Navigating Sensory Sensitivities

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Transforming Behaviour Webinar Series - Navigating Sensory Sensitivities


OK, OK. All

Well, good morning. Welcome
to Transform, Life’s first webinar in
the series of Transforming behaviour. Really excited to
get started today talking about sensory
sensitivities and how it can interact
with behaviour. If I could just
let everybody know that
this meeting is being recorded. So please
pop your mics on mute and until the

Question Time and then we’ll be able to
go back and forth and and ask as many
questions as you want. I’m going to
share the, I’m going to share my screen
now. So let me get that set up.

Hope everybody’s doing well
and feeling good. Excited
about. Finding out about
sensory stuff, so.

I’d like to start with.
Acknowledging the Gadigal people of the,
ER nation on whose land I live and work
and from where this webinar is being
broadcast today and let
everybody know that yes, again, this is
being recorded but also transcribed. So
if you need access to this
transcriptions, you can find that on our
website. So what are we talking about today?

So today we are talking about.

What are sensory sensitivities? Why do
they occur? What are the sensory systems
that they can occur through? What happens
when sensory meets behaviour? We’re then
going to talk about suggested strategies
away forward and ask some
questions. So if that sounds good,
please feel free to send in your
questions and we will get

So. I thought I’d give
a little bit of background about who I
am. So my name is Ella. I’m the chief
clinical and strategy officer here at
Transform Life. I’ve been working
with autistic kids, neurodivergent families
for about. Oh gosh, about 10 years.
Um. And I’m excited because I think that
strategies around sensory support and
sensory regulation are at
underutilised resource for families who
might be struggling to understand the why
behind specific behaviours, especially,
repetitive un-helpful behaviours.
There’s so much that we can do to support
people when it comes to sensory support and
dysregulation. And that kind of thing,
so. Let’s jump into it.

Let’s talk about the sensory system.

So lots of people think that there are 5
sensory systems. That’s I think what
we’re mostly taught about in
school. However, when it comes
to sensory regulation and how it
interacts with emotional regulation and
behaviour, it’s important to recognise
that there are actually at least six
that we’re aware of, so we have lots of
the regular ones. So auditory,
visual. Tactile, et cetera.

But then we also have some of the
lesser known ones that have a really big
impact, especially if we do have some
sensory processing disorders or
dysfunctions that might be.

Getting in the way of of really good
functional behaviour. Some of the ones
that people are less aware of are called
vestibular. Proprioceptive
and interoceptive. So I’m going to go
through all the ones here on screen
and talk a little bit about not only what
they are but also how you can recognise
those sensory systems in yourself
and examples of when you might notice
those sensory systems working alright. So
our most dominant and most
obvious sensory system is the visual
sensory system. Humans are extremely visual.

We have incredible vision and vision
also takes up the most
processing area in our brain, so the
visual sensory system processes
information from light moving into
our eyes, photoreceptor cells in the
front of our eyes, in the retina.

Convert light into signals that go
through our brain. Kind of submitted
through us. Sorry. Transmitted through
the optic nerve into the brain for
interpretation. So visual
processing involves things
like recognising shapes, colours
patterns and also the relationships
of things in space. So you
an example of when you might notice your
visual sensory system working can be
obviously processing light, processing
motion, people moving in your
environment, the speed at which things
move, you know your eyes processing for
example, the environment rushing past you
when you’re in a car. Darkness you
know we’re also we can be very aware of
when our eyes are adjusting to different
light levels and visual busy
like busy visual fields. So when you
notice that there’s a lot going on
in this space that you’re eyes are taking
up, you might notice that you feel the
processing is a bit more intense.

So one of the things that can go
wrong with the processing of visual
information is called visual sensory
processing disorder. So in individuals
with visual sensory processing disorder,
the brain can struggle to make
sense of the visual information
that’s being processed. So and that leads
you to leads to challenges
interpreting the visual stimuli. So
that could result in difficulties with
things like reading or depth
perception. It might lead to difficulties
with recognising faces or sensitivities or seeking
behaviours with like bright lights or
visual busy visual environments.

