Sensory Seekers

running kid

If your child has a sensory processing disorder, he or she may be sensory craving or seeking intense input. We call kids like this Sensory Seekers – they are highly interested in movement, lights, colors, sounds, smells, and tastes that excites them.

A Sensory Seeker is a child that has a high neurological threshold (or a very big sensory bucket that needs to be filled with sensory input). This child is under-responsive, which makes him want to seek out more sensory stimulation so that he can fill up his sensory bucket. In order for this child to acknowledge, register, or notice sensory input, he requires much more frequent, intense, and longer-lasting input compared to someone with a typical neurological threshold.

“Children who are Sensory Seekers display extreme overarousal with constant movement. They are in your face and in your space.” (Lucy Miller)

A child can be a seeker in any of the sensory systems (tactile, auditory, visual, proprioceptive, vestibular, olfactory). They may:

  • Have a constant need to touch people or textures, even when it’s not socially acceptable
  • Not understand personal space even when kids the same age are old enough to understand it
  • Have an extremely high tolerance for pain
  • Not understand their own strength
  • Be very fidgety and unable to sit still
  • Love jumping, bumping and crashing activities
  • Enjoy deep pressure like tight bear hugs
  • Crave fast, spinning and/or intense movement
  • Love being tossed in the air and jumping on furniture and trampolines

There is an important way to distinguish a “true “ Sensory Seeker. The true seeker is one who becomes more dysregulated with more sensory input Most kids will become regulated with more input but the seeker is the child that runs and jumps around in the backyard for 20 minutes and comes into the house sweating and giggling, running around and appears more out of control than when you sent him outside. The child’s brain (nervous system) is not feeling satiated with a particular sensory input. His sensory bucket did not get filled by running around outside. For the Sensory Seeker, this means even though he has been running outside for 20 minutes, he still needs more.

What should you do to help satiate a sensory-seeking child?

  1. Create organized movement experiences that are goal- directed and purposeful. A child who desires constant movement (vestibular input) must be interrupted with functional tasks or else he is likely to become over-aroused. For example, if running he could be guided to pick up an object, take it to the next station, drop the object, and then run back to the start. Instead of having your child jump on a trampoline, play red light green light on the trampoline and do different kind of jumps for each color light.
  2. Provide activities that have a clear start and stop. Sensory seekers can keep going on and on like an energizer bunny and you will end up having a child that is dysregulated and one that has trouble transitioning. Use a “waiting spot” in between activities, incorporate a visual timer so that your child knows how much time he has in an activity, If the child likes to swing high, swing him only to a certain count (e.g., 5); then have him jump off the swing and pick up a stuffed animal and throw it in a container. Then swing again to the specified count and pick up another object and place it in a different container. The child receives some of the input he is looking for (e.g., swinging,), but it is paired with an organizing game or task.
  3. Incorporate heavy work activities. Many individuals with SS benefit from “slow, heavy work” proprioceptive input. This includes tasks that involve sustained pushing, pulling, and carrying (e.g., Jumping, pulling a heavy wagon, carrying heavy objects, animal walks, wall pushes) input simultaneously. This is usually easy to do because there are many activities that include both vestibular and proprioceptive input ( hanging on monkey bars, jumping on a trampoline, wheelbarrow walks, spinning jumps).
  4. Use small spaces to control activity, especially when playing with friends. Help the child with Sensory Seeking learn personal boundaries when playing with peers. Provide a defined space and make a game out of being able to stop. Construct small spaces like tents or forts to help contain and organize the child during an activity.
INSTEAD OF Make it goal directed Have a clear start and stop
Sit and spin on the desk chair ‘Pick up balls on the right side spin around and throw them in the basket.” “After you pick up 3 balls, stop and spin in the other direction.”
Run around the backyard “How many rocks can you run and find?” “How many rocks can you find and put in a pile in 2 minutes? 1,2,3,…GO!”
Hang upside down on the couch “Hang upside down and pick up a puzzle piece and sit up and put it into the puzzle.” “When the puzzle is completed you are done!”
Bounce on the large ball “Sit on the ball and bounce 5 times with one foot up, then switch feet, do 5 sit to stands and stop, roll forward and touch the floor and backward and touch the floor.” “Repeat the sequence 5 times like a dance and then let’s make up another dance on the ball”

Narrate when you see your child becoming dysregulated. You can say, “I see that your body is moving really fast and it looks like you need a movement break.” This will help your child build self-awareness. You can also narrate after the movement break, “Wow! I notice how calm and organized your body is now and you will be able to sit down and focus on your first homework page. It looked like your body really needed to do those robot spins and wall pushes.”

As your child builds self-awareness, he will be able to independently identify when he needs a break and choose activities that help him feel more organized.

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