#243 - 10 Tips if You're Starting Your Sensory Journey!

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC February 15, 2023

#243 - 10 Tips if You're Starting Your Sensory Journey!

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10 Tips if You're Starting Your Sensory Journey!

Whether you’re a new listener and new to the sensory world, or if you’ve been here for a while and are familiar with sensory processing, this episode is full of little tips and tricks for anyone navigating sensory processing challenges! 

The tips that we dive into:

  1. Empathy
  2. Just right challenge
  3. Feeding the senses
  4. Working as a team
  5. In-person OT
  6. Primitive reflexes
  7. Sensory strategies
  8. Sensory breaks
  9. Modifications
  10. Elevator pitch

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Starting Your Sensory Journey

If you are new to the sensory world or just found out your child has sensory processing disorder and don't know what to do next, we want to be a source of guidance by providing an easy-to-follow roadmap that will help get the ball rolling. Don't worry - we've got your back through every step in this journey.

Your child's sensory system may be highly sensitive, or they may seek more sensory input. Most often, what happens is a combination of both. And if you're not familiar with the terms sensory avoider, sensory seeker, and sensory processing disorder, listen to our podcast because we dive into detail about what those look like and what you can do to help your child.

Whether you are new to the sensory world or have been here for a while, there ar essential skills that can help your journey. Furthermore, if you're a therapist looking to assist clients in this area, these pointers serve as an invaluable roadmap. Let's discuss them now!

Foster Empathy

It is paramount to foster empathy. We have discussed this topic in depth on many of our episodes because it is an incredibly vital element.

Picture nails scraping down a blackboard. For some, this sound triggers an intense physical reaction that the rest of us don't experience. This is what it's like for those with sensory processing disorder who find sensations and feelings agonizingly uncomfortable when others might not even notice them.

Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) are hypersensitive to stimuli, leading them to overreact and behave in ways that may appear as misbehavior. It’s important for parents of children with SPD or other sensory processing challenges to remember that their child isn’t deliberately being bad; rather the behavior is communicating a need they have. Therefore it's vital for you as a parent to be present and provide your child security during these moments. By empathizing, understanding and meeting whatever need they're expressing at the moment will strengthen your connection with them.

Feed the Senses

Nourish their senses! But what does this mean? This means that you need to make sure your child's sensory needs are being met. Make it a point to provide them with plenty of stimulating activities throughout the day, such as through our recommended 'sensory diets'. All the information about these diets is available in our show notes for further exploration. It's vital to understand though, that we all have eight senses and they require new stimuli daily!

Chances are your child craves certain types of sensory input. Many children need vestibular stimulation, which they can get by running, jumping and moving around constantly. Some require more proprioceptive activities such as pushing, pulling or chewing to fulfill their needs. Additionally many children seek out tactile sensations by touching everything in sight; while others enjoy olfactory experiences like smelling people and things around them. Hence why it's important for you to put on your "sensory goggles" so that you may recognize the forms of input that your little one yearns for!

Work as a Team

Working collaboratively with your child's school, daycare, therapists and caregivers is key in ensuring that everyone is on the same page. If care for your little one ends up being split among multiple adults during their time away from you, it's essential to clearly communicate the unique sensory needs of each individual kiddo; including special preferences or necessary brain breaks every forty-five minutes.

It is essential that you provide an easily understandable strategy to a person who has no understanding of the sensory world. Writing it down will ensure they know exactly when and how to carry out the steps, essentially providing them with their own roadmap for success.

The most difficult location to enact this is within schools, unfortunately. However, I've heard stories of parents who have found success by meeting with their child's teacher and approaching the situation from a positive team perspective rather than an authoritative one; expressing that their child has difficulty in certain areas and making suggestions for what has been successful in aiding them.

Primitive Reflexes

Primitive reflexes are an essential point of focus when it comes to tackling sensory challenges. When these reflexes remain unintegrated, they can trigger the body's fight or flight response and lead to sensory processing difficulties. It is difficult to determine which came first- did retained primitive reflexes create sensory processing concerns or vice versa? Either way, addressing this issue should be a priority in order for individuals with such struggles to move forward in their lives.

If your child has retained primitive reflexes, then it's time to put in the work and integrate them - you will likely experience a significant improvement in their sensory processing. What is important to remember about these reflexes is that they form the base of a learning pyramid. Primitive reflexes and sensory processing come first, with more advanced academic skills forming the peak on top. Unless this strong foundation for learning exists at its bottom level, accessing higher levels of cognition becomes almost impossible!

Sensory Strategies for Specific Situations

You've already been making strides in helping your youngster get the sensations they crave, which is groundbreaking in and of itself. Now you have certain scenarios where your little one has a hard time and needs specialized tactics for those cases.

For example, swim classes can be intimidating for young kids. The loud noises and echoing in the pool area combined with plenty of visual stimulation often leave our kiddos feeling lost and confused. This unfamiliar environment might even set off their fight or flight responses if they don't know how to swim yet. That's why a supportive atmosphere is key! Even if you've met your child's sensory needs in advance, you will still need to utilize specific strategies to keep them calm. Our go-tos are proprioceptive input, heavy work activities and deep touch pressure - all of which have been proven to be calming for the body and nervous system. So things like a weighted blanket, weighted vest, or animal walks or wall pushups, anything that is heavy, or heavy work to the muscles will be calming to the body. Remember it is very individualized. Some children love the weighted vest. Other children prefer compression clothing; other children prefer animal walks. S

To manage loud environments, noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs can be a reliable source of relief. Furthermore, for oral motor input, chewing gum and using chewable pencil toppers that offer vibration provide tactile feedback. Foods such as crunchy snacks or chewy foods provide added sensory satisfaction.

Take Sensory Breaks Often

Too often, individuals don't think about providing sensory-friendly strategies until their child is in the middle of a sensory meltdown. Instead, take advantage of everyday activities to feed your kiddo's senses consistently throughout the day. Start off with jumping on the trampoline and follow it up with a crunchy breakfast - embedding these little routines into daily life helps prevent any overloads down the line!

Additionally, it's essential that your child is provided with sensory breaks during school. It is best if the instructor has set aside specific times for these throughout the day. When they arrive back home at the end of the day though, make sure to give them a break and do not pressure them with excessive questions or expectations right away; they’ll need some time off after their long journey!


If your child has SPD, it's not because you did anything wrong. There are misfires between their brain and their body that’s causing these challenges and their brain and their body are processing sensory information in a way that's unhelpful.

Hopefully, this is a great roadmap for you to start your sensory journey. And hopefully, these strategies are helpful!

Check out our video about parenting a sensitive child

How to Explain Sensory Processing Challenges and Differences to Others



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.

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