Five Minute Guides to Sensory Needs

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Five Minute Guides

Sensory Needs

How many senses do we have?

Most of us will be familiar with the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. However, we have a lot more senses and these include:

Temperature
Movement
Pain
Balance
Vibration
Time

Plus lots of internal senses e.g. measuring chemical levels in the body or telling us when our bladder is full.

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What is sensory processing?

We interact with our environment through our senses and these constantly bombard our brains with messages. We cannot consciously think about every sensory message we receive. Instead, our brains must automatically make decisions about what is important, what can be ignored and how we should react. All of this requires processing and we are only ever conscious of a tiny proportion of this. So for example, we may scratch an itch without thinking but we focus consciously when we listen and talk in a conversation.

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How does sensory sensitivity vary in people?

Sensory variance is a result of differences in processing rather than any impairment of our sense organs. Within an individual sensitivity to any of their senses can vary depending on factors such as tiredness, attention levels, health and the context in which they experience the sensation. Two individuals will also vary in their sensitivity and so if they experience the same sensation it may be more intense in one person and less intense in another. Both people can be described as having a normal range of sensitivity but experience things differently.

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What are sensory needs?

Our behaviour is shaped by our sensory experiences. The intensity of each experience will depend on our sensitivity at that time. It will also depend on whether we tend to be more sensitive, known as hypersensitivity or under sensitive, known as hyposensitivity. Our sensitivity level can vary depending on the sense so for example, it is possible to be hypersensitive to sound but be hyposensitive to touch. Most people will have only a little variance and be totally unaware of the fact. However, in about a third of the population the variance will be more extreme and is likely to be influencing their behaviour in ways that are more noticeable. These individuals have specific sensory needs and in children they will need support in learning to manage them.

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What behaviours indicate possible hypersensitivity?

Examples of behaviours linked to hypersensitivity:

Sight

Dislikes bright lights such as sunlight
Avoids busy places
Struggles to concentrate in visually busy classes

Hearing

Puts hands over ears when in noisy places
Fear/avoidance of noisy machines e.g. hand dryers
Easily distracted by background noises

Touch

Avoids wearing certain clothes or textures
May avoid hugs unless they initiate them
Complains of being hurt by peers

Taste

Fussy eater
May dislike brushing teeth

Smell

Avoids places with strong smells e.g. kitchens when food is being cooked; grass being cut or toilets
Complains if the clothes detergent is changed

Balance

Prone to travel sickness
Avoids swings and roundabout or riding a bike

An individual may have hypersensitivity of other senses too!

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What behaviours indicate possible hyposensitivity?

Examples of behaviours linked to hyposensitivity:

Sight

Struggles to find place when reading from board
Appear clumsy and bump into things or peers
Not notice visual prompts and signs

Hearing

Often makes noises, hums, sings or talks loudly
Fails to respond to name or other verbal prompts
Doesn’t understand or needs instructions repeated

Touch

Seeks cuddles and rough and tumble
Likes heavy clothing or being wrapped up tightly

Taste

Frequently puts things in their mouths
Likes extreme tastes - may over use salt and sauces on food

Smell

Complain foods are bland or taste the same
May seek or not avoid strong smells

Balance

Enjoys swings and roundabout; theme park rides
Falls over a lot but is rarely fussed about it

Movement

Constantly on the go - fidgety and squirmy when expected to sit still
Needs movement to help them concentrate
An individual may have hyposensitivity of other senses too!

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Sensory Needs

Five Minute Guide to ASD

A handy printable version of this five minute guide suitable for handing to parents, school staff and other professionals and carers. Use 2-sided printing (set printer to flip on short side) and fold in half to produce A5 leaflet.

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Got more than five minutes?

You may be interested to read more:

Sensory Needs

Sensory Needs Management - Hearing

Sensory Needs Management - Movement

Sensory Needs Management - Sight

Sensory Needs Management - Smell

Sensory Needs Management - Taste

Sensory Needs Management - Touch

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