I have been working as an occupational therapist in a clinical setting for the past 20 years. Although the hands-on part of my work involves individual therapy with children, I have learnt over the years that a child cannot be treated in isolation. The importance of family members and dynamics must always be taken into consideration.
If I may add to John Donne’s words: “No man… nor child… is an island”.
Most families consist of vast diversities in terms of personalities, preferences, moods, habits and sensory profiles. Just because you share some DNA, does not automatically mean you will enjoy the same food, clothing, music, smells, colours, sports, activities and friends. We are all unique and different – thank goodness – and we all enjoy different types and amounts of input from our environments.
When considering diversity from a sensory perspective, children (actually all people) are either sensory seekers, sensory neutrals or sensory avoiders.
- Sensory seekers
-have high thresholds for sensory input
-they need MORE input from their environment to function at
- Sensory neutrals
-have medium thresholds for sensory input
-they are not severely affected by sensory input and is able to
respond to important stimuli and ignore unimportant stimuli
- Sensory avoiders
-have low thresholds for sensory input
-they need LESS input from their environment to function
Knowing your children’s sensory profiles is half the battle won when it comes to healthy family dynamics.
Knowing your OWN sensory profile is the other half of that same battle.
Let’s consider some examples of family dynamics:
A sensory seeking child and sensory seeking parent will have lots of fun together. They have loads of energy and a lust for life. These two will understand each other’s need for MORE and will enjoy an active lifestyle filled with activities. However, they may not always know when to stop and can be an exhausting pair for the rest of the family. They may also be restless and struggle to focus on one task at a time, especially when they are together.
A sensory avoiding child and sensory avoiding parent will not demand too much from each other, as they both understand that LESS works best for them. They can spend the whole day in each other’s company, without a word… and be perfectly content. This pair might intuitively know what the other one needs. For the rest of the family, they may appear boring, slow and uninteresting, lacking “oomph”. They might need a ‘sensory seeker’ to get them up and going!
A sensory seeking child and sensory avoiding parent can potentially experience lots of conflict due to a difference in sensory needs. The seeking child might demand more affection and attention than the avoiding parent is able to give. This child will typically be perceived as a fidgety, busy, on-the-go child by an overwhelmed sensitive parent. For the seeking child, the avoiding parent might mistakenly seem uninterested and closed-off.
A sensory avoiding child and sensory seeking parent can often be seen in shopping malls on a Saturday afternoon. This sensitive child often experiences sensory overload and reacts by a flight/fright/fight reaction, i.e. “a meltdown”. The seeking parent might seem oblivious to the child’s reasons for this reaction as they’re actively engaging in activities with the intention of creating fun for all. An avoiding child might experience a seeking parent as overwhelming and too much.
As you can see, each pair has strengths and hurdles to overcome.
The fact remain that families are made up of ALL of its members. And to be completely honest, life would be pretty dull without all of these profiles.
In family-life, self-understanding, acceptance of others and Sensory Intelligence® is key to creating a harmonious safe haven for the WHOLE family to enjoy.