• Hannah OT

How full is your cup?

Morning everyone! Welcome to week 2, I hope you all had a restful weekend and are having some success in using the sensory circuit. I would love to see or hear about how you are finding it!

This week I am going to be introducing specific activities to target seeking and avoiding behaviours in particular sensory systems. Before I do that I will go through some brief information about our sensory systems.

Introduction to sensory systems

There are 5 main senses that we think of when we ask a child what are your senses - vision, hearing, taste, smell and feel. What we don't consider are the two integral senses to movement, postural control, body awareness, navigating our environment, and the feeling of being grounded and secure - proprioception and vestibular:

Proprioception - is often referred to as the bodies sixth sense and it tells us where our body is in space. It provides us with the information needed to plan and exercise movement, and equips us in forming our internal body map. I really liked this article which gives a more in-depth look at proprioception:

Vestibular - is often referred to as our sense of balance, but it is so much more than this! As this is the sense that enables you to hold your head up against the force of gravity, it is therefore the sense that is integral in supporting accurate visual and auditory perception - enables you to hold your head up and straight in order to direct the position of your eyes and ears. For more information on this sense please see:

Sensory profile

All of us have a sensory profile, which is as different from another, just like a sensory fingerprint. We all have things that we seek and things that we avoid. The main difference perhaps is to what extent we are bothered by such a sensory input. Individuals either seek or avoid certain input depending often on the situation or the time of day.

Many of us seek certain stimulation when we are upset, tired, angry or happy. For example when I am tired I seek movement, when I'm upset I often seek a familiar smell or a tight hug, when I'm angry I will often seek something to squeeze, and when I'm happy I often will not be seeking anything. Equally there are things that I avoid in my environment most of the time, but that when I'm in a state of heightened arousal (upset or angry) I will often need to avoid these things or environments even more e.g. I avoid repetitive sounds - I'm really sensitive to humming, tapping, ticking of clocks, clicking of pens and other low level sounds. When I'm angry or upset I'm even more sensitive to these sounds e.g. when I am generally well regulated the low level humming of "A Million Dreams" (The Greatest Showman) from my two daughters may only rouse a slight disapproving look or a "please don't hum", to a "just stop with the humming, it's driving me crackers!", when I'm trying to concentrate, wound up or unsettled. My point is that these seeking and avoidance patterns are very often consistent, but become more prevalent at certain times and during certain situations.

As a way of thinking about a sensory profile I like to ask is your cup empty, full or just right? This refers to whether for a given sense you are seeking (empty), avoiding (full) or just right (neither seeking or avoiding). This is very simplified, but is a really nice way of looking at your child and also explaining to them why some things bother them more than others (please see the attached picture) e.g.

My cup is clearly full when it comes to the auditory sense, this means that it can take very little auditory input to make my cup overflow and for me to become dysregulated. The only difference between me and a child with a similar element to their sensory profile is I am practised in coping with my sensory profile and recognise when I need to change my environment rather than react. A child in the same situation may very well scream, cry, hit out or runaway - all regulating moves, but moves that may have a physical or emotional consequence for them.

Try this at home - you could perhaps map out everyone's sensory cups in your house to explain why certain things are more annoying to certain individuals! We're definitely going to do this in my house as this is the perfect way of avoiding annoying behaviour during these times of isolation:-)

See you tomorrow for some ideas to support seeking and avoiding behaviour in the proprioceptive system.

Happy Monday!

Hannah OT:-)

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