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  • Writer's pictureMacaile Hutt

Sensory Avoiders

The word—sensory. Truth be told, we all have sensory systems, and each one of our sensory systems can become dis-regulated from time to time. Maybe the sound of someone clicking their pen behind you at the bank drives you crazy, or the feeling of wool causes your hair to stand on end. Perhaps you’re cool as a cucumber with loud noises, but fluorescent lights give you an automatic headache. Our sensory systems are constantly working to achieve a state of “regulation” which is the happy place where everything is harmonious, calm, and content. This is difficult to achieve, particularly since we live in a world where we are constantly surrounded by a lot of constant input to our auditory (sound), visual (sight), tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), and even our vestibular and proprioceptive senses, which help us adapt to changes in movement, balance, and awareness to where our body is at in space. As a young child, my mom used to have to cut tags our of all of my shirts, cut the stirrups off the bottom of my stretch pants, and, I’ll admit, I sometimes still wear my socks inside out to avoid the feeling on the seam pressing against my feet. In the therapy world, we call this type of behavior “sensory avoidance.” Children who avoid sensory input might cover their ears with fireworks, resist getting water in their face at bath time, and scream when the clippers turn on at a haircut. Sensory avoiders have an overwhelmed sensory system, and often times external stimuli feels like too much to take in. When explaining this further to parents, I’ll use the example of cooking dinner as a family. A neurotypical person would be able to walk into the kitchen and “habituate” to the other people in the room, the mixed smells of the food being prepared, and even the textures and feelings of helping to stir or mix the ingredients without having an adverse reaction. A child with sensory avoiding behaviors might refuse to engage in this activity, complain that it smells bad, or display avoidance when touching messy or sticky textures by crying or even gagging.



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