The Seven Senses
Just like most people, you may have lived your life thinking there are 5 senses: touch, sight, sound, taste and smell. The truth is that there are two additional senses: The Sense of Movement (Vestibular Sense) and the Sense of Body Awareness (proprioception).
Touch is the first and most primal sense as it is the first sensory system to develop in the womb.
The foundation for this system is created when the baby is held, cradled, rocked, soothed and touched by parents. There is a biological protective drive which draws us to touch and nurture babies.
There are tactile receptors not only on the outer skin but also inside the mouth throat, the digestive system and many other areas of the body.
Each person’s sensory system develops preferences to the type of touch, and children may be over-sensitive or under-sensitive to different types of touch such as:
- Light touch (i.e. feeling hair on skin)
- Deep pressure (i.e. Bear hugs, massage, banging, crashing, rolling, and bouncing)
- Vibration (i.e. Battery massager, vibrating toy, or appliances such as refrigerator or air conditioner)
Common signs of tactile sensitivity:
- Child becomes upset, or doesn’t notice when hands, face or clothing a messy (i.e. with paint)
- Either becomes anxious about, or craves walking on barefoot
- Becomes defiant when it’s time to get dressed
- Strong dislike for grooming activities such as brushing teeth, having hair washed or nails cut
2. Body Sense or Proprioception
Proprioception is an internal sense that tells you where your body parts are without having to look at them.
Proprioception allows you to move your body without being aware of it. For example, you can eat without having to see where your mouth is at.
Children with proprioception challenges may appear like “Space Cadets” because they don’t know where their bodies are in space. They don’t have an internal body map, and they don’t know where their body parts are without looking.
Common signs of tactile body awareness problems:
- Awkward or stiff moment
- Is physically weaker compared to other children
- Uses too little or excessive force on things
- Pushes, hits, bites or bangs into other children
- Either avoids or craves jumping, crashing, pushing, pulling, bouncing and hanging
- Always has to look at what he is doing
3. Movement or Vestibular Sense
The vestibular system is located in the sensory receptors in the inner ear that gives your child crucial information about movement, gravity, and vibration.
Some children are calmed by movement such as being in the car or swinging, when others are stressed by it. Different types of movement provide different types of vestibular feedback. Consider the different experiences in the vestibular system when a child jumps up and down, runs swings or spins.
The vestibular system helps us move against gravity, and makes moving through space easy. Your vestibular system is constantly at work when you walk, pick up something from the floor or do any physical activity. It also helps our body stay coordinated and keeps us sitting upright.
Common signs of movement problems:
- The child is constantly on the move
- Either dislikes or craves activities that require balance, or his feet leaving the ground
- Seems to have a stiff head, neck or shoulders
- Either hesitates or is afraid of climbing or descending stairs, and playground equipment
- Seems overly fearful or careless of movements in heights or falling
- Gets dizzy very easily or never gets dizzy
- Becomes easily car sick, or falls asleep immediately in a car
4. Auditory Sense
Many children have difficulty with auditory input even if they have normal development, hearing and intelligence.
Sounds enter the sensory system via the ears which the central nervous system and the brain recognizes, and then processes so they make sense.
Auditory processing disorder is a neurological problem which results from the brain not processing auditory input correctly.
A child with auditory processing issues may be hyper- or hypo-sensitive to sounds meaning that they are either very sensitive to hearing sounds others don’t hear, or they have trouble processing loud sounds and need higher levels of volume or even frequency.
Children with auditory processing issues may also be confused about where the sound is coming from thus making an evaluation that an airplane far away is a threat that is nearby.
Auditory sensory problems can cause many problems in school as the child may be easily distracted by “normal” sounds, and may spend a lot of energy tuning out seemingly minor distractions such as the sound of a marker on a board.
Children with auditory processing issues frequently have trouble understanding what is being said or struggle with written composition.
Common signs of auditory problems:
- Either strong reactions to loud or unusual noises, or no reaction at all
- Delayed speech
- Ignores when spoken to
- History of ear infections
- Covers his ears frequently
- Is distracted or uncomfortable in a group or crowded room
- Reacts to sounds that you don’t hear
- Speaks loudly or very softly
- Asks others to repeat what was said
- Has trouble with phonics
Do you remember how your child as a baby used to follow your every movement?
He was developing his vision by turning towards sounds and movement.
Babies are biologically wired to be curious about any objects in their environment.
For children with visual processing issues, the world may appear as a crowded place with disjointed visual images. When the brain processes visual information in an integrated manner, it is able to filter out unimportant images and focus on the ones that matter.
Some children are distracted and get “stuck” in the visual details like looking at the speck of dust on the floor vs the teacher, and other children crave a lot of visual stimulation which means they are actually learning while they appear being tuned out.
It is important to also know that vision skills are closely related to movement skills. Eyes are used to guide our hands, feet and other body parts.
Common signs of visual processing problems:
- Complains of headache or tiredness
- Has difficulty concentrating and paying attention
- Skips words or lines, or frequently loses his place when reading
- Has poor handwriting and drawing skills
- Has trouble copying from the board
- Is disinterested, or overly distracted by objects in the environment
6 & 7. Taste and Smell
Smell is vital for the survival of human species as it helps us detect spoiled or rotten food, or substances that may be poisonous. It truly ensured our survival!
The smells we detect travel directly to the limbic system of our brain which is our emotional center. This is why certain scents can immediately trigger emotional states related to a particular memory whether positive or negative.
The sense of taste and smell are integrally connected. We are able to detect ten thousand odors but only five different tastes which are sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami.
If you have a picky eater, it may be that your child has sensory processing issues around smell and taste.
Some children are hyper-sensitive to smells which means that they can’t tune out offensive smells which end up distracting them and causing stress. On the other end of the spectrum are kids who love to smell EVERYTHING.
A child who is under-sensitive to tastes, craves for extra flavor and spices, while a hyper-sensitive child requires bland foods with not many spices or strong flavor.
The texture of the food is related to tactile preferences, and also the visual sense is involved in evaluating the desirability of food.
It is important to remember that the taste and smell preferences of your child are not voluntary. He or she is not there to give you a hard time by being a picky eater. It is important to listen to your child’s food preferences and provide them the kinds of food that they like.
Common signs of taste and smell sensitivity:
- Avoids foods most children his age enjoy
- Has limited number of foods that he likes
- Craves or becomes upset by certain smells or tastes
- Complaints about bad smells and holds his nostrils closed
- Gags, gets nauseated or vomits easily
What’s next? – Discover your child’s sensory portrait
Now that you have peeked inside into the world of the 7 senses, you may be making some connections between your child’s “misbehavior”, and sensory integration problems since it may be that your child just being under sensory stress, and not able to process the sensory stimuli correctly causing dysregulation.
Early assessment and intervention is vital since there is a lot that can be done to help your child’s brain and nervous system wire in ways that help with sensory integration.
A simple assessment of your child’s sensory preferences and stressors can make a huge difference in their ability to self-regulate. Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske have developed a wonderful tool called “The Sensory Check-List” which asks specific questions about your child’s sensory preferences and stressor so that you can create a sensory profile for them.
If you want HELP RIGHT AWAY you can schedule a FREE 45 Min call with me to go over the results of your Sensory Check-List.
Click HERE to book your call
This article is based on a book “Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues by Lindsey Biel, M.A., OTR/L, and Nancy Peske.