The Sensory Seeker: Vestibular – (Movement & Balance)
One of the areas of Sensory Processing Disorder is trouble with the Vestibular sense (that is movement to you and me). My Sensory Seeker is one of the ones who just cannot get enough movement (it also linked to balance but we will talk in terms of movement to keep it simple). One of the things people comment is does he have ADHD – because he is always on the go. Even when playing computer games he is constantly jumping (and I mean for ages), or if he has managed to sit down he is tapping his foot on the floor. He spins around on the spot or tips himself upside-down (usually a headstand on my sofa). He has always been an excessive risk taker – with no fear of heights and climbing really high even when he was really young.
How can you tell that you have a Sensory Seeker in the Vestibular Sense (Movement/Balance):
Rock while standing or sitting
Always on the go!
Jump & bounce a lot
Can’t sit still in the car/ on the mat
Rocking/ movement seems to be the only way to calm them (babies)
Seek out intense movement activities e.g. moving toys, merry-go-rounds, adult spinning, see-saws, hanging upside down
Take excessive risks with moving or climbing
Become overly excitable during movement activities
Runs rather than walks
Is fast but not always well-coordinated
Meeting the needs of The Sensory Seeker for Movement/Balance:
Basically provide as many opportunities for movement as possible. Big movements, not precise as your Sensory Seeker may struggle with this. Encourage movement throughout the day, star jumps, skipping, hopping, dancing (musical statutes is good for the balance part), sing songs with actions etc – something that does not take long and can easily be fitted in wherever you are and whatever you are doing. Try to encourage back & forth movement rather than circular though, as it is more calming. Give them chores which require them to move around (setting the table, vacuuming, setting the table)
Outdoor Activities to encourage Movement/Balance:
Outdoor play is a really good idea – especially if they get a good chance to run. Before school my Sensory Seeker often goes on the trampoline (we have a 14ft so there’s lots of room for plenty of movement). I walk the boys to school – well I walk, my 7 year old rides his bike and my Sensory Seeker goes on his scooter. We found that a 3 wheeled scooter was much easier for him than a bike. Play games with movement – a favourite here is tag, plus we have a swing ball in the back garden. Go for walks – we like to make them more interesting for example by going at night and taking glow sticks. Give them a section of the garden to dig and tend to. Or you may want to think about getting a dog and have your Sensory Seeker take it for walks.
Days out or Activities to help the Sensory Seeker with Movement
I like to keep all my boys active anyway, so it is easy to incorporate movement into our activities. Swimming is good for movement and our Sensory Seeker has a weekly lesson. This is not only good for meeting his movement needs but teaching him a life skill. Rock climbing is another good activity, our local center has special lessons for younger children as well as free climbing times. We love to visit theme parks and other day trips/activities that gives the Sensory Seeker plenty of opportunity for movement (spinning, being tipped upside-down, etc). Other ideas include bowling, ice-skating, canoeing. Our Sensory Seeker absolutely loved Go Ape – plenty of movement and balance.
I would love to hear about other ideas you have for encourage movement into the daily lives of children, to help my Sensory Seeker with his Vestibular sense.
This page was originally featured on Pinkoddy but has been updated for this blog.
For children with Sensory Processing Disorder parties are a whole different ball game. I am so proud of how far my Sensory Seeker has come with coping with them. In fact I would go as far to say that at the last party the parents who do not know him would never have thought that he has any additional needs at all. There were signs there (a bit of spinning on the floor and ok maybe the rubbing a cookie on his head) but nothing that couldn’t be put down to a quirky five year old. Of course the problems can change from child to child with Sensory Processing Disorder, and the same child at different times, dependent on whether they are seeking or avoiding, and which areas affect them.
I asked for advice from the experts of Sensory Processing Disorder – that is parents and those who have SPD themselves, through Facebook groups and Twitter, on how to prepare your child for a party and how to plan one yourself when consider the child with Sensory Processing Disorder.
You need to consider whether the child is an Avoider or a Seeker
Remember that your child can fit into both of this categories for the different Sensory areas, or at different times.
If you have a Sensory avoider they may not be interested in attending parties at all. They may be anxious before they even get there and then not even want to join in with the party. The Avoider may not eat, want to leave their parent’s side and become easily upset. They may not like the noise, colours, the crowds, the stimulations.
How to help an Avoider with Parties
Talk to the child about the party and what to expect in the days leading up to it. If possible show them visual aids to familiarise themselves with the venue, or read books about parties. You may need to take ear plugs/defenders and/or sunglasses to help block out the lights and sounds.
If it is not your party then make sure the host is aware of your child’s needs. If it is your child’s party then make sure you have means for the primary caregiver to stay with the child (helping with anxiety/safety and encouraging them to join in) and that you have enough help from others to ensure that the other guests can be looked after.
