Do you know what the difference is between sensory seeking and sensory sensitive? Sensory seeking is when a person craves more sensory input, while sensory sensitive is when a person experiences overload or overstimulation from too much sensory input. This can be from any of the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
Many people don’t realize that there is a difference at all. In this blog post, we will discuss the key differences between these two types of children. We will also provide tips for parents and educators on how to best support children who are either sensory seeking or sensory sensitive.
Sensory Seeker vs Sensory Sensitive (Avoider)
What is a sensory seeker?
Sensory seekers have a strong need for stimulation. These children may seek out movement, touch, noise, and other sensory input in order to feel calm and focused. They may also have a hard time sitting still or keeping their hands to themselves. The child can seek in any of these sensory systems (visual, tactile, auditory, proprioceptive, vestibular, olfactory).
What is a sensory sensitive child (avoider)?
Sensitive children are the opposite of seekers. They are easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation and will often avoid loud noises, bright lights, and roughhousing. These children may seem shy or withdrawn and may have a hard time. They may prefer quieter activities and have a low tolerance for loud noises or busy environments.
Can you be a sensory seeker and sensory avoider?
Yes, it is possible to be both a seeker and an avoider. These children may seek out sensory input in some situations and avoid it in others. For example, a child who is sensitive to loud noises may enjoy spinning on a tire swing at the park, but not going to a crowded grocery store.
It’s important to remember that every child is different. Some children may exhibit mostly seeker behaviors, while others may be more sensitive. And some children may fall somewhere in between.
Are sensory seekers autistic?
There is no one answer to this question. Some children who are sensory seekers may be autistic, but not all of them are. Autism is a neurological disorder that affects how a person perceives and interacts with the world around them. If you suspect your child has autism or another developmental disability, please consult with a doctor or therapist for a proper evaluation.
Is sensory seeking part of ADHD?
Again, there is no one answer to this question. Some children who are sensory seekers may have ADHD, but not all of them do. ADHD is a neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to focus and control their impulses.
Can a child outgrow sensory issues?
It is possible for a child to outgrow their sensory issues, but it depends on the child. Some children may only experience mild sensitivities or seekers behaviors early in life, but eventually grow out of them. Other children may struggle with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or other sensory issues throughout their lives.
There is no one right answer for every child. The best thing you can do is to provide support and accommodations as your child needs them.
Sensory Seeker Examples:
- craves movement and touch
- unusual high tolerance to pain
- constantly on the go
- enjoys loud noises and busy environments
- tries new things without hesitating
- may have a hard time sitting still or paying attention
- may enjoy mouth stimulation (chewing, cold water)
- talks louder than other kids
Sensory Sensitive Examples:
- easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation
- sensitive to smells and tastes
- avoids loud noises, bright lights, and roughhousing
- seems shy or withdrawn
- prefers quieter activities
- sensitive to touch, hair brushing, haircutting, nail clipping, and more
- may have a low threshold for pain
- has a hard time with change or new situations
Now that you know the difference between sensory seekers and sensory sensitive children, let’s discuss some tips on how to support them. You can also help them regulate better with these self-regulating activities.
How can we support sensory needs?
- Provide a quiet place for the child to retreat to if they need a break from sensory overload.
- Encourage calm and focused activities, such as reading, puzzles, or drawing.
- Allow the child to participate in activities that appeal to them, such as swinging, running, or climbing.
- Give the child plenty of opportunities to move their body.
- Provide a variety of textures for the child to explore, such as soft blankets, rough towels, and smooth stones.
- Make sure the child’s environment is safe and comfortable for them.
- If needed, work with a therapist or doctor to create a sensory diet specifically tailored to the child.
Support for Sensory Seekers:
- give the child plenty of opportunities to move and explore
- provide a variety of sensory experiences
- encourage the child to try new things
- create a calm and organized environment
Support for Sensory Sensitive Children:
- avoid overstimulating the child with too many activities or outings
- give the child plenty of downtime to relax and rejuvenate
- provide a quiet and calm environment
- choose sensory activities that are appropriate for the child’s sensitivity level
Support Tools for Sensory Seekers and Sensitives:
- sensory toys and fidgets
- weighted blankets or vests
- earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones
- calming essential oils
If you think a child may benefit from any of these tools, please consult with a doctor or occupational therapist. They can help you choose the right products and provide guidance on how to use them properly.
Both sensory seekers and sensory sensitive children benefit from routine and predictability. Try to establish a daily routine with set times for meals, play, and sleep. This will help the child feel more comfortable and secure.
Be patient and understanding. Both sensory seekers and sensory sensitive children are unique individuals who learn and process information differently. Do not expect them to behave in a certain way or meet your expectations. Try to be open-minded and adapt your parenting & education style to best meet their needs.
Remember, every child is different! So if you have a child who seems to exhibit mostly seeker behaviors, or a child who is more sensitive, don’t worry. They will still thrive with the right supports in place.
Sensory issues can be tricky to navigate, but with the right information and support, you can help the child thrive!
Please note that this is not intended to be medical advice. If you have any concerns about your child’s development, please consult with a doctor or occupational therapist.