What's Your Sensory Profile?

When it comes to sensory integration (like swinging), being in tune with your individual's tendencies when exposed to stimuli is important. It can help you adapt sooner if something isn't quite right, keeping you on track and working toward your goals.

Let's look at tolerance and response, how those tendencies are categorized into the four main sensory profiles, and how you can apply this all to your next play session.

Tolerance and Response

Neurological Threshold (tolerance)

Neurologic threshold can be thought of as "tolerance." How much sensory input (stimuli) is needed to create a reaction? If an individual has a high tolerance, typically they are hyporesponsive and require more input. Conversely, if an individual has a low tolerance, they are hyperresponsive and require smaller amounts of input.

Self-Regulation (response)

Self-regulation is how an individual "responds" to the sensory input. A passive response is when an individual doesn't take action to change their environment. An active response is when the individual tends to actively control the type and amount of sensory input in their environment.

Sensory Profiles

Developed by Winnie Dunn, OTR, the Four Quadrant Model of Sensory Processing factors the spectrum of neurological threshold and self-regulation to create four sensory quadrants. That's a mouthful, right?

We like to think of it as:
Tolerance + Response = Sensory Profile.

And we like to show it as:

Sensory Profile chart with seeking, sensitivity, avoiding, and registration

Basically, a person's sensory profile identifies how much stimuli we can handle and how we attempt to regulate ourselves when it’s too much. For example - if the sun is shining outside, at what point will it be too bright for your eyes, and what will you do when it gets too bright? Understanding a person's sensory profile can be extremely helpful when it comes to creating sensory-focused activities or meaningful sensory breaks.

Sensory Seeking

Sensory seekers have a high sensory tolerance and an active response. They tend to require a high amount of sensory input such as deep pressure, continuous movement, or frequent touching of objects in their environment. These individuals may engage in maladaptive behaviors to meet their needs, seeming “busy” or continuously moving while trying to create more sensory experiences.

Common Behaviors:

  • Constantly touching people or objects
  • Unable to sit still / fidgeting / "on the go"
  • Jumping, spinning, or rocking
  • Falling on purpose or taking risks without regard to safety
  • Mouthing non-food items

Sensory Avoiding

Sensory avoiders have a low sensory tolerance and an active response. It takes little sensory input to provoke a response, and they'll actively attempt to change their environment when overstimulated. Sensory avoiders may seem uncooperative, rule-bound, and driven by routine because they typically try to prevent overstimulation or dysregulation.

Common Behaviors:

  • Easily upset or distracted with loud / sudden noises
  • Covers ears or avoids noisy environments
  • Oversensitive to certain tastes, smells, and textures
  • Avoids touch or messy / sticky activities
  • May struggle with balance activities

Sensory Registration

Sensory registration individuals have a high sensory tolerance and a passive response. They need a high amount of sensory input to acknowledge sensations, but their response is typically passive. These individuals do not seek out sensory experience to meet their sensory needs. Lack of motivation may be observed and can cause a decrease in occupational participation and quality of life.

Common Behaviors:

  • Described as lazy or clumsy
  • Seems tired or lacking energy, despite sleeping well
  • Doesn’t notice things like food on their face, clothes on wrong, or offensive smells
  • Tends to "space out"
  • Slouches on furniture, walls, and other people

Sensory Sensitivity

Sensory sensitivity individuals have a low sensory tolerance and passive response. It takes little sensory input to become "overstimulated," however they do not change their environment to meet their sensory needs. These individuals may become distracted easily in busy environments and considered a "complainer," often noticing and commenting on sensory inputs more than others due to their low sensory tolerance.

Common Behaviors:

  • Easily upset or distracted with loud / sudden noises
  • Covers ears or avoids noisy environments
  • Oversensitive to certain tastes, smells, and textures
  • Avoids touch or messy / sticky activities
  • Seems distressed frequently but does little to avoid or relieve stress

Final Notes

It's important to look at this sensory processing model as a fluctuating spectrum rather than hard rules. We all have preferences, off days, and a change of heart - we're human! We're in 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.

Author Credit

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

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