The Avoider may be upset at little things, so keep it simple. Make things quiet, avoid balloons, flashing lights, loud music/noise, just whisper Happy Birthday and have no singing or fuss, as it may be too much for the sensitive auditory system. A small party is easier to control. They may not eat so make sure you have the food they are most likely to eat. Give them a separate quiet room for them to go to.
May want all the stimulations – lots of balloons, colours, sounds, but over stimulate themselves. Or they may like the feel but be scared of the noise when they go pop. They may become over hyped up and excitable, want to touch everything/everyone, may be spinning all over the place and knocking into other people, jumping on balloons trying to make them burst.
My Sensory Seeker can get a bit hyper about when the party is as he has very little understanding of time. What we found worked is that he has “party clothes” and he now understands that we leave for the party after he has got changed into them. Luckily we have never had a problem entering a party as he is a Seeker – he loves the noise, the colours, and atmosphere, always wanting MORE, MORE, MORE. Now his patience and attention has increased he is able to join in with the party games, but a party that has structure is much better for him.
What we do need to be careful is that he does not get too over stimulated. He seems to self-regulate himself now by doing things such as spinning on the floor. I still have to watch that he doesn’t invade other children’s space too much, or if he spins on the floor that there’s room and he’s not going to trip people up. As I mentioned he has trouble visually seeing food he wants but cannot have. To be fair to him he has developed loads in this area and does no longer grab it, I do see him being more anxious/worked up due to it though. I also need to make sure that he does not put too much food into his mouth at once (stuffing). What food is available can be an issue but there’s usually something unhealthy that he will like (typical birthday food either sandwiches and biscuits or chips). He can be a bit messy and try to pile too much food on his plate. I just supervise him and make sure I take him to wash his hands (you could also take wipes but we are trying to encourage him to move forwards and feel he has an association with babies with them). Plenty of sweets throughout really help him as it gives him something oral he can touch and taste.
Planning a Party for a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder
Party Size and Location
When determining the party location you need to consider the time of year (indoors or outdoors), the number of guests you would like (think about whether the child will be under or overwhelmed and how many you can cope with), whether your child needs plenty of space to move around/a small quiet party – as well as your budget. Also will the other guests need someone to stay and supervise them? Are there any access requirements for the Birthday child or their guests? Also consider their developmental ages and abilities as to a venue’s suitability. If there is food included with the venue then does it meet the needs of the party guests?
Personally parties where the food is brought out when it is ready to be eaten suits us better, and it also means that Avoiders will not have the foods’ smells. Also we find cold food is better, as it is dry and not touching. Again you need to consider what the Sensory issues are in regard to the food on making decisions about it, such as whether it is hot or cold, textures and smells. Be careful when it is dished out – my son loves burgers and ketchup but when someone else put his burger in the ketchup he would not eat it.
Time, Duration & Calming down
Consider the time of day of the party, how long your child can handle the sensory input and somewhere/something to help calm them down afterwards. If the child cannot cope with stimulation for long consider having a shorter party. You may want a morning party because the child is anxious about the wait, or you may want a late afternoon party so that it is not long until bedtime.
To help settle down at the end of the party you could put on a film, have an area for playing with Lego, doing some craft or colouring: Use stickers and wax crayons to avoid sensory seekers eating the glue and licking the paint. Or the best calming device we have found technology! (DS or tablet). Or extra stimulus may be needed – such as an obstacle course, a dancing competition, lots of pressure/bear hugs/back rubs.
Party Entertainment & Decoration
The needs of the child with Sensory Processing Disorder are going to greatly determine what kind of party you have, what the entertainment and decorations is going to be like.
To engage the child and keep their attention, whether an Avoider or Seeker, utilising their interests is helpful.
“Does the birthday girl or boy have a love of something – anything… we had a London Bus party one year. Everyone got to take home a beaker, toy bus and pencil crayons.” RosyandBo
A Sensory Seeker is more likely to want music, bouncy castles, a place to run around, lights, balloons, lots of games (musical chairs/statues/bumps) – and so on. Consider the physical abilities of the child (fine and gross motor skills, physical abilities, spatial awareness, developmental ability to cope with losing).
Whilst the Avoider is more likely to prefer quite, calm maybe a craft party, with little stimulus. Use plain paper for pass the parcel to make it less visually stimulating and easier to understand which layer is being unwrapped. Use a small amount of tape so it is easy to undo. Keeping the music/passing short to avoid distractions/over stimulation.
Sensory Seekers want more more more utilise what they are interested in:
Dinosaurs, Superheros, Farm, Neverland, Cooking party, bouncing (castle or trampoline), swimming party, a scavenger hunt, art & craft – have a face painter. We sometimes find our Sensory Seeker does not want the feel of paint on his face or then has to rub it everywhere – we find a cheek or even better his arm suits his needs best.