So the auditory system, that’s obviously
what we’re listening to, things that are
going in through our ears and the
auditory system processes sound waves
captured by the ears. The cochlea in the
inner ear vibrates and that
sends the neural signals to the brain
that are transmitted by, again, the
auditory nerve. It’s all about
how the information gets from the
outside world into our brain and then the
brain decodes the signals. Into
recognisable sounds and auditory
experiences. Some of the things that you
might recognise in yourself about
your auditory.

Processing are things like obviously
sounds, but also lack of sounds,
speech and how that’s being interpreted,
audio, visual input like from the media
and processing language. So auditory
sensory processing disorder involves
difficulties. In processing and
interpreting auditory information.

People who have that kind of sensory
processing difficulty might be
hypersensitive to sound, so
overreacting to noises in their
environment, or hyposensitive
so under reacting to sounds, and that’s
so that leads to seeking behaviours.

But it also can look like difficulty
filtering out background noise, and it
can lead to difficulties with being
able to prioritise sound, so
understanding speech when there’s
background noise. Going on following
directions or coping with
loud or sudden sounds. This is something
that we see a lot with kiddos who
struggle with things like the vacuum
cleaner or sounds like
hand dryers. That’s a big one that I see.

OK, the tactile sensory system.
Now the tactile sensory system involves
the skin. The skin is our biggest
sensory organ and it. Eat process. Things like
direct pressure, temperature
and nerve signals from the tactile
receptors on the skin travel to
the brain, which is where obviously they
get processed to perceive touch and
pressure. So when?

You might notice your own
tactile sensory system. Working is when
you start to notice, say for example, the
feeling of the of the clothing on your
skin, the feeling of the sun on your skin
when you might be just about to get
starting to get sunburnt. That’s one that
I get the feeling of wind on your skin or
when someone touches you. So when
somebody has tactile sensory processing disorder, it can
result in either a a heightened or ad. Finished
responsivity to touch.

So some people might be over sensitive to
certain textures, they might be
under sensitive to certain temperatures
or or something like that and that can
lead to discomfort or avoidance of touch. But something
that we that we see a lot is people who
have reduced sensitivity and that
means they’re seeking out extra
extra sensory input in those areas so.

That can impact things like
grooming, whether they’re OK with like
washing themselves, wearing clothes.

I see some people who do get sensitive
to the feeling of socks and shoes,
and that’s all signs of
sensory processing
disorder with the tactile system.

So the vestibular system. This is one of
the the lesser known systems that I was
going to talk about so. The
vestibular sensory system, so it’s
responsible for sensing balance, spatial
orientation, where our body is in
space and movement as
well, so it involves.

The fluid filled structures
in the inner ear that detect changes in
head position and movement.

And so when you might notice this system
really working is when you feel
your centre of gravity is off balance. Or
when you’re standing right near a ledge
and your sense of your your centre of
gravity feels off kilter. So something
like the ground feeling unstable. You
might notice your stipular system working
when you’re dizzy or spinning around.

That’s when you can sense your vestibular
system working. Or when you shake your
head really quickly and you get that
light headed unstable feeling, that’s your vestibular
system working to bring you back to a
stable centre. So vestibular
sensory processing disorder can
lead to difficulties in maintaining
balance and processing movement, so
moving your body. Through space might
become difficult, and people with
vestibular SPD experience things like
dizziness, unsteadiness, or difficulty
coordinating movements, which as you can imagine,
effects all sorts of things, Walking,
playing, or, and sometimes in extreme
situations, even sitting still.

All right, we’ve got two more, and these
ones are really big. How can have
a really big impact when there’s, uh,
sensory processing differences going on?

The next one is proprioceptive, so the
the proprioceptive sensory system
involves sensing the position.

