We received a question from a listener and today we’re diving into her and her toddler’s situation! This toddler is a sensory seeker (seeks out heavy work), but also a sensory avoider (avoids certain textures). We talk about: primitive reflexes, sensory diets, vibration, messy play, and MORE!
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A mother is looking for advice on her 19-month-old daughter’s sensory challenges. Her daughter displays sensory-seeking behavior, and the mother is concerned and wants to know how she can improve her support and care.
The daughter has had unilateral hearing loss from birth, and the family is currently receiving in-home support from a government agency to facilitate her learning and overall development. As a result of the program and their observations, they became aware of their daughter’s sensory requirements.
As an infant, the daughter displayed aversion towards diaper changes, certain food textures, and particular clothing types. As a highly active toddler, she still exhibits selectivity toward food and clothing textures. Despite relying on nursing and co-sleeping as emotional regulation strategies, she does not prefer extended periods of holding or cuddling.
The daughter seems highly responsive to tactile input and may also be a sensory seeker as she frequently moves and seeks out activities that involve heavy work. The mother promotes outdoor activities like running, jumping, water play, and other sensory-seeking tasks like climbing, furniture pushing, and massage.
Adding messy play with food during playtime (not mealtimes) would be beneficial to provide more opportunities for tactile stimulation. It is essential if the child has picky eating habits or is oversensitive to tactile input, as it allows her tactile system to learn how to process different types of sensations.
Studies have shown that incorporating citrus smells with visual and multi-sensory activities may help stimulate your sensory system, build stem cells, and improve overall brain function by awakening the mind to prepare it for new skills. With that in mind, here are a few ways to incorporate citrus into your daily activities:
To address the Moro reflex caused by tight tactile hypersensitivity, we can engage the daughter in functional activities that involve placing her head in various positions, such as leaning back or going upside down.
An activity to address the Moro reflex is to have the daughter lie on a small therapy ball in an inverted position, holding onto a toy as her mother aids her in sitting up; then, the daughter can toss the toy at a target. Following this intense vestibular activity, heavy work such as pushing, pulling, and massage should be performed.
Another beneficial activity to consider is crawling. The daughter can crawl through tunnels and forts on the floor to receive full-body proprioceptive input. Consider incorporating vibration as well by using a handheld massage.
You can gently massage the daughter’s arms and legs to increase body awareness before engaging in messy play or sit-down focus activities. Since she’s likely a vestibular and proprioceptive seeker, providing her with more sensory input can help regulate her.
To address the daughter’s picky eating habits, including more oral motor activities in her play routine is recommended. Blowing activities, such as blowing cotton balls across a path created by painter’s tape towards a target, can effectively engage her in these exercises, whether or not she uses a straw.
Another blowing activity that can be helpful is teaching the daughter how to use a straw to create a bubble mountain. To do this, start by demonstrating how to form the mouth for blowing and practice blowing towards a straw without placing it in the mouth.
This will prepare her for blowing into the straw during the bubble mountain activity. Incorporating more oral motor activities during playtime and before meals can also help her oral structures prepare for eating.
As the daughter enjoys having her toes pulled, incorporating joint traction (separation) and distraction (pulling or drawing away from each other) can be advantageous. Providing whole-body joint compression to the daughter can also offer the proprioceptive input her joints require, potentially leading to a greater sense of calmness.
Consider lightly pulling on her ears, massaging and stretching her joints, and gently pushing and pulling as practical techniques to provide the proprioceptive input her joints require. These methods can have a calming effect when performed softly.
Additionally, incorporating the listening or the safe and sound program can be highly beneficial. These programs promote tactile sensitivity and aid in self-regulation to help manage differences.
They can be easily integrated into the daily routine. Occasionally, noise-canceling headphones can be uncomfortable, so playing music on the computer for the whole room and gradually practicing using the headphones in short intervals can help build tolerance.
By implementing these strategies, parents can provide a safe and supportive environment for their sensory-seeking toddler’s overall growth and development. It is essential to consult an occupational therapist who can provide more specialized support and guidance, especially if the sensory-seeking behavior is challenging to manage.
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.
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