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Do you know your child's sensory personality?

Boy covering ears

Children all enjoy different levels of sensory stimulation: sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures.

Knowing which of the broad groups your little person fits into can help you tailor his/her environment for optimal learning and enjoyment.

Do you have a child who seems to become irritated by the label in the back of his jumper, or one who covers her ears when she enters a crowded shopping mall food court? Or perhaps your child seems not to notice any of the many sensations during his day? Each child experiences the world differently, and this is part of their unique sensory temperament. Do you know your child’s sensory personality?

Sensory sensitive and sensory avoidant children have low sensory thresholds, meaning that a small amount of sensory input can easily overload and overwhelm them. As a result, they may find ‘normal’ sensory experiences irritating or over stimulating.

Sensory seekers and low registrators have high sensory thresholds and thus need a lot of sensory information before they can register and respond to it. Sensory seekers actively go looking for more intense sensory experiences while low registrators are more passive.

“It’s helpful for parents and children to identify the different sensory temperaments with various cartoon characters. Tigger is your typical sensory seeker while Eeyore is an example of a low registrator. Piglet is sensory sensitive or avoidant,” explains Lourdes Bruwer, an occupational therapist who works with children with sensory-based difficulties.

Here are some tips that all children will benefit from, but particularly those with sensory sensitivities:

  • Consistency in their environment and in parenting: The same responses and the same outcomes help a child to feel secure.
  • Routine: Going to bed, getting up and going through the same steps each morning in getting ready for school, for example, will help a child by providing stability and predictability.
  • Preparing them for any change in a concrete way, well in advance of the change itself: For example when starting at pre-primary school, talk to your child about what’s going to happen, where he will be, what he will do each day and so on, and let him get used to the idea of change before it happens. A new lunch box that he has chosen himself and a comfortable pair of pants may help him feel ready for the new experience.
  • Letting them have some control over their sensory world: Let your child choose his clothes, whether he wants pictures in his room or not and what he wants for lunch. This will help him regulate his environment according to his sensory capacity.
  • Equipping them to understand their sensory personality and sensory needs: give them the right vocabulary and sensory tools. For instance “I feel irritated; I want to have some me time; I need a big bear hug; It’s too noisy!” and so on.

Each sensory personality has a cluster of specific traits associated with it, and if you are concerned about your child’s sensory integration, its best to seek professional help as soon as possible.

“It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong sensory temperament, however when it starts to affect a child’s daily functioning, then intervention from a specialist will help you identify what sensory temperament your child has, and how to best help them,” says Lourdes.

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