Sensing Our World

Written by Linda Velwest


child playing


Everyone is familiar with the five senses; sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch. As an occupational therapist, I frequently work with two other senses: proprioceptive and the vestibular sense. The proprioceptive sense is located in the joints, muscles and tendons of the body and is concerned with the relative movement of these body parts as well as the relative effort needed to make these movements. The vestibular sense is concerned with balance and the body’s orientation to the rest of the world.

All these senses are important for us to get information about our bodies and the world so that we can do the activities we need. Sometimes we can experience these senses too much or too little. This can interfere with function, and often does with young children with sensory issues. Sometimes this over or under sensitivity can go away on its own. Many times the child is instinctively attracted to activities that will normalize their senses. Sometimes the child gets caught in a loop of unhelpful behaviors that seems to them in the moment to calm them down, but actually are not helpful at all. Sometimes we can help the child to normalize their senses.

The first thing is to make the child comfortable and safe. If they are too sensitive, help them to block unwanted stimulation. If their eyes are oversensitive, maybe tinted glasses will help. If their ears are oversensitive noise blocking headphones can help. Keep their foods tasting bland if their taste is oversensitive and use no fragrance soap and avoid perfumes if their smell is oversensitive. If a child is oversensitive to touch, they may need the labels cut out of their clothing and special socks to prevent the sock seams to rub against purchase tramadol them. If they are less sensitive, or hyposensitive, you need to make sure that they don’t hurt themselves accidentally.

An oversensitive proprioceptive system could show up as a clumsy child who may hit or use too much force in drawing. An under sensitive proprioceptive system shows up as a child who always needs movement – jumping, crashing into things, hugging. An oversensitive vestibular system shows up as a child who seems afraid to move, especially when their eyes are closed. An under sensitive vestibular system may make a child seem to crave movement, just like an undersensitive proprioceptive system. The movements that are craved would be more like spinning and sliding.

An occupational therapist can offer suggestions of things parents can do to help normalize their children’s sensory systems. Sometimes a desensitization program can be effective in helping the child become less sensitive more quickly. More intense stimulation can help a hyposensitive child become more sensitive, Sometimes kids are hypo sensitive at some times and hyper sensitive at other times. Proprioceptive activities are often normalizing activities – they help to both calm the oversensitive and stimulate the undersensitive. Here is a list of common proprioceptive activities parents can do with children:

Jump on a trampoline or mattress on the floor, Carry heavy objects or a heavy backpack (not more than 10% of the child’s weight), Push chairs or toy boxes across the floor, eat chewy foods, suck yogurt or applesauce through a straw, crab walking, swimming. An Occupational Therapist can help come up with more specific activities for your child and help you figure out your child’s “sensory profile”.

Linda Velwest is a pediatric occupational therapist working with early intervention. She also teaches Autism Movement Therapy classes

About the author

Linda Velwest

Linda has been an occupational therapist working with young children in Jersey City for many years. She is passionate about joyfully helping children and families progress and enjoy life. She has studied Greenspan's DIR approach. She believes in working with children and families at their own level and, through enjoyable activities, gently providing them the opportunity achieve the goals they have for themselves. She utilizes sensory activities, movement, games and toys in a program to make the child feel comfortable and want to move forward in their life. Learning and improving are impossible if the child or adult is feeling pressured and unhappy. Even very young children can express their preferences and these preferences should be honored as they progress developmentally. Linda is delighted to work with parents and caregivers so they can carry over therapeutic interactions with their child during day to day life. Linda is certified in teaching Autism Movement Therapy classes and is currently offering classes in Jersey City.