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  • Sarina Shirazee

Sensory Preferences

Some people naturally need more sensory stimulation, while others need less. I fall into the "less" category. That's because I feel things MORE than others. E.g. I have a low threshold for auditory input, so I notice noise more than others (I struggle to concentrate in noisy cafes, and am frightened by unexpected loud noises) and I’m sensitive to visual input (I don’t like lights being too bright).⠀

The idea that people are more or less sensitive to visual, auditory, touch, smell, taste and movement input is part of SENSORY PROCESSING. People who are MORE sensitive, may take measures to AVOID sensory input. People who are LESS sensitive, may take measures to SEEK sensory input. This is easy for adults to do. E.g. if I'm struggling to concentrate in a noisy cafe, I put my headphones in to screen out the noise. If the sun is too bright, I put my sunglasses on. Adults also develop coping mechanisms for when they experience unwanted sensory input. E.g. when I get frightened by a loud noise, I've learned to take a few deep breaths.⠀

Imagine being a child with sensory under- or over-sensitivity, and not having developed the measures to cope, or simply not being able to use them, because you're in an adult-controlled environment. E.g. a child who is sensitive to noise can't do much about being in a noisy classroom. A child who is less sensitive to movement, so is constantly seeking it, may have trouble sitting still on the mat and be reprimanded for this. A child who is sensitive to proprioceptive input may have a meltdown because someone brushed past them, but that brush felt like a BUMP. Or a child who is sensitive to tactile input may not be able to concentrate on painting when there’s paint on his hand. And being in these states of dysregulation, of having too much or not enough of the sensory input their bodies need to function optimally, can be very uncomfortable.⠀

It's important to understand that we all have our preferences, and they don't necessarily need to be "fixed". However, for children especially, we need to help them, and the adults around them, understand their preferences and how best to work WITH them. This takes time and patience.

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