Understanding Sensory Modulation

We receive lots of information through all our senses. They tell us what we can hear, feel, see, smell, which way up we are and movement. We then filter out which bits of information we need to make sense of things, and to tell us how to behave. Sometimes we all can struggle with this – such as someone tapping a pen whilst we listen to someone else. But people with sensory integration disorder (or sensory processing disorder) have trouble registering and organising the information, making it difficult for them to learn and function in the World.

There are times when the child is over aroused and needs calming down, or maybe the child is too calm and needs arousing, and it is also normal to switch between the two.

Calming

Oral

  • Chewing on hard sweets e.g. as wine gums
  • Sucking on hard sweets
  • Crunchy and chewy foods e.g. pop corn, cut up hard vegetables
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Sucking thick liquids through a straw (e.g. milkshake)

bubbles

Proprioception

  • “Heavy Work” meaning input to muscles, tendons and joints
  • Wheel barrow walking, monkey bars, climbing frames, pulling and pushing furniture, carrying heavy equipment, tug-o-war, digging in the sand pit or garden
  • Cleaning the black board

Touch / Tactile

  • Fidgeting or squeezing play dough, putty, stress balls
  • Deep pressure tactile input through firm prolonged touch to the body especially around the shoulders, chest and hips
  • “Hot Dog” game – wrap up in a blanket and “squash”, deep “bear hug” or massage
  • Warm bath or wrapping up in a warm blanket
  • Playing with resistive equipment such as play dough or clay

Vestibular/ Movement

  • Regular, rhythmical bouncing on therapy ball or trampoline or rocking chair
  • Up and down and front to back movements

Hearing

  • Consistency in noise levels
  • Quiet calm and well paced voices
  • Consistent rhythms

Vision

  • Soft, consistent lighting
  • Minimal bright lights and visually distracting objects
  • Natural lighting
  • Pastel colours
  • Sparsely decorated rooms

Arousing

Oral

  • Sour, salty, spicy or bitter tastes
  • Very hot or very cold foods
  • Carbonated drinks

Proprioception

  • Proprioceptive based activities are rarely arousing

Touch / Tactile

  • Light touch such as tickling, light back scratch, petting a dog or cat

Vestibular/ Movement

  • Fast, irregular and non-rhythmical movements
  • Circular and rotatory movements

Hearing

  • Variations in noise levels
  • Erratic, loud or screaming voices
  • Variations in rhythms eg. fast and slow music combined
  • Sudden unexpected noises

Vision

  • Variations in colour
  • Fluorescent lighting
  •  Artificial lighting
  • Bright colours
  • Cluttered rooms

Ref: Trott MC (1993) Understanding Sensory Integration, Therapy Skill Builders USA and North Tyneside OT Service