A portion of this article was originally published in Pact’s Point of View Newsletter in 2016.

The human body is incredible. As humans, our senses play a huge role in how we interact with the world around us. We receive information through our senses, organize it and use that information to interact with our environment on a daily basis. While most of us know of 5 senses, there are actually 8 senses that are important to know about, especially as more and more children are being ‘diagnosed’ with ‘sensory integration challenges.

Along with the five senses we are aware of–sight (vision), hearing (auditory), smell (olfactory), taste (gustatory), touch (tactile)–the other three are: vestibular (movement), proprioception (body awareness) and interoception (awareness of basic functions). Within any of these systems, we can be over-stimulated, under-stimulated, and/or balanced. And, the level of stimulation in these systems can vary from one system to another.  

This article, originally written for the Pact Point of View newsletter, addresses the needs of children who experience the world through overstimulated vestibular and proprioceptive systems.

Questions for parents of children presenting with overstimulated systems

1. If my child is considered “overly fidgety” or “hyperactive” in class, are they trying to activate their level of arousal in order to learn better? Do they need more movement or stimulation?

2. If they need more movement, what kind do they need? What kind of movement are they seeking?

3. How can I advocate for my child to get the kind of movement needed to better impact their ability to learn?

In addition to paying attention to sights, sounds, tastes, food, textures, temperature, hunger, touch, and pain and how they affect your child, pay attention to these two systems for your child as well:

1. The vestibular system- There is fluid in the inner ear (the vestibule). By swinging, spinning, or rocking, for instance, the fluid moves and effectively wakes up the brain. If someone is under-stimulated in this area they need to swing, spin and rock to regulate; if over-stimulated, spinning, swinging, or rocking will dysregulate. What does your child do?

2. The Proprioceptive System- The proprioceptive system requires gross muscle motor work, and joints and muscles need input to activate the system. Climbing, jumping, pushing, carrying, and throwing are all ways to jumpstart the proprioceptive system. A child who is under-stimulated will regulate from doing these activities. A child who is over-stimulated may become dysregulated by doing this. What does your child do?

ideas for re-regulation

Build opportunities for re-regulation into your child’s day. If a child is struggling to find balance, do an activity that might help reorganize them and then revisit the original plan.

1. If your child needs to pick up the toys but is too over-stimulated, do an activity to calm them down, and then have them come back to pick up the toys.

2. Doing heavy work with kids 30 minutes before meals and 30 minutes before bed may help settle them enough to sit for a meal or wind down for the night.3. Keep a journal to track what sensory activities seem to help your child in certain under-stimulated or over-stimulated situations and use them.

Some examples of activities to do when a child needs regulation (P= Proprioceptive; V= Vestibular):

1. Shoulder press- put pressure on each shoulder moving down and into the center of the body at least 4 times (P)

2. Climb stairs over and over (P)

3. Throw a ball, kick, or punch a bag or pillow (P)

4. Deep compression on legs or arms (P)

5. Have kids push feet against yours as hard as they can (P)

6. Lean into the child (P)

7. Push something (P)

8. Let child hang on your arm (p)

9. Tug of war with a rope (P)

10. Play with putty with your hands (P)

11. Joint mobilization (P)

12. Wheelbarrow (P)

13. Climb a ladder or a rope (P)

14. Jump on a trampoline, flip, spin (P/ V)

15. Swim (P/V)

16. Swing on a rope (V)

17. Swing on a tire swing side to side and around (V)

There are endless ways to help ourselves and our children regulate on a day-to-day basis. If we seek to manage and balance the level of under- and over-stimulation of our sensory, nervous, and self-regulatory systems, we will change the way we parent and, to that end, effectively support our children’s well being.

additional reading

More info about Sensory Integration• www.siglobalnetwork.org/#!parents/com • www.aota.org/Practice/Children-Youth/SI.aspxMore info about Trauma•

Trauma Through A Child’s Eyes; Infancy Through Adolescence, Peter Levine and Maggie Kline•

Trauma-Proofing Your Kids; A Parent’s Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience, Peter Levine and Maggie Kline•

Child Trauma Academy www.childtrauma.org

Beth Wheeler

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Beth Wheeler is a Psychotherapist in Washington DC who specializes in working with trauma, sexuality and gender identity and integrating the mind and the body for healing. She is committed to being an advocate for racial justice and challenging herself to stretch beyond her own comfort zone.