Relating to Your Sensory Self / by Laura Kett

So far, my posts have been focused on your child’s challenging behaviors and sensory processing differences.  Before we continue, I want to emphasize that we all have differences!   However, sometimes these differences are more extreme and become a challenge to us.  I always tell parents that the sensory processing differences that they observe in their child are only a problem if those differences interfere with family or school life. In terms of sensory needs, is your child comfortable in his or her daily environment?  Are sensory patterns affecting social interactions or ability to focus in school or follow a daily routine? 

Before you consider your child’s patterns, reflect on your own sensory processing patterns. Winnie Dunn wrote an insightful book called Living Sensationally:  Understanding Your Senses.  She helps adults view their own behaviors through the lens of sensory responses in daily living. The responses are then grouped into four basic patterns:  avoiders, sensors, bystanders and seekers.  Her questionnaire helps you to determine your own patterns as well as the degree to which they influence your social interactions, activity choices, clothing and so forth. 

I took the questionnaire myself and the results show that my behaviors appear to be moderately influenced by avoider and sensor patterns, some mild bystander characteristics, and virtually no influence by seeker patterns of responses.  It confirms, from a sensory point of view, that I am a mixed bag:  I avoid perfume but like spices, love haircuts and going barefoot, but I do not touch others when I am talking to them – in fact, I respect a substantial personal bubble.

My primary take-away from this book is that no one pattern is better than another; however, how you experience and respond to sensory input can impact your activity choices and how you relate to other people.  While this is particularly true in marital and roommate relationships, just consider how much this can influence your relationship with your child!

If you are a “seeker” parent and have a “sensor” child, you may clash in your idea of what is fun!   A seeker may love the big crowded playground and all of its activities, but the avoider child might prefer his or her own backyard with a friend or two.  A seeker child might like the front row of a parade, while the bystander parent might like to watch from a few rows back. The avoider parent would have someone else take their child to the parade.  A sensor child might only be comfortable in cotton clothing with tags cut out, while a seeker parent might love bright lively fabrics - and it doesn’t matter what it feels like. 

Pay attention to how you perceive sensory input and respond to it. This may prove to be vital in your relationship with your child.  No matter what the results, it is important to honor the fact that your child may be experiencing the input in a totally different way. 

I can help you decipher the sensory patterns in your family.  Being aware of your own sensory processing patterns is a key first step!  Contact me to start the conversation.