#11 - Sensory Seeker Activities, Strategies, & Routines

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC August 29, 2018 4 Comments

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Sensory Seeker Activities, Strategies, & Routines

In today’s episode, Rachel and Jessica talk about children who are labeled as “sensory seekers.” There are a lot of misconceptions regarding these children and the reasons behind their “behaviors.” Today, Rachel and Jessica will discuss the underlying reasons why some children seek more input than others, how they can receive the appropriate amount of input to help them be successful in their everyday routines, and demystify the idea that these children are “the bad kids.”

 

Sensory Seeker Activities, Strategies, & Routines

Why does it seem that children require so much stimulation throughout their day? After all, adults don't need to be constantly kept busy. For some children, the extra stimulation is actually necessary for them to feel connected and regulated. It is critical that we help our kids obtain what they need and adopt a new perspective of sensory overload - instead understanding it as an appropriate reaction to an excessive amount of sensory input.

What is a Sensory Seeker?

Individuals with sensory needs are often drawn to places that offer a variety of stimulating sights, sounds, and textures. This is because they need an array of input in order to feel calm and focused. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn't indicate disorder; it's simply indicative of the environment these children find themselves in and their personal requirements for comfort.

Kids with sensory needs usually crave activities or experiences that will help them stay focused and alert. Too much stimulation, however, can leave these children unable to regulate emotions and interact effectively with others around them. To make sure your child is comfortable in any environment they encounter, keep an eye out for their cues of what kind of input they need—whether it be changes to the atmosphere or new opportunities for sensory activity—and incorporate those into their daily routine so they remain regulated throughout each day.

Examples of Sensory Seeking Behavior

You may be unaware that you have the ability to find sensory input in any of your senses. Not only can you seek it, but also refuse it - and still remain a sensory seeker. It might sound complicated at first; however, here are some examples for better understanding:

  • Constant movements such as fidgeting, kicking legs, bobbing the head, jumping, and pacing.
  • Struggling with emotional regulation: anger easily, impulsive reactions, overreactions, irritability, seeming hard to please, etc.
  • Constantly speaking too loudly without being mindful of it can be an issue
  • May display clumsiness
  • Have a lack of understanding for social boundaries and personal space
  • Playing involves roughhousing, and one may be unaware of safety needs while climbing, jumping, or running in different environments
  • Struggle with force modulation: throw balls too hard, write too hard, push things too hard
  • Seek out and/or make excessive noises with their mouths, hands, feet, and/or anything they can find
  • Chew on non-edible items, like their shirts or toys
  • Prefers strong flavored food, crunchy foods, and chewy foods
  • Seek out certain smells
  • Excessively touch people or things in their environment.

Sensory seekers are medically defined as being unresponsive to sensory input, a condition where they don't receive adequate stimulation, despite external activity. As such, they often find themselves subconsciously searching for new sources of information that they may not even be aware of.

It is fascinating how they are attempting to replicate what we feel in our bodies and gain control over their bodily sensations. Despite their arduous effort, these individuals lack the ability to regulate themselves due to an imbalanced sensory system. That's why it is imperative for us to guide them through this difficult process and help them find balance again.

Strategies To Support A Sensory Seeker

Supporting a child with sensory seeking behaviors can be intimidating. However, like any other skill, you have the opportunity to instruct them on how to regulate their body's inputs in an appropriate way! To get started, here are some simple strategies that will help your little one succeed.

Proprioceptive Input

Constructing daily time for heavy work is integral in helping your kid stay emotionally balanced. Heavy work encompasses activities that involve lifting, pushing and pulling objects - it's an excellent way to give them a physical outlet while strengthening their emotional stability. Incorporate strength training into household tasks, such as carrying laundry or rearranging furniture. Planning outdoor activities that involve pushing and pulling are a great way to promote muscle growth too; like sledding down the hill or tending your garden!

Sensory Diets

An occupational therapist can create a custom sensory diet tailored to your child's individual needs, providing them with the focus and energy they need throughout the day. This personalized program consists of carefully chosen activities that provide just the right amount of stimulation so they're able to handle all their daily obligations - no matter how difficult!

