forts, obstacle courses, and crash pads, trampolines, etc.
  • Play family games that involve lots of movement, such as Twister, I Can Do That!, and The Floor Is Lava!
  • Have your child help with chores that involve executive functioning and proprioceptive input, such as snow shoveling and carrying groceries or laundry.
  • Experiment with different seating options that increase movement and concentration, such as yoga balls, foam rollers, and balance beams.

Combat boredom by bringing tents, pool toys, and other outdoor equipment inside. Experiment with alternatives to outdoor games, like the Hover Soccer Ball.

Challenge #6 – Changes in Routine

Like any significant disruption, the changes in routine brought on by winter break can be difficult for children with special needs. Without external timekeeping cues such as what class they’re in or where the sun is in the sky, children with interoception discrimination disorder often have difficulty knowing when to eat, when to sleep, and when they need to use the restroom. 

Tips and Tricks:

  • Prepare your child for any changes in routine. What exactly will be changing? What will stay the same? Are there new cues can he look for to know what to do next?
  • Set timers or alarms throughout the day to remind your child when it’s time to eat, use the restroom, or shift to another activity.
  • See our article for building good transition habits for more tips on establishing routines, creating rituals, and managing expectations.

Helpful Resources and Products for SPD

At Twenty-One Senses, our mission is also our passion. As parents and caregivers of children with sensory processing issues, we are dedicated to providing resources and support for families like ours.

As SPD Awareness Month comes to a close, our team would like to take a moment to share just some of the resources and products we’ve found to be particularly helpful over the years. Keep in mind that sensory supports don’t necessarily need to cost money. Get creative and experiment until you find something that works for your family—pushing a laundry basket full of books or groceries around the kitchen is great stimulation for the muscles/joints, and a nook full of pillows can work just as well as a crash pad. The possibilities are endless!

Books and online resources:

A few helpful products:

October is SPD Awareness Month!

What is SPD?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a neurological disorder in which sensory information—such as light, sound, or touch—is either undetected or incorrectly processed by the brain. This often results in either extreme sensitivity or extreme underreaction to normal sensory input, especially in children. Individuals with SPD may also have problems performing certain motor tasks, appear withdrawn and anxious, or exhibit unusually aggressive or thrill-seeking behavior. 

Check out our What Is SPD? page for more information, including specific tips on how to support children with seeking/avoiding behaviors and sensory discrimination challenges.

Did You Know?

Do you have to have autism, ADHD, or some other diagnosis in order to have SPD?

No, sensory processing issues can be—and often are—diagnosis agnostic. However, recent studies have shown as many as 40% of children with ADHD and 75% of children with autism spectrum disorders have significant sensory processing issues.

What causes SPD?

The cause of SPD is currently unknown. Some research suggests there may be a genetic or inherited component. Prenatal/birth complications and environmental triggers have also been named as potential factors.

How do I know if my child struggles with sensory processing?

No two children are alike, and the exact symptoms of SPD can vary widely depending on each child’s surroundings, emotional state, and particular sensitivity. That being said, many children with SPD will show one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch, or smell
  • Poor gross or fine motor skills/coordination
  • Exceptionally high or low pain tolerance
  • Refusal to eat certain foods/gagging while eating
  • Tendency to become distracted or “spaced out”
  • Late or impaired language development
  • Difficulty recognizing others’ physical space/boundaries
  • Difficulty learning new things or following verbal instructions
  • Constant fidgeting, climbing, wrestling, or other “problem” behavior
  • Tendency to become frightened or overwhelmed in busy, crowded environments

If you think your child is struggling with sensory processing issues, contact your pediatrician or teacher for an evaluation. The STAR Institute also has a great symptoms checklist and a plethora of resources to help you learn about SPD and available treatments.

Sensory Spotlight: Interoception (Internal Bodily Awareness)

This is the ninth and final installment in our Sensory Spotlight series.

Interoception is the body’s ability to recognize and interpret its own internal cues, such as hunger, thirst, exhaustion, and pain. Children with interoceptive processing issues typically have disproportionately weak or strong reactions to normal bodily urges, such as feeling hungry or needing to use the bathroom. They may not be able to recognize pain or symptoms of exhaustion, or they might be unable to properly gauge the severity of such symptoms. You can read more about how the interoceptive system works on the STAR Institute’s website.

Like proprioception, interoception is not as commonly recognized as other senses, but it plays a critical role in the body’s ability to regulate and protect itself. It’s how you know when you’re exhausted and need to rest, when you’re hungry and need to eat, or when you’re cold and need to put on a jacket.

