Most of us remember learning about the 5 senses in school and chances are you have heard something about sensory processing sometime in your life, but what exactly is it and why is it important? How does it differ from person to person? Before we get started, here are some important terms to note:
What is Sensory Processing?
According to the Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions, sensory processing is “Interpreting and organizing varied stimuli, including those acquired by the tactile, proprioceptive, visual, vestibular, auditory, gustatory, and olfactory senses.” (sensory processing. (n.d.) Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing. (2012). Retrieved September 11 2016 from http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/sensory+processing)
What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
According to The American Heritage Medical Dictionary, “A disorder characterized by oversensitivity or undersensitivity to sensory stimuli, motor control problems, unusuallyhigh or low activity levels, and emotional instability, thought by some to be caused by disruption in the processing and organizing of sensory information by the central nervous system. Its status as a clinical diagnosis is controversial. Also called sensory integration dysfunction.” (The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.)
Many people with ADHD and Autism face oversensitivity or undersensitivity to sensory stimuli in everyday environments, causing much distress and often times very painful experiences, when their typical peers do not. It can be difficult for the individual to describe what is happening or what they are feeling, especially making it difficult to find the right words if their level of pain is quite high. Often times, confusing behaviors may be observed in response to the oversensitivity or under sensitivity, such as: obsessing over a tag in their clothes, refusing to shower, avoiding loud rooms or areas with certain types of lighting, or refusing to sit by their best friend at lunch because they are eating salt and vinegar chips. Other times, and often seen with children, they may even try to escape the environment causing them pain. While this is an area of study we are continually learning more and more about every day, it is important to know that people experience the five senses differently and that these experiences can be uncomfortable for some.
The Cloverleaf classroom environment is as sensory-sensitive as possible in order to optimize learning for all students. Some provide noise-canceling headphones, others have light covers that filter out harsh overhead lighting, and several include alternative seating choices, weighted vests, medicine balls, tactile brushes, diffusers with essential oils, fidgets and many more.
Here is a quick guide on DIY sensory toys for at home or on-the-go, as well as a few sensory friendly events in Atlanta:
DIY Sensory Toys
- Sensory Bottle: Put 1/2 water, 1/2 baby oil, food coloring, glitter, and colorful beads or buttons in an empty clear bottle. For extra fun, add paperclips and see what happens when you touch the outside of the bottle with a magnet.
- Balloon Fidget: Put sand, small rocks, coffee grounds, hair gel, baby powder, water, flour, or rice inside a balloon or latex-free glove. Test out each one or try mixing ingredients to find your favorite one!
- Scented Lap Pad: Fill a large gallon heavy duty ziplock bag with rice and place in a small pillow case. Sprinkle a few drops of calming Lavender or focusing Peppermint essential oils on the pillowcase each use or as needed.
- Touch and Feel Sticks: Hot glue sandpaper, felt, cotton balls, paper towel, and foil each onto different large popsicle stick. Keep in a ziplock bag for quick and easy travel.
- Rain Stick: Put a box of toothpicks and 1/2-1 cup of sand in a clear, empty bottle. Decorate the outside of the bottle as desired.
Atlanta Sensory Friendly Events
- LEGOLAND Discovery Center: The first ever Sensory Friendly Night on Friday, September 30 from 7-9pm
- Georgia Symphony Orchestra: “GSO Sensory Friendly Concert” March 4, 2017 @ 2:00pm, Marietta Performing Art Center AMC Sensory Friendly Films: Every second and fourth Tuesday and Saturday, turn the lights up and the sound down, so you can get up, dance, walk, shout or sing!
- Children’s Museum of Atlanta: Experience “Sensory Friendly Saturdays” the first Saturday of every month. The museum will open for families at 9am and includes a sensory modified setting, limited admissions, and sound and lighting adjustments.
- Center for Puppetry Arts: “Sensory Friendly Programming” includes Tales of Peter Rabbit (9/14-9/25), La Cucarachita Martina (9/28-10/9), The Jungle Book (10/12-10/23), The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow (10/25-11/6), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (11/8-12/31), The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (1/3-1/22), The Adventure of Mighty Bug (1/24-3/12), The Dragon King (3/14-4/2), and Pete the Cat (4/4-5/21)