Next up in our series about Primitive Reflexes - sensory processing issues! Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) has become a much more well known and popular diagnosis in the past few years. Children with SPD usually have another accompanying disability, like autism, ADHD, etc. They have either extreme sensitivity or extreme lack of sensitivity to different senses (or they might CRAVE the sense) - and kids can have different reactions to different senses! For example, my son is hypersensitive to noise and touch, but craves deep pressure and heavy work activities for his proprioceptive sense (more on that later!)
Almost everyone out there has a sensory sensitivity or craving tendency. Sensitive to sunlight. Doesn’t like tags. Wears shorts in the winter. Loves crunchy foods. The list goes on. The issue occurs when a child has such severe reaction or so many reactions to the senses that it affects their behavior and learning! Sensory integration is connected with reflex integration. See the same word there? Integration. This process of integrating sensory processing and reflexes happens in infancy/toddlerhood. In our years of evaluating students at Yellow Wood, I’ve come to find that these two are intertwined and one cannot be improved without the other. Today I’ll be sharing symptoms of sensory processing issues, as well as symptoms of retained primitive reflexes so that we can see where the overlap occurs!
Our 7 senses
Did you know there are actually SEVEN senses that we use to take in information around us? Tactile, auditory, visual, gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), vestibular, and proprioceptive. The vestibular system is your inner ear, and is responsible for balance, coordination, and so much more. The proprioceptive sense is your awareness of where you are in space and in relation to other objects.
Children who are hypersensitive will have a low tolerance for or try to avoid thing like:
- bright lights
- Tags on clothing or tight clothing
- Unexpected touch like a hug
- Hair brushing
- Loud noises
- new food textures or flavors
- Sensitive to strong odors or perfumes
- Might get dizzy easily, avoid visual/motor skills like catching a ball, be uncoordinated or clumsy
- Might have trouble recognizing they are in someone’s personal space
- Bump into things a lot
- Hyper aware of their own personal space.
Children who SEEK these senses because their body is not sensitive enough to them:
- Might need bright colors to help learn or stay engaged
- Crave tight clothing
- Very messy eater
- Touches everything
- Puts objects in mouth
- Needs people to speak loudly for them to “hear” it
- Says “huh” a lot in conversation
- Loves for the TV to be loud
- Loves spicy and crunchy foods
- Doesn’t notice strong odors
- Can’t seem to sit still
- Thrill seeker
- Loves spinning, swinging, jumping
- Seems to do things too lightly or too hard, like writing with a pencil will either write very lightly or push down too hard and break the pencil
- Plays with others or animals too roughly
So, how does a child with sensory processing react when they get too much or not enough sensory stimulation? Their fight or flight response is triggered!
The Moro Reflex is the reflex that startles babies awake when they fling their arms from a loud noise or sudden movement. That is the same reflex that triggers the fight or flight response. As we mature, this reflex is supposed to integrate and make room for a more mature fight-or-flight reflex that we can control. When this doesn’t happen, you very often see sensory difficulties, anxiety, and other struggles.
The fight or flight response can look different in every child. Some kids will have meltdowns when they are overwhelmed. Others may seem like they aren't following instructions, are being goofy, or hyper. Or, it could be that your student who is doing homework will get up 10 times in an hour to get a drink, a snack, go to the bathroom... you name it! It's important to recognize that this response is not a conscious decision but one of survival. If the body overloaded (or underloaded) by sensory stimuli and the child has a retained Moro Reflex, their body will overreact and you'll see these responses.
This is just ONE reflex that plays a part in integrating the sensory systems. It’s amazing how helping the brain finish developing through primitive reflex integration can also help to reduce sensory sensitivities in kids! To learn more about this, join us for the “Brain Based Movements” workshop! You can check it out below. This workshop gives parents the knowledge and tools to help their child integrate 6 primitive reflexes through fun movement exercises!