Sensory Defensiveness 101

Subsequent to my schooled by a OT post, I wanted to explain what I learned about the sensory system in defensive children.

The sensory system has light touch and deep touch receptors. This gives us our input about what is touching us and where our body is in space. These are processed by the brain and responses created as needed. Most of us have a balance between the two types of touch. Kids with sensory don’t.

Deep touch sensors live in our Golgi tendon receptors found in our joints. This is part of proprioception system.  We need this for our brain to know where our body is and where are limbs are. Light touch (somatosensory)  is found all over the skin/body and the signals are processed by the brain. We need this so we don’t burn ourselves and so we can feel what we are touching.

In children with sensory defensiveness, one side of the sensory system, the light touch system is over-stimulated all of the time.   When this becomes an ongoing situation, the light touch system is on high alert. The brain will create automatic avoidance behavior or responses to the unwanted stimuli.  An example of this is a child that flinched before they are even touched when you reach for them.

The reason severity in symptoms can change from day-to-day is because it is affected by how many “sensory diet” activities that child is doing on any given day. Most children with sensory develop coping mechanisms on their own and will do them when they are over loaded.  Every time they do this, this reduces sensitivity for a short period of time. So if my son had been swinging and used a hoppy ball at several points in the day, he might rate his sensory a 7 instead of a 9 that day. It would look like this on a chart:

The key to correcting the defensiveness is to tamp down the light touch system continually before they ever reach the top of that chart! This is accomplished by regular deep touch input through heavy work activities (sensory diet). Over time this settles down the light touch system and leads to lasting improvements. (** work with a OT to set this program up because it is specific to your child**)

I think my most important message to everyone is please don’t attempt to treat a sensory disorder on your own without consulting an occupational therapist that has extensive training in sensory processing disorder and sensory integration therapy. If they suggest Wilbarger protocol, make sure they went to a seminar by the actual Wilbarger people.

I detail our negative experience when it’s not done properly here.

I want to emphasize that we have not self-treated. My son has developed his own coping activities over the years and he uses them when he wants too. While this is better than doing nothing it isn’t a fix, it’s only damage control.

Don’t wait. If at all possible get an evaluation for a sensory child as early as possible. Keep in mind your school may not be able to treat this appropriately.

 

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