Of your body parts and the orientation of
body parts without relying on visual
input. So a good example of this is
Can you close your eyes and touch your
nose without?
Missing. Then that’s your that’s your
proprioceptive system working.

So proprioceptive receptors in joints and
muscles send signals to the brain
about body position and movement.

So you might notice
this system working when you’re moving
your limbs around, or you’re carrying
your body in space, or sometimes when we
land really heavily, you can feel the
proprioceptive receptors in the joints
and your knees. Absorbing that impact,
that’s appropriate effective system
working so proprioceptive sensory
processing disorder can result in.

Struggles around coordination,
challenges with bodily awareness. And
they might somebody who’s struggling
with a sensory processing disorder
with proprioceptive input might have
difficulty judging the force that they’re
using with things or pressure that they
need to to use a movement.

And so that can lead to
clumsiness or poor spatial awareness, and
that obviously increases the risk of.

Struggles around coordination,
challenges with bodily awareness. And
they might somebody who’s struggling
with a sensory processing disorder
with proprioceptive input might have
difficulty judging the force that they’re
using with things or pressure that they
need to to use a movement.

And so that can lead to
clumsiness or poor spatial awareness, and
that obviously increases the risk of.

Injury Umm. And sometimes they can
also struggle with tasks that require
fine motor control, because
that requires a really stable
posture that can be really difficult if
you have proprioceptive sensory
processing struggles. So the
last sensory system we’re going to chat
about today is the interoceptive sensory
system. And this is I think the most
interesting but also the least known
of the sensory processing systems, and
that’s the interoceptive system.

So the interoceptive system involves
perceiving internal sensations. Anything from
your skin inwards that you can feel
is part of your interoceptive sensory
system. So perceiving internal sensations
like hunger. First, your heartbeat.
Whether you’re hot or
cold, and also things like bowel
movements. That’s all sensory signals that
being sent from your body up to your
brain. And it helps to
understand this because we can better.

Tune in to understand people’s
bodily internal states when we have good
interoceptive processing, however,
Interoceptive Sensory Processing Disorder
is something that I see a lot, especially
with autistic kiddos, and it can
lead to a lot of struggles, especially
around toileting bowel
movements. Constipation, So
interoceptive SPD can lead to difficulties
recognising and interpreting
internal sensations. Individuals might
struggle to identify hunger or thirst
cues, so they might kind of
eat or drink irregularly. They could
also have challenges when trying to
process pain or discomfort, and
that will impact their ability to
appropriately respond when their body is
sending them those signals.

So you’ll be able to notice your
interactive, interactive
system working. When you, for example,
feel your stomach rumble, that’s a
sensory signal from your stomach to your
brain that drives an
eating behaviour. But ifyou have a
disruption to your sensory processing.

Um, with your interoceptive system,
your stomach might be sending your brain
a message, but that message may be being
scrambled along the way. It may
be being disrupted in some way,
and one of the ones that I see a lot is
sensory information from
the large intestine and the bowel.

Those messaging getting scrambled between
the bowl and the brain, leading to issues
with bowel movements and toileting.

Especially in autistic people.
All right. Sorry.

Let’s talk a little bit about sensitivity
specifically. I guess we’re all
wanting to know, OK, well, when
somebody has a sensory sensitivity, how
does it impact them? And then that way we
can understand, OK, what’s going to
change about the behaviour. So sensory
sensitivities, which, you know,
kind of using the term interchange
interchangeably with sensory
processing differences, refers to a way
that individuals.

Nervous system receives and reacts to the
sensory stimuli in the environment. So
as I’ve said, that can include sights,
sounds, textures. I haven’t mentioned
smells, but it can definitely be
sensitive to smells. And
it certainly can impact neurodivergent individuals,
autistic individuals differently. So
imagine that your brain is sort of acting
like a philtre for for your sensory information, right? Like all
the sensory information goes in here and
gets sorted out by the brain, for most
people, the philtre works great. It
allows them to focus on what’s important
and also philtres out
less relevant sensory input, however.

