Sensory/ Self Regulation April 13, 2017 00:00

A new phrase I've learnt about over the past few years is "sensory/self regulation" It means the success for us to understand patterns of behaviours which all relate to the heightened or lowered state of ones senses. It presents differently for every person.

As a toddler whenever we were at the shops Miss E would be sucking on the safety strap of the stroller or the handle of the trolley. At the time I considered it gross and such a bad way to get yucky germs in her mouth and I was always making her stop it, sometimes getting totally frustrated at her constantly not listening to me and doing it anyway. My old brain thought "why is she deliberately disobeying me!" This is often the thing I talk about when reminiscing about the tell tale signs during toddler hood that we totally missed because we didn't understand. By chewing or sucking things while at the shops she was self regulating. She hated being at the shops because it's noisy, has bright lights, different smells of people and smells within the shops (candle places no thanks! even kids shops like smiggle are so smelly) and it is a place that is totally unpredictable. My ASD knowledgeable brain now says "if only I had let her suck/chew she would never have continually run away!". She always ran away at the shops and the only way I knew to stop her was with the kiddy backpack with the lead so I could try and keep her safe. We also had the rule that when out of anything that strapped you in you always held a grown ups hand.

You see for kids with Autism their senses are heightened. What we can brush off as a stinky smell and move on may make them physically sick. What we dismiss as a loud bang, can make them run to escape or cry uncontrollably because the pain is so intense in their ears. What we may find ticklish they feel as knives being dug into their skin. Our senses effect us all day long in many, many ways and these kids often have super senses and may seek or avoid sensory input and these will present differently in each person.

Most of Miss E’s erratic behaviours in toddler hood were actually her being in flight/fight response from sensory overload. They were never naughty and were never fixed with "time out"... despite the millions of books I read about the success of time out, 123 magic.. etc in books aimed at parents, nothing ever worked. The reality is that until she learnt to self regulate those behaviours they were never able to be managed. What I now know, which has made me a better parent, is that behaviour is never naughty or inconvenient to me as a grown up. It is the child trying to communicate to me that there is a problem and in some instances what we may see as wrong/naughty/unhygenic is them trying to self regulate; sucking on clothing/fingers, running away, constantly moving (spinning, crashing, dancing), blocking ears/nose and so many more!

Smell is a big sensory problem for Miss E and she happily admits that she has the best sense of smell on Earth! She can smell something strong from a mile away... as an older kid she now knows to just block her nose, or in some instances we avoid places all together (seafood shop.. no way!). If you walk down the laundry aisle and pet food aisle of the supermarket with her she will be blocking her nose exclaiming at how bad the smell is. It's not something to laugh at, it's her self regulating. If you wear a super strong perfume or use a strong scented laundry powder/fabric softener she probably won’t hug you. Not because she doesn't like you, but because she finds your scent too overpowering. She will approach you later though, once she has desensitised from the initial overpowering smell.


Donna - Committee Member