Lets Talk Sensory!
"The experience of being human [of being conscious at all] is embedded in the sensory events of our every day lives". Begininng with the sensation of movement in the fluid of the womb, with the feeling of warmth, muffled sounds; to the first startled stare into our mother's eyes and being embraced in her bare arms; to the sound of voices that we gradually learned to recognize as language; to first moving our bodies through space using our legs; to grass under our feet; to music; to others we recognize as friends or strangers: all our thoughts, feelings, and actions originate with our sensations.
All language comes through our ears or our eyes, or maybe our fingers with braille. Connection with others comes through those facial expressions we see, the touch of another, a voice, moving our bodies together through play. Learning comes through seeing new horizons, moving in new ways, experiencing new tastes, reading. All our emotions we feel through our body, through the tightness in our stomach, the heat in our cheeks, the restlessness in our legs, the clench of our jaw. And all our body feelings bring with them a myriad of thoughts and emotions- the happiness of seeing a vibrant sunset, the comfort of the pressure of a hug, the fear in seeing a flash of rage or an out of control fire, the contentedness of having a full belly, the anxiety with needing to use the bathroom when none is around. And our memories, positive and negative, are also stored in our body- that smell that brings back grandma's cooking, that heightened feeling in our chest of that birthday when we were 5, that hunching of our shoulders reminiscent of that feeling of neglect and lonliness from long ago.
So how could we start therapy, or any learning, anywhere else but the senses?
Check out this diagram below: Sensory processing is the foundation for all our other higher brain functions. If we're not functioning optimally at a foundational, brain stem level, we won't be able to function properly at any of the higher levels such as being able to control our emotions, behaviors, and learn in a classroom.
We all have an optimal level of sensory input that we need to function at our best, to focus, to feel grounded. And this level of input is different for the different senses. Different things change the level of sensory input we need too- traumatic events can cause our bodies to need extra grounding pressure or movement, stress can increase our sensitivity towards certain inputs and lower our tolerance towards sounds or touch, certain events can change our body's ability to interpret sensory information or make sense of where it is in space, a hyper focus on survival can reduce attention to internal sensations and increase attention to environmental signals, and certain diagnosis are connected with difficulties in interpreting or filtering sensory information.
An Occupational Therapist can help figure out what a child's unique needs are in regards to sensory input, and she can help find stratgies to add or reduce input as needed, help the child better integrate and process sensory input, and find body specific strategies for calming one's self when upset.
Check out this post for some ideas of sensory based calming strategies for kids.