Does any of the following sound recognizable?
- Your child is mouthing the toys (and not even toys)
- Your child is licking tables, doors, windows
- Your child is biting you and other people
- Your child ignores speech
- Your child stares at lights
- Your child brings everything close to his eyes
- Your child insists on watching TV for 6 hours a day (and sometimes even during the night).
If you answered YES to any of the above questions, chances are your child is hyposensitive to at least some types of stimulation. What is hyposensitivity? Well, sensations is something all humans crave. We enjoy delicious food. We enjoy music. We enjoy nice, warm lighting. We enjoys soft clothing. We enjoy hugs and kisses. So do hyposensitive children. Only they need much more stimulation to feel satiated! Where a light touch would do for you, they crave deep pressure. Your mouth craves only food, a hyposensitive child needs to lick all shapes and textures (and even sometimes bite them). You watch TV because you enjoy the show. A hyposensitive child enjoys the sounds and lights coming from the box, and she does not care what the show is about.
Something like this looks ultimately satisfying for a hyposensitive child:
What are the consequences of hyposensitivity?
Hyposensitive children frequently look disoriented.
Where we perceive shapes, they see only contours. Where we hear speech, they hear a subdued and undecipherable acoustic waive. They often appear aggressive – with all their biting and touching, while they simply crave, crave, crave sensations. Just like all human beings. Only so much stronger. They climb and jump, they appear not to have any sense of fear, and sometimes cause themselves a real injury.
Many hyposensitive children are diagnosed with Autism. To me, the label is not important. What is important, is the correct understanding of how your child sees the world and how you can help her to mange this world given her unique perception.
Jack (the name is changed), an adorable 2 year old, was brought to me for a routine psychological evaluation. He already has been diagnosed with Autism and the parents were looking for a second opinion. Initially, Jack behaved as a typical autistic child. He did not show us his big brown eyes. He ignored his name. He wandered around the room aimlessly and threw himself on the floor repeatedly without any apparent reason (apart form his vestibular hyposensitivity of course). That was until my co-evaluator, a wonderful Occupational Therapist Irene showed him her sensory toys. He loved the giant sensory Turtle and it’s vibrating hug! That was no light touch!
This is not Jack of course, but this is the turtle:
And after that satisfying hug, he spent several more minutes squeezing and pressing the sensory ball.
As he played with the toys, Irene started massaging his back. As she pressed deeper and deeper, Jack was moving closer and closer to her. He loved deep pressure. It was soothing. It was calming. It was the sensation that he craved! As she slightly threw him up in the air and caught him, he laughed and returned her hug. More then thirty minutes into the evaluation, he looked into her face and returned her hug! Finally we started seeing his big brown eyes. While she continued massaging his back, he built a two block tower and completed the three piece puzzle, placing those large circles, squares and triangles turned out not to be a problem at all! We started saying his name loudly and firmly, and his response improved dramatically. By the end of the evaluation he flirted with me and with Irene (a gorgeous blond, by the way). It took us more than 30 minutes to satiate his constant craving, which soothed him and helped him focus on the activities and relate to us. By the end of the evaluation we hardly recognized the child we met an hour ago.
So, what can you do to help your hyposensitive child?
The answer is simple. You need to satiate his/her craving for sensation (she simply doesn’t get enough from regular stimulation). But you need to do it in a smart way! TV won’t do it. Your baby doesn’t learn how to relate to people from all that flickering. Your baby doesn’t pay attention to speech. Your baby doesn’t need to respond to TV in any way. She can be completely passive, not understanding a thing, and the stimulation is still coming to her. It flickers and flickers and flickers! And it teaches her NOT to respond. NOT to relate. NOT to learn. Since, as opposed to human interactions, TV keeps “talking to you” even if you don’t respond, don’t understand and don’t relate! If anything, it teaches you how NOT to communicate! And it’s tiring for your child (even if she demands it!) The same carousel of lights and sounds keeps replaying in her dreams, and if your little one wakes up at night, you know what is responsible! So, yes, turn off TV, but not immediately. BEFORE you turn it of, you need to OFFER something to your child to do instead. Something, that will satisfy her craving for sensations. Get her toys! Get her those special sensory toys!
There are plenty of places on line, but e-specialneeds.com is my favourite! (No, I’m not connected to them in any way!). And once the toys are in your home, turn off TV.
Offer her a sensory ball. Offer her a rocking horse (kids with hyposensitive vestibular system love it!). Offer her toys that light up and toys that vibrate. Then play with her. Talk to her loudly, slowly, clearly. Talk to her firmly. Talk to her as she plays. Talk to her about those toys. Show her how to use them. Be almost loud, be clear, be in her face! Remember, hyposensitive kids need a lot more stimulation to get information in! Get your hands on her back, arms and shoulders and massage her. With a hyposensitive child deep pressure is the best! And then throw her up in the air and catch her, and as you catch her look her directly in the eyes! Swing her back and forth. And when she asks for more, say to her, say “more”, “more”, “more”, say it loudly and clearly and give her a chance to repeat. If she doesn’t repeat right away, don’t give up, she will do it next time! Do this type of sensory playing for 30 minutes, no interruptions please! This type of playing will take a lot of your energy, you will feel drained, but this will be worth it. You will discover a connection with your child, you will give her exactly what she needs! And when the thirty minutes is over, please do not turn on TV just yet. Instead, get dressed and go outside. Swings and slides and climbing walls are exactly what your child needs! Only this time, please, continue talking with her. Be loud! Be clear! Yell as you run from her, and yell as your run after he. Yell words, phrases, and sentences but be very clear. And sometimes yell just sounds, and invite her to repeat. That’s another hour of sensory playing for your child. And if the weather is not cooperating, find inside plagrounds. Remember, her vestibular system needs sensations! And chances are, so does her visual, motor and audio systems. You can finish your day with 10-15 minutes of playing on the computer. Yes, your child will love it! And although not ideal, computer games are better then TV watching. At least, they are interactive and require a response from your child. And there are some educational and even sensory games as well. Repeat the same routine the next day, and add a musical toy (a keyboard is perfect) to stimulate your child’ audio system. And please, remember to sing to her, loudly and clearly (you don’t really need to stay in tune). Talk to her between the songs. And as you sing and talk, look into her eyes! If you do this four times a week (and leave TV watching for those two days, when, as every parent, you recuperate), you will be amazed with how fast your hyposensitive child improves.