When you have a sensory sensitivity, this
the philtre. Going on in the brain can be really
delicate or it can be hyper
sensitive and it can cause certain
sensory experiences to be much more
overwhelming, much more uncomfortable or
even painful. So recognising sensory sensitivities
involves kind of observing an
individual and watching how they
react to a sensory stimuli. So I thought
I’d mention a few common ways that
you can recognise if somebodyis. Having
a sensory sensitivity, um,
that because obviously we can’t get
inside someone’s head, we don’t know what
that experience is that they’re having.

What we have access to is, is reading
them, reading their body language, their
face, and finding out how
that what that tells us about
what they’re experiencing with their
sensory experience. So
somebody who’s experiencing an auditory
sensitivity might do something like
covering their ears. Flinching in
response to a loud noise becoming really
distressed or anxious in
noisy environments. So
as I say the Vacuum and the hand
hand dryer. That’s one of the ones that I
see a lot of kids becoming distressed
with that. I also had a kiddo who
had a sensitivity to the birthday song.

And so anytime there was a birthday song
being sung at a birthday party or that
was a big trigger. So you can also have
reactions to textures and so that might
look like refusing to wear
certain clothes because of discomfort
from the texture or tags. That’s a big
one. Avoiding. Touching specific
textures like sand that can be a big one
for people. Avoiding certain fabrics
or the textures of certain food
the the tactile processing with the
mouth can be a big trigger for people.

So the visual processing can be a little bit more
tricky to pick up when somebody is
struggling with that. But somebody might
squint or cover their eyes, or become
really agitated when bright or flickering
lights are on. They might struggle to
focus when there’s a lot of visual
clutter, for example. In a really busy
classroom, a child who’s got sorry visual
sensitivities might struggle to focus.

So if a kiddo has, well, anybody
has sensitivities to tastes and
smells that you might notice, like
really strong disgust, reactions to
smells or tastes that we may not even
notice. Reacting strongly to the certain
tastes of food or the textures of food.

They may love crunchy foods, hate soft
foods, even gag if there is a
soft food or a crunchy food that they
are trying to eat. They can’t. If
somebody has a sensory sensitivity to
tactile, especially touch, they might
avoid physical contact such as hugging
or handshakes just due to how that makes
them feel and again the
the textures or fabric against the skin.

So if a kiddo has, well, anybody
has sensitivities to tastes and
smells that you might notice, like
really strong disgust, reactions to
smells or tastes that we may not even
notice. Reacting strongly to the certain
tastes of food or the textures of food.

They may love crunchy foods, hate soft
foods, even gag if there is a
soft food or a crunchy food that they
are trying to eat. They can’t. If
somebody has a sensory sensitivity to
tactile, especially touch, they might
avoid physical contact such as hugging
or handshakes just due to how that makes
them feel and again the
the textures or fabric against the skin.

So those the differences and the unpredictability
in the nature of. Of sensory processing can cause really
unfamiliar and distressing experiences if that person
has internal interoceptive sensory issues. So feeling
frightened when you’ve got
something like a bowel movement can
cause, you know, continent issues. And not
recognising hunger signals
from the stomach can cause, you know,
hunger that then dysregulates, right. We
all get hungry, that’s a thing. But.

Recognising if somebody’s having

Interceptive sensory struggles could look
like those hangry cues being really
exaggerated. So how do we?

I. OK.

So I guess it’s important to understand
that there’s no way around behaviour
management. There’s no way
around the fact that behaviour management
needs to be relationship based,
especially when it comes to understanding
how sensory impacts behaviour.

So I guess it’s important to understand
that there’s no way around behaviour
management. There’s no way
around the fact that behaviour management
needs to be relationship based,
especially when it comes to understanding
how sensory impacts behaviour.

It’s so important that we reflect on our
own sensory experiences because that
gives us the understanding of what might
be going on for someone. And
because, again, we can’t be inside
somebody else’s experience. Thinking
about how sensory input affects us
can help us to understand how sensory
input affects the ones we care about. I,
for example, get extremely stressed when
I’m going into supermarkets.