For the Sensory Avoider how about a calm Movie party – with pillows and blankets laid out with a quiet film. Or a Colouring party with colouring in tablecloths or placemats, or just pictures. For more tips on a Simple Party.
Do you have any party ideas? Or more tips on helping with a Party with a Child with Sensory Processing disorder?
We receive lots of information through all our senses. There are 7 senses which we use and filter out which bits of information we need to make sense of things, and to tell us how to behave. Sometimes we all can struggle with this – such as someone tapping a pen whilst we listen to someone else. But people with sensory integration disorder (or sensory processing disorder) have trouble registering and organising the information, making it difficult for them to learn and function in the World.
There are times when the child is over aroused and needs calming down, or maybe the child is too calm and needs arousing, and it is also normal to switch between the two. This post looks at the sense of Vision.
These are things to bare in mind whilst at school, they can be helped by simply moving the child. Say away from a lot of light streaming in through the windows, or away from the dark story corner – or the opposite – dependent on whether they are seeking or avoiding. It may be the reason why they are screaming that they do not wish to go outside at play time (simply because it is too bright). Or why they have trouble getting to sleep at night, or wake early (light coming into their room).
Poor eye contact
Enjoy the dark
Turn off light switches
Object to going outside on a bright sunny day
Lots of squinting outside in the sun
Hide away from bright light
Can’t find their shoes in a large pile
Comment more than others on changes in lighting (e.g. cloud covering the sun)
Frequently rub, squint or cover their eyes
What we can do to help
Have a ‘time out’ area/ tent (keep it dark)
Sit them away from fluorescent lights, bright posters/ wall hangings, bright windows (Soft, consistent lighting/Minimal bright lights and visually distracting objects/ Natural lighting).
Sparsely decorated rooms
Ask them to collect their shoes/ bag last
They might not be able to follow instructions on posters/ not respond as well to gestures
Allow them to wear hat or sunglasses outside.
Give them an eye mask to help sleep at night.
Blackout blinds or curtains.
Hand flapping/ waving fingers close to their face
Like watching spinning, shining objects
Repeatedly spin bright, reflecting objects
Love to flick lights on & off
Watch repetitive movements e.g. flipping pages of a book, opening/ closing doors & cupboards
Manipulate objects close to their face
Might bump into people or things (too distracted looking at other things)
Lose their place while reading
What we can do to help
Sit them under bright lights/ next to window
Variations in colour
Use visual supports e.g. bright posters, visual schedules
Allow them to play with visual toys & games
Use high colour contrast e.g. dark food in white bowl; hang dark hat on light coloured wall
This is not a sponsored post.
Many thanks to the Children’s Occupational Therapy Gloucestershire Care Services NHS Trust for supply this information and granting me permission to use it.
Understanding The Sensory Seeker begins by knowing more about sensory processing.
About Our Senses
We make sense of the World around us through our senses. We process so much information – about the sounds, smells, textures, our position, what we can hear, how much we are moving, and so on, and then the brain filters out which bits of information we need right now. They then tell us how to respond appropriately. For example, if we take a sip of coffee that is too hot, the senses will tell us not to drink it, to move the cup away from us – what position our body is in, in order to do this. We develop preferences for things, as some sensory input works better for some rather than others. For example, some people may work better listening to music, and others prefer the quiet.
Times when it is Hard
Sometimes this can be harder than others, and can depend on your mood. For example, you may find it harder to ignore that annoying sound when you are trying to concentrate on something difficult, and when you are particularly tired.
About Sensory Processing Disorder
Those with Sensory Processing Disorder have difficulty with the brain filtering out the bits it does not need. The first thing to do when you suspect Sensory Processing Disorder is to keep a diary. Consider things to do with the senses – vision (sight), tactile (touch), auditory (hearing), gustatory (taste), Vestibular (movement & gravity), olfactory (smell) and proprioception (sense of body position, from information received through the muscles, and joints – force, speed and control).
Keep track of when things are good, and when things are not so good. Consider whether the sense may be experiencing too much of something or not enough. What things help to diffuse the situation and what things help in maintaining a happy balance? Make sure you think about the times of day – does it always happen in the mornings? Does it only happen after they’ve been energetic?
How Sensory Processing Disorder Affects Life
Sensory Processing Disorder can affect many aspects of life including hygiene, sleeping, diet, relationships, self-esteem, danger, health, and education. Sensory Processing Disorder never goes away but it can be managed by a good Sensory diet. The earlier it is detected the better. There are many different Sensory Aids available to help.
Seekers often do not sense the movement/noise/touch etc and therefore need to make it themselves, (this is because the brain tells them that there is not enough input from these senses). They may have trouble sitting still and being quiet, always fidgeting and making noises. They may lick or touch things – even if this is a health and safety hazard.