In our post What’s your Sensory Profile, we explain that our sensory profile identifies how much stimuli we can handle and how we attempt to regulate ourselves when it’s too much. Understanding these sensory profiles can be extremely helpful when it comes to creating sensory-focused activities or meaningful sensory breaks.
Let’s dig into Sensory Avoiding individuals and how to build a successful sensory motor routine for them.
Tendencies and Goals
Sensory avoiders have a low sensory tolerance and an active response. This means it takes very little stimuli (such as a loud noise or “scratchy” texture) to cause overstimulation or dysregulation. Maladaptive behaviors can begin to surface to prevent exposure to these stimuli.
For individuals categorized as sensory avoiding, the goal is to support engagement in challenging sensory activities while developing appropriate coping skills. These coping skills can then be positively applied to the sensory challenges of daily life. Start with simple and gentle activities, and as the individual’s tolerance increases you can increase intensity and more challenges over time.
Building a Sensory Routine for Avoiders
Creating an effective sensory routine can be difficult at first, but with some trial and error, you’ll find what works. Here are some examples that can help you get started with a routine for your sensory avoider.
Use this phase to establish trust and security because it can be expected the individual will be pushed past their comfort zone during the stimulation phase. Go through the routine plan together using a visual schedule, their AAC device, or however it makes sense to them. Then ease into the activities and equipment so they can mentally and physically prepare for the upcoming
Using a Hanging Lounge Chair, try these activities to “warm up”:
- Slow, light movements while seated.
- Have someone else (or a small toy/stuff) sit on the swing while the individual pushes the swing.
- Encourage the individual to climb in and out of the swing as independently as possible.
The trick is to not make the stimulating phase feel like “work,” as it may be the most challenging part of the routine. Strategies like creating games, building circuits, or utilizing a countdown can help reduce their attention to discomfort. Remember to pay attention and respect their trust in you.
The activities below utilize a variety of equipment. Try to stick to 2-4 items to maintain interest and keep a steady flow.
- Moderate back-and-forth swinging
- Provides the simplest type of movement
- Supports a sense of balance and spatial awareness
- Build speed gradually, but still vary the intensity to avoid overstimulation
- Try various body positions such as seated, prone, or lying on back
- Product: Platform Swing
- Tactile Incorporation
3. Cool Down
Help the individual calm their body, refocus, and reduce any overstimulation that may have occurred during the session. Don’t skip this phase – it is better to shorten the main activities than to omit the cool down and risk adverse effects of the sensory session.
Return to the Hanging Lounge Chair and incorporate slow soothing movement. Try adding in some relaxing music at a low volume to add an auditory cue that it is time to wind down.
If you think you have a sensory avoider, hopefully some of these activity ideas help! We're on this journey together to Find Focus through Movement, and if you have more questions, please contact us.
This article should not be used in lieu of a professional's assessment or diagnosis. The information provided is for general information and understanding only.
Resources: Casey Dravis, OTD, OTR/L and Dr. Winnie Dunn, OTR
Writer: Katie Johnson, SRx Brand Manager and Special Needs Parent
Reviewer: Kevin Anderson, PhD, OTR/L, ATP