To gain the maximum benefit from sensory integration techniques, it is advised to combine proprioception, vestibular stimulation and other applicable tactics for each child. The precise blend of approaches is highly individualized; some may only require two elements while others would profit from more strategies being included.

If your children are sensory seekers, it is essential to provide them with more weighted activities than usual. In addition to the proprioception they need, many children also require vestibular stimulation. That is why it is important that you both supply sufficient proprioception and balance out any excessive amounts of vestibular activity encountered regularly.

Zones of Regulation

The Zones of Regulation is an evidence-based system that provides students with the skills to manage their emotions, recognize and control behavior, and improve problem-solving abilities. It consists of four distinct zones: Red (high energy/intense feelings), Yellow (caution/unease), Green (calm/concentrated) and Blue (melancholy or low energy). By assisting kids in recognizing how they feel as well as providing them with methods for transitioning between various states, this framework aims to equip children with essential self-regulation tools.

Movement breaks

If you are looking for ways to keep your children engaged in activities that require sitting still, a dynamic modification may be just the solution. Consider incorporating a therapy ball or other movement activities into their tasks - if it works, not only will their focus increase but also their concentration!

Oral motor input

A sensory seeker seeks oral motor input - like sucking, chewing, blowing and biting - to satisfy their sensory needs. Exploring a variety of textures through food or various objects can be just the thing that helps them feel relaxed and more in control. Utilize food items with different temperatures and textures; for example, ice cubes, frozen fruit slices or even crunchy vegetables are great sources

Behavior Is Communication

It is often the case that a child's seemingly off-putting behavior may be reflective of deeper issues. Sensory seeking behaviors are fairly common and should not be ignored or overlooked, which is why it is critical to recognize these signs in order to offer better support. To help you understand how best to do this, consider using some of the following tips and tricks!

1. Practicing Voice Modulation

If your child is having difficulties with excessively loud talking, there are multiple strategies you can use to assist them in recognizing the right level of volume. These include:

  • Teaching kids the appropriate volume to use in diverse settings, such as how loud they should be inside the house versus outside.
  • Make a fun game out of trying to sound different! Talk too loudly, whisper quietly, and try talking in between. Record the video together so that you can revisit it later for a good laugh!
  • Prior to your activity, make sure you communicate your expectations clearly to prepare them for the atmosphere.

2. Model Body Awareness

To help children comprehend the concept of personal space, parents can use visual aids like diagrams or dolls. It is essential to remind them that certain physical activities should not be done in public, such as tickling and overly-active games. By doing this, kids will learn how to appropriately respect other people's boundaries while also gaining a better understanding of their own body limits.

Occupational therapists believe that vibration is a reliable technique for improving body awareness, and clinics are equipped with several different tools to facilitate this. From full-body vibrating machines, massage balls, or the Pure Therapy head massager device-- these innovative solutions can cause an astronomical improvement in your body consciousness! That's probably why vibration therapy continues to gain popularity amongst both physical & occupational therapists alike!

3. Repetition is key!

To ensure students achieve their highest potential, it’s important to foster a learning environment that encourages practice and repetition. Provide them with challenging tasks so they can further enhance their skill set until they feel comfortable, confident and competent in the topic at hand. And when they do succeed? Celebrate those successes by rewarding them generously with positive reinforcement!

Sensory Strategies for Young Sensory Seekers

If you're bringing a sensory-seeking youngster to a public event, here are some simple tips to keep in mind:

  • Make sure they bring along items that provide sensory input such as toys, fidget devices and weighted stuffed animals
  • If the environment is too loud or overwhelming for them, let your child wear noise-reducing headphones which can help to dampen any extra noise from the scenery
  • Allow some physical movement while they’re there, whether it be jumping on the spot or simply pacing back and forth. Sitting in the back or near an exit can give enough space
  • Consider investing in sensory-friendly clothing such as compression vests which help to provide deep pressure touch and allow them to move comfortably without fear of judgement
  • Use a visual rewards chart and visual timers to incentivize the expected behavior and motivate using positive reinforcements
  • Utilizing weighted items before, during, and after activities to help calm their sensory system
  • Offer oral sensory tools, like bubbles, chewy or crunch snack, suckers, or chew necklace

Above all, set aside time to demonstrate and practice the necessary behavior before participating in any activity. Incorporate your child's favorite sensory tool into this process for a more enjoyable experience.

