from Caroline Pringle, Families and Professionals Advisor for child enquiries
Our senses give us the information we need to function in our environment, such as sitting to eat a meal, read a book or walk calmly into a crowded room. We take the world around us for granted but for children with Fragile X, it can be overwhelming. They are trying to take in too much information and can’t filter out certain sensory stimuli such as sound, smell, light etc. Sensory overload can lead them to reach a heightened state of anxiety called hyperarousal and they will need your support to self-regulate.
It may be that having a pop-up tent or a quiet place to escape to at home/ school when everything gets too much will help them. Also using a visual aid such as these pictures may help your child tell you when things are starting to get difficult for them.
Over the next 5 weeks I felt it might be helpful to go through some of the sensory issues your child might be experiencing and strategies and resources that might help. Please note that the list of examples is not exhaustive and if on reading these blogs, you have anything that has worked for your child that you wish to share do let me know and it can be added.
Week 1 General introduction and visual (sight)
Week 2 Auditory (hearing/sound) and tactile (touch)
Week 3 Gustatory (taste) and Olfactory (smell)
Week 4 Vestibular (balance) and proprioception (body awareness)
Week 5 Interoception (internal processing skills) and bringing it all together.
Some sensory terminology that you might come across:
Sensory Processing - Our eyes, ears, skin, balance (vestibular), joints and muscles (proprioception) gives information of the world around us so we can avoid obstacles, we can filter out noise etc.
Sensory strategies are the activities or equipment such as the suggestion made in this blog e.g. fidget toys, wobble cushions etc.
Sensory diet – It groups together sensory strategies into activities designed to be used throughout the day to help an individual deal with all the sensory stimuli around them.; it might be suggested that an individual carries out ‘large movements’ to make them feel more grounded e.g. pushing movements, moving items, jumping on trampoline etc. An occupational therapist (OT) would need to carry out an assessment to find the best activities to help an individual.
Sensory overload – this occurs if someone has difficulty with processing sensory stimuli. This can result in raised anxiety levels, panic attacks, inability to focus and lack of concentration. A person may then be unable to use socially acceptable calming activities and may rock, flap, cover ears, chew clothes, self-harm etc.
Sensory processing disorder (also known as sensory integration dysfunction/disorder) affects the way the brain ‘translates’ information from and back to our sensory receptors. It can affect a child’s physical, psychological, emotional, and social well-being as well as impacting on their learning.
Sensory Integration Therapy (Dr Jean Ayres) available for some people through an OT assessment - this is a therapeutic approach whereby practical solutions are given; these will be carried out by an OT with specific training and qualifications in sensory integration therapy. Parents/ carers are given further activities to implement. It is very important to be assessed by a qualified professional as activities need to be individualised to meet specific sensory needs.
Sensory emergency toolkit – sometimes called a ‘fidget bag’ with a range of sensory items such as stress balls, tangle toys, bubble wrap, roll-on aromatherapy oils, pot of bubble mixture etc.
Certain reactions/experiences to the sensory stimuli around individuals can be seen as hypo - low sensitivity or hyper - high sensitivity, for some children these overlap and can also change over time.
75% of the world around us is through sight/vision.
• Central vision blurred.
• Poor perception of depth so problems throwing & catching.
• Appear clumsy.
• Things appear darker.
• Can rub or poke eyes.
• Coloured overlays
• Tinted lenses
• Bubble machine
• Light wands
• Distorted vision.
• Things jump out.
• Problems with colours.
• Can focus on small details rather than ‘bigger picture’ e.g., grains of sand rather than the beach.
• If it is a dull day outside will want the lights off indoors to match this.
• Natural light rather than fluorescent
• Baseball caps
• Black out curtains
• Areas where there are no visual distractions.
• Use a marker to help them follow words in a book.
• Use a cut out window in a piece of card to show what is needed to be looked at in a book etc. and reduces the glare (typo scope)
• Use pop up tents in a room, large umbrella to hide under or chairs with hood from places like Ikea.
• Reduce too many bright colours and avoid big posters.
Next time, Caroline will look at auditory (hearing/sound) and tactile (touch) sensory issues, and strategies to help.