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Sensory Strategies for Children who are Sensory Defensive

Every child can benefit from sensory-rich experiences and environments; however, not all suggestions and strategies are appropriate and individualized for your child. Some children are sensitive to sensations while others are sensory seeking. Here are some tips of what to look for in your child:

  • Active children tend to be sensory seekers and are always on the go. They might crave intense forms of sensory experiences and engage in movement activities such as jumping, falling, crashing, and pushing.

  • Sensitive, fearful, or defensive children tend to be sensory avoidant and have a difficult time participating in every day routines. They might be fearful of falling, state that a tag on their shirt is painful, avoid certain textures or smells of foods, or walks on their tip toes.

Here are some sensory strategies for children who are overly sensitive (sensory avoidant) to sensory experiences including touch, taste/smell, movement, sounds, and light.

  • Provide grading pressure

  • Steam roller: roll a large ball over a child’s back while he’s lying on the floor face down.

  • Massage: gently squeeze the child’s limbs, the top of his head, and shoulders; and or provide grading firm hugs.

  • Burrito game: roll your child in a blanket or foam mat while applying grading pressure.

  • Use firm touch for grooming activities; have your child help with dressing, brushing, and drying her body with a towel.

  • Tactile (touch) Activities

  • Hide favorite objects in sand, rice, PlayDoh, bird seeds, or beans and encourage your child to look for the items.

  • Encourage your child to scoop, pour, and stir baking ingredients, sand, or dry foods to add to “heavy work.”

  • Knead, roll, cut, stamp, and twist PlayDoh-like consistency to encourage tactile exploration.

  • Flip clothes inside out of seams of socks or shirts bother your child. Remove tags from clothes or purchase tagless clothes.

  • Environment

  • Lighting. Provide a dimly-lit area with calming music.

  • Reduce Stimulation. Dim the lights in the room and reduce the noise in the room.

  • White noise such as background music or nature sound recordings can help calm and sooth a child.

  • Heavy Work

  • Chores

  • Push the mop

  • Carry grocery bags

  • Move the milk carton

  • Pick up/clean up toys

  • Meal Time

  • Mix and knead cookie dough

  • Push or pull chairs in and out from the table

  • Wipe down the table

  • Drink thick fluids (e.g., milkshake, yogurt, applesauce) through a straw

  • Play

  • Fill up dump trucks with heavy items (e.g., rocks, blocks, etc.) and push

  • Use sidewalk chalk and draw; encourage your child to get on her hands and knees

  • Catch grading heavy balls

  • Play tug-of-war

  • Swing from monkey bars

  • Taste/Smell

  • Guessing game: Smell different foods and try to get what they are.

  • Avoid smelly environments such as kitchens, the perfume department and eating areas at the mall, and cafeterias.

  • Use candles with calming scents (e.g., lavender, vanilla, eucalyptus, etc.)

  • Use fun shaped straws to drink or suck flavored drinks or foods like yogurt, applesauce, or shakes.

  • Gradually add different flavors to your child’s repertoire

  • Have your child lick favorite flavors off foods (e.g., put peanut butter on something your child has yet to taste or chocolate on vegetables)

  • Offer your child foods that dissolve quickly in her mouth (e.g., puffed cereals, cheese puffs, etc.)


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