Signs & Symptoms

Sensory Seeking

Is your child doing all his own stunts?

A child with these challenges may look like a little ‘Evil Knievel,’ having no fear, relentlessly in the pursuit of thrills. They may be willing to try anything and may fail to check if the coast is clear before taking a leap.

It is important to differentiate true problems here as compared to the typical and necessary exploration of childhood playtime. Some critical issues have gone unnoticed and untreated due to the age-old belief that ‘boys will be boys’ or the notion that ‘she will grow out of it.’ If your child is unable to participate with peers due to excessive movement or clumsiness, this challenge is a red flag, worthy of looking into further.

Many children with these challenges are too intense in their movements. They need to be hugged very tightly and may need deep pressure or weighted blankets to calm down. They may jump off of high equipment repeatedly. When they crash on the ground, they may seem not to feel it the way others do.

Motor skills are heavily regulated by the sensory system; when impaired, these skills have a significant impact on the ability to participate in a wide variety of activities, particularly in sports, recess, and physical education. A child may appear to be uncomfortable in his or her own skin. He or she may look ‘floppy’ and have poor posture and a lack of stability.

Sensorimotor development starts in early infancy and impacts the ability to participate in school, athletics, and social activities. Children with poor sensorimotor perception in the areas of balance, motion, and body-space tend to be clumsy and uncoordinated. They may be easily injured and may have frequent falls. They often cannot judge their body space, bumping into walls while walking down the hall or hitting their heads on the top of the tunnel slide.

What do challenges with Sensory Seeking look like?

  • Jumping too much?
  • Seeking intense movement?
  • Falling out of the chair?
  • Having trouble sitting still?
  • Acting uncoordinated?
  • Enjoying being upside down, swinging, or spinning?
  • Slamming against walls?
  • Getting hurt often?
  • Displaying poor posture?
  • Bumping into people?

Why is Sensory Seeking happening?

Children who have challenges with balance, coordination, and locomotion generally have sensory deficits in the vestibular or proprioceptive systems, or both. The vestibular system is responsible for motor control, speed of movement, and the body’s position in space. 

  • Vestibular processing: Essentially, the vestibular system keeps track of where we are and where we are going. Children with difficulties in vestibular processing tend to miscalculate the space between themselves and other objects. They have poor physical boundaries and often crash into things or bump into people. 
  • Proprioceptive processing: The other area that may be impacted if your child is chronically moving and uncoordinated may be the proprioceptive system. The term proprioception is from the Latin word ‘proprius,’ which means ‘one’s own,’ and from ‘capio,’ which means to grasp the relative position. Thus, the word proprioceptive is referring to our own body space awareness 
  • Robots, Gumby dolls, and the Bull in the China Shop: Children who have these issues do not move smoothly and may look like a robot, being stiff and jerky in their movements. Alternatively, they may look like ‘Gumby,’ being far too flexible and uncontrolled as they walk or run. They may talk too close to people’s faces because they are unaware of body-space. They may unintentionally knock over furniture or break objects. They may appear like ‘a bull in a china shop’. 

The sensory system is important for development and for participation in physical activities like sports. Kids who are sensory seeking may get hurt often, bumping into things or injuring themselves due to miscalculating body space. As real as sensory problems are, these psychologists do not see sensory differences as a stand alone disorder (AKA. Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD). Rather, consistent with research from the American Medical Association, we believe that sensory processing problems are generally symptoms of other disorders and require diagnosis and treatment in that context.

How can I manage Sensory Seeking at home?

If you are wondering about your child’s sensory regulation, it is generally advised to have a full psychological evaluation. Why? Because in clinical practice it is observed almost unilaterally that sensory problems do not occur in isolation. It is a mistake to think that your child’s sensory issue tells the whole story. It does not. Children with poor sensory regulation almost always have an underlying psychological, neurological, or medical issue.

Sensory Processing Disorder: Here at the CLEAR, in accordance with the American Medical Association, sensory problems are not considered a disability. Rather, these problems are considered a symptom of a disability. We feel strongly that too many children with autism, ADHD, or a medical condition are being drastically underserved with a diagnosis of ‘Sensory Processing Disorder.’

Although sensory problems are worthy of and amenable to treatment, sensory therapy alone is unlikely to essentially, ‘cure what ails you.’ Said another way, children with sensory problems are likely to have disabilities that require therapies far beyond those recognized by a sensory regulation ‘diagnosis.’

If you feel that your child may have a sensory problem, it is recommended that your child have a comprehensive psychological evaluation to consider the following: ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Trauma or PTSD, Developmental (Motor) Coordination Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, or Developmental Delay. Any of these disabilities may be the root cause of your child’s sensory problems. A licensed psychologist will not only determine which diagnoses are relevant for your child but will also make recommendations for treatment of that disability and any co-occurring sensory difficulties.

Activities to help a sensory seeking child:

  • Jumping on a trampoline, large inner tube, couch cushions, a bed, or other similar objects
  • Games that involve heavy work, such as wheelbarrow walking, crab walking, tug-of-war or playing tag
  • Climbing on or hanging from monkey bars, jungle gyms, etc.
  • Pushing/pulling wagon filled with heavy objects
  • Wearing a weighted vest or carrying a weighted backpack
  • Pushing with feet and/or hands against resistance (can be made into a game)
  • Using heavy blankets, pillows or cushions
  • Wrestling, giving or receiving bear hugs
  • Gymnastics or tumbling classes
  • Swimming
  • Fidget toys for school
  • Massaging lotion on arms, hands, legs, feet
  • Laying on stomach to increase attention (more proprioceptive input from floor)
  • Turning off lights to calm environment
  • Linear movement (like swinging)
  • Chewing gum, licorice, beef jerky (for oral sensory seekers)
  • Rocking

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Sensory Seeking?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his or her learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

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Once we understand your child’s needs, we will help families get connected to the right specialists. No more guesswork, no more wasted time and resources.

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Our Coaching Packages allow us to continually support families as they continue their journeys. Parental coaching, life-skills practice, and school advocacy are just a few examples of ways we help.

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