Have you ever noticed how some young children love to roll in the mud and others refuse to finger paint? Some children are terrified of loud noises like fireworks and others do not seem to be affected by them. Does your child love to receive bear hugs or does she refuse to let you touch her? All of these reactions stem from how the child takes in sensory information. Jean Piaget, a developmental theorist, believed that young children learn by exploring and taking in sensory information. You can see this in action when you watch a young toddler chew on a toy or touch everything that he can reach. We know that our five basic senses are vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch. In sensory processing, the brain takes that information and interprets it to help the body react. Research has shown us that there are three other supplementary sense systems:
Although everyone shows some of these sensory preferences, there can be a concern if a child’s sensory-seeking behaviors or sensory-defensive behaviors begin to limit his or her ability to participate in normal childhood activities. Some children may significantly struggle with loud noises, the feeling of a type of clothing, changes in routine, or someone accidently brushing up against them in the classroom. If a child’s sensory preferences does not allow him or her to participate in normal childhood activities, then it may be time to speak with your pediatrician or seek an evaluation from an occupational therapist. Occupational therapists can work with the child to keep these impulses under control so that he or she can participate in normal home and classroom activities just like other children the same age.
Dr. Sarah Vanover has been working in the field of early childhood education for over 22 years and has had the opportunity to be a teacher, a director, and a trainer for other early childhood educators. She has a passion for making sure that children with special needs receive high-quality early care and education.