There’s something about the combination of the
movement. The noise, the fluorescent
lights that I find are really stressful
so. I use noise cancelling headphones
at all times when I’m at in a supermarket
and I find that that helps bring down the
overwhelm. I don’t put anything on the
noise cancelling headphones, I just use
them purely for the noise cancelling
benefits. And I’m not playing any
music or podcast or anything, I just use
them to bring down. The sound
so. Umm.

I think knowing that person is the
key, right? And knowing
and observing your loved ones
capacity tolerances for the different
types of sensory input is the key to
knowing how sensory inputs
affect their behaviour. So there’sno way
around the fact that behaviour management
needs to be relationship based. If you
don’t know the person you need to support
you’ll you’ll always be on the back foot
and kind of lacking understanding. Of
what’s going on for them. So everybody’s
sensory processing is gonna impact their
behaviour differently. And I think it
would be remiss of me to try and create a
one size fits all approach to how
we can support sensory and behaviour.

Because we have to have a full assessment
of sensory sensitivities for the
individual to know OK, what’s going
to increase their agitation, what’s going
to increase their tolerance and that kind of thing.

The best way for us to understand a specific
person’s behaviour is to have a full
sensory assessment. Work out what’s
going on for them. Implement
A proactive sensory regulation diet,
making sure that they’re getting the
sensory inputs that they need to be as
calm as they possibly can. We want to
have proactive regulatory strategies
and supports on hand to and as well as
Reactive Co regulatory techniques in our
toolkit. So I’m I’m going to go into
the details of some kind of
broad examples that might help with
that because as I say. It has to be
individualised to the person.

Everybody’s sensory sensitivities are
different. Let’s go on to
suggested strategies. So.
There’s so many different things that we
might try to see if it
helps somebody to.

Tolerate their sensory inputs better. So.
So let’s start with visual. So when
somebody’s got visual
sensitivities, they can be either
seeking sensory input or avoiding
sensory input. And that’s the same with
all with all of the systems.

So things like providing a child with a
pair of sunglasses or tinted sunglasses
to reduce the bright bright
lights and visual sensitivity. I’ve also,
you can see I’ve got a picture here of a
pram on the screen, something that prams
are great for, especially when they’ve
got a. Fold out

Canopy is reducing the visual input
that’s available to that child. If they
sort of lean right back in the PRAM and
we pull the. And pull
the canopy over, they’ve got far less,
far less visual input to process.

Something else that can really help is a
sensory retreat. So designating a quiet
and really visually simplified space
where a child can retreat when they’re
feeling overwhelmed. This can be really
helpful in schools and in classrooms when
there’s a lot going on. Having a
teepee or if possible a little room off
to the side, there can be a calming
corner with low visual and auditory
inputs, so we just want it to be as
plain as possible and as quiet as
possible. So another visual strategy can be
introducing something called visual
anchors. So introducing A visually
simple calming object that child can
focus and lock their visual field onto when feeling
overwhelmed. That’s you know, it might be
a stuffed animal that can really focus on
looking at taking in all the.

Trying to block out all the external
noise and the and visual clutter and just
looking at that one visual anchor can
help ground them and just kind of
as the name suggests, anchor there
sensory system. The visual dividers.

That’s another really good one. Using
things like portable screens or panels to
create temporary barriers between the
child or the person and the
overwhelming visual stimuli can be
helpful. So tactile options, again, a tactile
anchor. So providing the child with a
tactile comfort object such as a blanket
or a stuffed animal that they can touch
any kind of preferred tactile input
is going to help fill help them feel
grounded and secure. Fidget tools. I know
this is a popular one. This is a tactile
strategy that can.

They can have a bunch of different types
of inputs, but having a selection of
fidget toys that have different tactile
properties can provide an outlet for
sensory exploration and self
regulation. Deep pressure is a really
good tactile strategy. It’s one
of the ones that I find really effective
for kids who need, well, people who need regulation.

