fbpx

I’m Jo Grace: a Sensory Needs and Inclusion Specialist and Founder of The Sensory Projects. In this series of 10 articles, I am going to share some of my passion for understanding the sensory world with you and explore sensory needs.

Sensory Needs - Curiosity and Understanding 

In this pair of articles, we are considering how to react to a child in your setting who appears to have sensory needs. In the first article, I spoke about the importance of being curious and seeking to understand what sensation the child’s behaviour serves to provide or avoid. I talked about extending this curiosity into considering the ‘when’ and the ‘where’ of their behaviour as well as the ‘what’. Are there particular times or places where they engage with the behaviour? What do you notice about these circumstances? I also wrote about how valuable it is to have open, non-judgemental conversations about your understanding of this child’s differences with their family. It is not your role to diagnose children or even to suggest that they should be diagnosed, but by sharing what you have noticed and commenting openly on your curiosities, you create a safe space for families to chat with you.  

The Fear Of Sensory Needs

Often noticing that your child is a little different to how you expected them to be, can be very disorientating, bewildering and even frightening for families. Families may even try and stop the behaviour without seeking to understand it first. From the outside, this can seem uncaring, but it is a reaction of fear, and their fear stems from very deep caring. They know the world can be cruel to people who are different so they do not want their child to be different, and figure if they can stop the behaviour then they can protect them from the prejudices they might otherwise encounter. It is very normal to want to shy away from such things, and to try to believe that it is something they will grow out of or just a phase, and who knows…. maybe it is. But if it is not, if this is a child who is processing the world in a sensorial different way, then having the people in their life understand that sooner rather than later, is going to result in the best outcomes for that child. 

Confidence In Support

If you as the professional supporting them, have noticed it, have reflected on what they are doing and why they are doing it (as well as when and where they are doing it) and you’ve started to have those open conversations with their families, those families are going to feel much safer holding the possibility of this difference in their minds, and not sweeping it under the carpet or hoping it will go away, if you also show them that you are confident in supporting their child. This isn’t a case of needing to have all the answers or being confident of what to do, it is you showing that there will be professionals like you who see their children for who they are and want to understand them and support them. You are showing them that the world is changing, not everyone looks at difference and declares it bad anymore. Some people notice the difference and are curious about it. You are one of those people!

Here are three things to think about: 

Developmental or Neurological

Some people have sensory processing differences because they have not yet fully learned how to process the information they receive from their senses. We all learn at different speeds and the possibility of our learning is affected by the environments we inhabit (to give an extreme example, a child brought up in darkness is not going to have learned how to use their sight). People tend to think of sensing as purely physiological – either you have sense organs that work, or work partially, or you do not. But it is more complex than this. To sense, you need to have the relevant sense organs working AND your brain needs to understand how to make sense of the information those organs bring to it. Making sense of the information is something we learn to do over time. It is why you might offer a baby a black and white picture book over a more colourful one, you are recognising that when people are very young, they have not yet figured out how to understand all the colour information, but the information that tells them that this is light, this is dark, is much easier to understand, so we start with that. 

Children who, for one reason or another, have not developed their sensory processing capacities at the same rate as their peers, may appear to have sensory processing differences. If offered the developmentally relevant experiences to their current level of sensory capabilities, they may in time be able to master all the skills and become people who process sensory information in line with their peers. Many successful treatments work on this basis. 

However, not all children who have sensory processing differences can develop “normal” processing. For some children, the processing differences are not due to a delay in that aspect of their development but instead are a result of a neurological disability. Here it helps to think about what we do when we sense.  Yes, we look, we listen, we feel, but it is more complex than that. Have you ever asked someone to “shhh” in the car as you came up to a roundabout you were unfamiliar with? You asked them to stop giving you auditory input because you needed to concentrate on the visual input. You needed to stop listening to see better. Our senses interact with each other in all sorts of ways like this. I often imagine the sensory control centres in our brain to be like the mixing decks you see used in recording studios, with all the different knobs and sliders available for turning various aspects of the sound up and down. Children with developmental sensory differences are still learning to control these knobs and sliders. The children with neurological sensory processing differences are working with a control deck that has some broken bits. It does not matter how much they practice, it will be very unlikely that they will be able to achieve 'normal' processing.  

Keeping this distinction in mind will be helpful as you maintain your curiosity and continue your open conversations with the child’s family. 

Explore more in this series here:

About the author:

Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects. Joanna draws on her own personal experiences to inform her writing surround neurodivergence, SEN, and inclusion in early years.

About the author:

Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects. Joanna draws on her own personal experiences to inform her writing surround neurodivergence, SEN, and inclusion in early years.

About the author:

Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects. Joanna draws on her own personal experiences to inform her writing surround neurodivergence, SEN, and inclusion in early years.

Expression of interest

Complete the form below if you are interested in joining our family. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This