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So, what is Sensory Defensiveness and how might it impact my child?

Essentially, sensory defensiveness is when a child has aversive, defensive, negative or avoidant reactions in one or more sensory system. This includes the systems;

  1. Touch
  2. Hearing
  3. Smell
  4. Visual
  5. Taste
  6. Vestibular (Movement)
  7. Proprioceptive (Deep pressure)

When a child has sensory defensiveness the area in our brain called the “survival brain” (otherwise known as the amygdala) produces an overreaction of the threat response, telling the rest of the brain that the incoming stimulus is “dangerous” – even if it is not. For example, the brush of fabric against the skin gets interpreted as something dangerous and attacking.

So what can sensory defensiveness look like? Some examples include…

What impact can this experience of sensory input have? Some examples include…

How might the child be trying to cope? Some examples include…

What are the options for helping a child with sensory defensiveness?

  1. The adults surrounding the child (parents, teachers, grandparents etc) need to understand sensory defensiveness. This includes what it looks like and what the triggers are.
  2. The child to learn about their own sensory preferences and have tools to feel calm
  3. A sensory program to be implemented with the support from an Occupational Therapist who has received additional training in this area.
  4. Professionally guided treatment may be recommended and implemented by a qualified Occupational Therapist. These can often be intensive in nature and aim to reduce the overall reaction the sensory input is having on the survival brain.

Not sure if your child has sensory defensiveness or not? Speak to one of our Occupational Therapists and they will be able to assist you further!



Written by Steph Aylmore, Occupational Therapist