So incorporating activities that provide
deep pressure touch, such as wrapping a
child. Weighted blankets or giving them
a kind of deep pressure massage.

Can be a good one. The stimulus
supports things like dancing and rhythmic
movement, really leaning into
a beat of something, you know, engaging
the person in rhythmic dancing or
movements involving things
like swaying or spinning or rocking to
the music. Can be really regulating for
people. I have a really good video that I
send to people who need kind
of rhythmic options and it’s a
spoken word story of we’re going on a
bear hunt that just has a really heavy
beat that kids can then people
can really kind of tune into. And it’s so
super regulating. I’ve had kids who were,
you know, in full meltdown and then just
starting to play them that heavy beat
with the spoken word. There’s no visual,
so it’s not overwhelming. Has really
helped them, you know, come down from
that dysregulated moment,
swinging such a good one, swinging office
swinging activities on swings that are
kind of designed for sensory integration,
especially like a controlled rhythmic
swinging can be so super kind
and it has very good.

Of organising effects on the vestibular
system, We’re kind of reintegrating.

Movement breaks are another really good
suggested strategy for sensory overwhelm.

I know that this is something that helps
when kids or anybody needs to be
seated to engage in an activity. Knowing
that there’s a movement break coming up
where they can do things like, you know,
marching on the spot, jumping jacks or
animal crawls are going to
support the vestibular. System.

There’s lots of sensory strategies and
it’s really about finding the one that
works for you and for the person that
you’re supporting. But I hope that some
of these have been helpful in giving you
some ideas.

We’re going to answer
any questions now, and then after
that we will finish
up. Let me just stop sharing the screen.
Make him go back to.
Another teams meeting, so if you have any
questions, now’s the time to ask.


Hi. Hello. Hi. Yes,
I need to ask for something
did by my daughter. If it’s sensory or
not, she didn’t
eat anything unless she smell it.

Oh, interesting. OK, Is it?

Does she smell it even when the food is
familiar? Sometimes
yes, but mostly with the new one, but
sometimes. She did it with the items that
it’s already familiar with the batsman,
mainly with the new new items. She
didn’t eat it or less smell it. Then she decided
it. It or not. I we don’t have
control on that. That’s
definitely a sensory thing, I think.

Um, especially if you have
maybe differences in the way that
you’re processing the sensory
sensation of food in your mouth, or
you have limited ways of engaging with
knowing if that food is going to feel
safe or if it’s going to be unfamiliar.

If it’s how you’re expecting or it’s
unexpected, then engaging
as many different sensory.

Tools as as that person has in their
toolkit is the best way that that
person can tell whether that
food’s gonna be something that they like.

So it’s definitely a sensory thing, and I
would say that it’s also probably a lot
to do with.

Just kind of making sure that she has
control over what she’s eating
and and feeling sure
that she knows as best she can what it’s
going to taste like before she before she
gives it a go. So I wouldn’t
be too worried that it’s a negative thing
or or whatever. I’d say it’s,
yeah, it’s just to do with.

Preparing herself for what that sensory
experience is going to be like. I
hope that’s helpful. I hope that’s
helpful. We. We I answer lots of questions over on
our Facebook page. So if you’re not a
member of our Facebook group, please go
have a look for Transform Life. Are
you over on Facebook and

Instagram and we
can connect there. There’s lots of,
you know, questions and resources
and those kinds of things. So thank
you so much for coming. It was
lovely to be able to present
today and we will be back two
weeks, same time, same place, same
link on another topic to do
with transforming behaviour.

OK, let me just see if I can stop the
recording. How do I stop the recording?


Transform Life is an Australian owned provider specialising in evidence based therapeutic support including Positive Behaviour Support, Occupational Therapy, Psychology, Speech Therapy and Behavioural Interventions helping transform lives and families across Australia.

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