There are more than the five senses we are taught at school. Some neurologists have identified up to 21 senses, including the sense of hunger, thirst, perception of pressure, heat, pain, and proprioception (the sense that is tested if you are to undertake “walk the line” or “finger to nose” sobriety tests).
So when you are told your child has sensory challenges, it is not just the simple 5 you are aware of, and also not the 5 in segregation with each other – they all integrate and affect how we interact in society.
Considering there are so many senses, a lot more than we were ever taught in school, it adds an element of complexity when you are trying to ensure that your child’s needs are met.
We sat down a while ago and listed the main sensory inputs and stated if we believed Rhys was hyper-sensitive (over sensitive) or hypo-sensitive (under-sensitive). It helped us deal with certain situations and analyse where things went well and perhaps not so great!
What we did find was that even though we had assigned hyper-sensitive to his hearing, we would go places that were extremely loud, and it would be fine. However in a different place, which to our hearing, it was just as loud, he would be distraught. We later realised that it was all to do with the acoustics of the room. The echo or the high pitch noise of a device, or sound system could be what made him anxious. This made things even more complex, where it was not just a simple sense that needed analysis (even if there were 21 of them), but the different facets of the sense, and the potential overlap of all these sensory inputs that could become over-whelming.
I remember a health visitor describing sensory input. She explained it like a cup. Everyone needs to keep their sensory cup topped up on a day to day basis. An example that was used, was the sense of hunger. If you don’t eat anything all day, by the time you get home, you will open the fridge and indulge on its entire contents. Your hunger sense “cup” is empty and you are going to do everything to fill it. You most probably have also got extremely moody and unable to concentrate due to the sense not being fulfilled.
This is exactly the same for any of the senses. If Rhys doesn’t get input for his sense of tactility you will find him tackling everyone and trying to get the feeling of touch to his skin. We need to ensure that he is topped up throughout the day and not resort to an empty “cup” and the need to fill it all at once.
This is where certain items have been a godsend to us. A simple purchase of a tunnel has allowed him tactile play. The “worming” across the floor from one side to the other, creates the sensory input he needs to function.
For vestibular input, (the ability to sense the position, location, orientation and movement of the body and its parts), there is something we could not live without….the trampoline.
We have noticed the basic of every day items are vital to Rhys’ sensory diet. Apples provide an input of crisp sensation from each bite, a cold ice-lolly stimulates his taste buds and the slide and swing provide an input to his sense of movement.
What Advice Would You Give About Autism and Sensory Needs?
It is key to be aware of all the different sensory inputs and if our children are a bit anxious or grumpy, maybe they need a quick jump on the trampoline or a quick snack. It is important to be aware that there are more than the 5 commonly taught ones, and that they all overlap and provide input into their bodies and minds – causing them to react differently and sometimes perceived as a bit irrationally!
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