Strategies For Your Older Sensory Seeker

Although there are many commonalities in the sensory needs of children, regardless of age, they often have different approaches to encouragement and motivation your older sensory seeker. For instance:

  • All the weighted things: vests, lap pads, blankets, stuffed animals
  • Flexible seating: wiggle seats or stools, bean bags, rocker seats
  • Age-appropriate sensory chew tools: gum, sucker, chewy necklaces, pencil toppers
  • Positive reward systems using timers, self-monitoring checklists, and an age appropriate behavioral chart
  • Chair push ups, Thera-band or a bouncy band under the chair, or standing.

For our older sensory seekers, it's beneficial to involve them in the dialogue of what type of sensory assistance they prefer. This way, we can better understand their individual needs and create a plan that works for everyone.

Helping Others Understand Your Child's Sensory Sensitivities

As parents of children with sensory needs, understanding the everyday challenges our little ones experience can be difficult to communicate. We may have difficulty getting our family members to comprehend these obstacles that they don't face themselves.

Fortunately, there are several ways we can help others better understand our child's sensory sensitivities. Making sure to provide detailed explanations about the types of behaviors that come with sensory needs and how best to respond is key. Additionally, offering visual cues in the form of a chart or checklist can be helpful when it comes to communicating the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Finally, reinforcing positive behavior with rewards can be a great way to motivate our sensory seeker children.

With these strategies in hand, we’ll have all the tools necessary to help our child find the perfect balance between their sensory needs and those of the world around them. Not only that, but we’ll also be equipping them with the lifelong skills they need to thrive in any environment.

The bottom line is that while helping our sensory seeking children can often seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. With the right tools and strategies, you can help your child learn how to self-regulate and make positive choices for themselves

 

 

BORING, BUT NECESSARY LEGAL DISCLAIMERS

While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.


This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/l, AC, CPRCS, and Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS are Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialists. They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. They specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica and Rachel are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica and Rachel, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.


4 Responses

lisa
lisa

September 26, 2023

I love to get a copy of the handout for family and friends. I am a kindergarten teacher and think this would be a good resource to have for parents and other teachers

Nicole
Nicole

August 17, 2023

Hi Kenisa! This page is our podcast shownotes. Unfortunately, we don’t have product links for this particular episode. Please check out our blog post about sensory seeking:

Click here: https://harkla.co/blogs/special-needs/sensory-seeking-child?pos=1&_sid=67cf7eeda&ss=r

There are links to products there! :-)

Kenisa
Kenisa

August 17, 2023

Hi! Looking for the show notes for this episode with links for the products you discuss (specifically oral).

Thanks so much!

Sarah Glesmann
Sarah Glesmann

April 13, 2022

I can’t thank you guys enough for all the information you provide on your website. Today I listened to episode #11 and about fell out of my seat when I heard the description of sensory seekers. I have twin 6 year old boys who are both sensory seekers. My husband is also a sensory seeker. I now feel so much better equipped to help them. Can you please email me the handout you created to educate others about their condition? I definitely have been told my my own mom that I need to be doing a better job at disciplining my kids, which I have tried, and does not seem to work.
One more question: when describing the sensory seeker you talked about kids who are quick to anger. One of my boys is very quick to get mad. I’ve tried to determine if there is a pattern and what I have observed is: he gets angry when told he can’t do something (ie. drink the bottle of bubblegum tylenol), play computer games, can’t have a snack, has to share with his brother, if his brother pushes the elevator button when he wanted to, etc. When he gets angry, he is completely irrational for a good 15-20 min. He lies on the floor, thrashes, kicks, throws, contorts, etc. He eventually wears himself out and then is ready for a hug and will then tell you the reason he is so mad or sad. I will try to incorporate more heavy work into this day. Do you have any other suggestions or resources to help me?

Thank you thank you thank you. I think you two are great. I love your chemistry.

Sarah

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