#255 - Sensory Seeker? Tips to Help This Toddler Meet Her Sensory Needs

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L May 10, 2023 2 Comments

#255 - Sensory Seeker? Tips to Help This Toddler Meet Her Sensory Needs

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Sensory Seeker? Tips to Help This Toddler Meet Her Sensory Needs

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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Sensory Seeker: Real-Time Tips to Help This Toddler Meet Her Sensory Need

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.

Family Background

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.

Addressing Overall Sensory Needs

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: 

  • Mix citrus essential oils into your sensory bins. 
  • Add a drop to a scrunchy that she can wear around her wrist. 
  • Defuse citrus smells in the house. 
  • Cut some oranges and have her stack them or feel them.
  • Squeeze oranges by hand for orange juice. 

Sensory Suggestions For Tactile Sensitivity

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.

Oral Sensory Activities

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.

Supporting Your Sensory Needs For Emotional Regulation

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Check out our YouTube video on Toddler Behaviors That Are Common and 'Normal'!



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
Jessica Hill, COTA/L

Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS is Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialist. She has been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. Jessica specializes in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica is the in-house expert, content creator, and one of the podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to her weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.

2 Responses


June 30, 2023

I loved all your ideas you had for this little sensory seeking kiddo – i am curious about the research articles you mentioned on the show in regards to citrus smell – are you able to share links to them ?

Lujane al baghli
Lujane al baghli

June 30, 2023

Hi there! You mentioned a course regarding stem cells and citrus smells. Could you provide a link on the course? It sounds really amazing!

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