Avoider or seeker 1 Avoider or seeker 2

We are talking about your child, the seeker – the one who cannot sit still, always on the go or the one chewing on clothes, the one touching others to the extent of irritating them, the one using too much or too little force when manipulating buttons, or a pencil.  Or the child who doesn’t want cuddles, who wakes up grumpy, the child who avoids playground equipment, the one who is in tears and overwhelmed often, or the picky eater.

Following the recent web clinic on Sensory Processing Disorder, many parents and educators raised concerns about the children in their lives who are seeking more sensations or who are avoiding sensations or avoiding participation in some activities.

These tendency prevents a child from participating in many activities in an age appropriate way.  It also effects the child’s concentration.  And sadly, these children are often not happy and content.

The better a child can be calm and alert, the better the child will be able to interact with his or her environment, with peers and with the tasks of everyday life, such as school work, self-care and play.  When a child is anxious, with poor ability to focus, or when a child is sleepy with limited concentration, the child cannot listen, sequence thoughts and actions and cannot cope with situations that others find easy to cope with.

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Is your child NOT calm and alert – sometimes or most of the time?

  1. Your child might need more or less sensory input from the environment.
  2. Your child might need support.
  3. Your child might need environmental modifications.
  4. Your child might need a specific program.
  5. Your child might need a sensory diet.

Your child might need all of the above in addition to regular therapy sessions with a qualified OT.

The important fact is that you and the other adults in your child’s life, should observe your child without judgement, observe to find out exactly what is triggering specific behaviours or reactions.  And as explained in the web clinic, it might not be one specific incident, it might be a build-up of many sensory and environmental input over time, e.g. your child might have a meltdown at 4pm after having to cope with many, seemingly unrelated, issues during the day.

I’ll briefly explain each of the above points:

More or less sensory input

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We all function between thresholds for sensory input, some of us have a higher threshold for taste and prefer spicy food, others have a low threshold and enjoys bland food.  Some of us have a high threshold for movement and thus need more movement and exercises, whereas others might have a low threshold for movement and will be content with long hours in a stationary position, e.g. working at a desk.

When a child or adult function outside the typical thresholds for a specific situation, e.g. the classroom, then the behaviour might be experienced as being disruptive by others.  In addition, the child might find it difficult to concentrate and to complete tasks.  They are often labelled as being naughty, disruptive, with a poor ability to follow instructions and routines in the classroom.

In need of support

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Some children find it difficult to follow instructions and to plan tasks.  These children often need individual support, firstly to ensure that they have heard and followed the instructions correctly and secondly, that they know where and how to start with the task.  Often they can complete a task independently after providing support at the initial stages.  It takes only a few minutes but can make a huge difference in the child’s ability to function and in the child’s self-esteem.

Some children might need support when being in specific environments.  Some find noisy areas challenging, others find it difficult to sit still.  Others find it difficult to maintain the upright position.


Sharpen your observation skills and identify in which environments are your child experiencing problems – often indicated as ‘behavioural’ issues.

Environmental Modifications

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You and your child’s teacher can experiment with the following:

  1. Seeking movement (chair rocking, fidgeting) and difficulty to maintain the upright position: different seating options, e.g. stand, sit on floor, opportunity to walk, send on errands, use of small trampoline, sit on inflated pillow or exercise ball of correct size, regular movement breaks (check coordiclass.com).
  2. Challenges in noisy environments (disruptive, making noise, anxious): use noise reducing ear phones, do not share a desk, sit close to teacher, call child’s name and make sure the child pays attention before giving instructions.
  3. Chewing (chew clothes, fingers in mouth, make lip/tongue sounds, excessive talking): provide socially appropriate objects to chew, e.g. chewelry (chewable jewellery), chewable plastic tip at end of pencil, oral mouth exercises, crunchy snacks, oral motor games such as blowing bubbles and balloons.
  4. Avoiding touch (lashing out when standing in line, prefer to sit away from others, sensitive to textures): trial clothes for sensory kids, do not share a desk, use a firm hand when touching this child, they find light touch irritating.
  5. Seeking touch (leaning into others and objects, too much pressure on pencil): use weighted lap pad in class, fidget with e.g. Lego / plasticine / stress ball while listening to instructions.

Specific Programs

The child might benefit from using specific programs to assist with the processing of sensations and/or with the following of routines and instructions.  Discuss options with your OT or contact us at www.coordiconsult.com .

Sensory Diet

A sensory diet is like a food diet but instead of food, you provide the sensations that your child needs to prevent ‘sensory hunger’.  Observe your child – your child will be showing you what he or she needs.  You can read more at http://coordikids.com/blog/a-sensory-diet/ .

However, it is important to observe your child, to make notes on the child’s reactions to sensations and general behaviour in different environments.  The idea of a sensory diet is to provide the sensory needs in a socially acceptable way, to ensure that your child can cope in a calm and controlled way without being ‘sensory hungry’.

Talk to your OT, contact us at www.coordiconsult.com or start with one or two activities to provide in one of your child’s obvious needs.  For example, if your child is a chewer, provide many opportunities at regular intervals (intervals can be as short as every 30 minutes) to meet the child’s need.  See how it goes and then add or take away.

Keep in mind that we provide these as we as OT’s often see that a child’s reaction and behaviour change to typical for the age group after a period of time.  As OT’s we desensitize, we provide sensations and in the process we normalize the processing of sensations.  All OT’s are not trained to do this.  Make sure you use experts in their fields.

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