See below for a quick guide on identifying interoceptive seeking, avoiding, and discrimination issues in children.

Interoceptive Seekers May:

  • Have disproportionately weak reactions to normally bodily cues.
  • Crave interoceptive input and have problems with self-regulation.

Interoceptive Avoiders May:

  • Have disproportionately strong directions to normally bodily cues.
  • Constantly feel they are hungry, thirsty, or need to use the bathroom.
  • Feel pain more intensely or for a longer duration than others.

Those with Interoception Discrimination Disorder May:

  • Have disproportionately weak reactions—or no reaction—to normal bodily cues.
  • Have a high pain threshold and may not notice when injured.
  • Be unable to register hunger, thirst, or the need to use the bathroom until it’s an emergency.
  • Be unable to detect increased heart rate or breathing and may not feel tired until totally exhausted.

Sensory Spotlight: Proprioception (External Bodily Awareness)

This is the eight installment in our Sensory Spotlight series.

Proprioception, also known as kinesthesia, is the body’s ability to locate itself and its extremities in space using receptors in the skin, muscles, joints, and ligaments. It’s responsible for knowing how much effort to use when performing simple tasks, such as lifting a glass or using a pencil. Children with proprioceptive processing issues may have trouble gauging their own strength, or they may appear clumsy and frequently bump into walls, furniture, or other people. You can read more about how the proprioceptive system works on the STAR Institute’s website.

Proprioception isn’t as commonly known as sight or smell, but it’s a critical component of knowing how your body is positioned in relation to the world around you and how it should be moving. It’s how you’re able to walk up a flight of stairs while looking at your phone or find your way to the bathroom in a dark house.

See below for a quick guide on identifying proprioceptive seeking, avoiding, and discrimination issues in children.

Proprioceptive Seekers May:

  • Bump or crash into people or objects on purpose.
  • Enjoy rough play and constantly seem to be wrestling with siblings or friends.
  • Tend to stand too close to others or touch others without permission.
  • Crave bear hugs, holding hands, and other kinds of physical pressure.

Proprioceptive Avoiders May:

  • Avoid physical contact with others.
  • Appear very timid around peers and avoid physical play.
  • Refuse to play around slides, swings, and other playground equipment.
  • Become anxious in crowded spaces or when standing even somewhat close to others.
  • Be unable to properly assess risk in their physical environment. For example, they may believe they can fall into the small gap between the floor and an elevator.

Those with Proprioception Discrimination Disorder May:

  • Be unable to determine how much force they’re exerting on toys, pencils, etc.
  • Be unable to walk through familiar rooms in the dark without bumping into things.
  • Accidentally hurt themselves or others while playing.
  • Be unable to walk up or down stairs without watching their feet.

Sensory Spotlight: Gustatory (Taste)

This is the seventh installment in our Sensory Spotlight series.

The gustatory system is responsible for the body’s ability to detect the chemicals in food that allow us to differentiate between sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (savory) sensations. While the act of tasting is technically limited to this chemical process, the gustatory and olfactory senses are closely linked and combine to create what we perceive as flavor. Children with gustatory processing issues may have an unusually high or low appetite or very particular food preparation requirements (served at room temperature, chopped into small pieces, etc.). You can read more about how the gustatory system works on the STAR Institute’s website.

See below for a quick guide on identifying gustatory seeking, avoiding, and discrimination issues in children.

Gustatory Seekers May:

  • Seem to have an unusually large appetite.
  • Chew or suck on inedible objects, such as clothing or toys.
  • Prefer foods with specific flavors, such as sweet, bitter, or spicy.
  • Prefer foods with specific textures, such as crunchy, chewy, or mushy.
  • Enjoy the taste or texture of non-food items, such as Play-Doh, glue, or paint.

Gustatory Avoiders May:

  • Seem to have an unusually low appetite and/or be underweight.
  • Be “picky eaters” and have very specific food preparation requirements.
  • Avoid foods with specific flavors, such as sweet, bitter, or spicy.
  • Avoid foods with specific textures, such as crunchy, chewy, or mushy.

Those with Gustatory Discrimination Disorder May:

  • Be unable to detect flavor or distinguish between flavors.
  • Seem to have an unusually low appetite and/or be underweight.

Note: Contact your pediatrician immediately if you think your child is either eating non-food items or refusing food for any reason other than sensory issues.