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Navigating Sensory Seeking and Sensory Avoiding: Understanding Sensory Processing

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Welcome to the world of sensory seeking and sensory avoiding. These terms describe how individuals respond to the sensory input around them – some seek it out eagerly, while others avoid it. Imagine a busy room: for some, it’s energizing, but for others, it’s overwhelming. In this blog, we’ll explore what sensory seeking and sensory avoiding mean, how they may affect daily life, and how to support individuals with different sensory processing styles. It’s helpful to have an understanding of sensory processing disorder (SPD) before diving into the differences between seeking and avoiding behaviors, if you need more information on sensory processing disorder, read up here. Whether you’re a parent, educator, or navigating your own sensory experiences, learning the difference between seeking and avoiding behaviors is helpful.

Difference between seeking and avoiding behaviors

First, let’s dive into the differences you may see between someone who seeks input vs someone who avoids input.

Sensory Seeking:

  1. Constant Seeking: Individuals who are sensory seekers often crave intense sensory experiences and actively seek out stimuli such as loud noises, bright lights, or strong tastes.
  2. High Energy: They may engage in activities that provide a lot of sensory input, such as jumping, spinning, or roughhousing, to satisfy their sensory needs.
  3. Risk-taking: Sensory seekers may be more prone to engaging in risky behaviors as they seek out novel and thrilling sensations.
  4. Easily Bored: Due to their constant need for stimulation, sensory seekers may quickly become bored with activities that do not provide enough sensory input.
  5. Difficulty with Focus: It can be challenging for sensory seekers to maintain focus in environments that do not provide enough stimulation, leading to difficulties in tasks that require sustained attention.

Sensory Avoiding:

  1. Overwhelmed Easily: Individuals who are sensory avoiders are highly sensitive to sensory input and may become overwhelmed by stimuli that others find tolerable.
  2. Prefer Quiet Environments: They often seek out calm and quiet environments and may be disturbed by loud noises, bright lights, or strong smells.
  3. Avoidance Behaviors: Sensory avoiders may engage in behaviors to minimize exposure to aversive stimuli, such as covering their ears in noisy environments or avoiding crowded places.
  4. Anxiety and Stress: Experiencing overwhelming sensory input can lead to increased levels of anxiety and stress for sensory avoiders.
  5. Careful Planning: Sensory avoiders may carefully plan their activities and environments to avoid sensory overload, which can sometimes limit their participation in certain social or recreational activities.

Tips for sensory avoiders and sensory seekers

Next, let’s look at some tips to help both the avoider and the seeker.

For Sensory Seekers:

  1. Provide Sensory Tools: Offer a variety of sensory tools and toys that can satisfy their need for stimulation, such as fidget spinners, stress balls, or textured objects.
  2. Offer Physical Outlets: Encourage engaging in physical activities that provide sensory input, like jumping on a trampoline, swinging, or using a therapy ball.
  3. Create Sensory-Friendly Environments: Designate areas in the home or classroom where sensory seekers can freely engage in activities without judgment, allowing them to explore and satisfy their sensory needs.
  4. Structured Sensory Breaks: Incorporate structured sensory breaks into their daily routine, providing opportunities for sensory input at regular intervals to help them stay regulated and focused.
  5. Provide Choices: Offer a range of sensory activities and allow sensory seekers to choose activities that best meet their needs, empowering them to self-regulate.

For Sensory Avoiders:

  1. Create Calm Environments: Design environments that are calming and minimize sensory overload by reducing noise, clutter, and bright lights.
  2. Offer Noise-Canceling Headphones: Provide noise-canceling headphones or earplugs to help block out overwhelming sounds in noisy environments.
  3. Respect Sensory Limits: Recognize and respect their sensory limits, allowing them to opt out of activities or environments that cause distress or discomfort.
  4. Use Visual Supports: Use visual schedules or social stories to prepare sensory avoiders for upcoming activities or changes in routine, reducing anxiety and uncertainty.
  5. Gradual Exposure: Introduce new or challenging sensory experiences gradually, allowing sensory avoiders to become accustomed to stimuli at their own pace and building tolerance over time.

By implementing these tips, you can better support both sensory seekers and sensory avoiders in managing their sensory needs and promoting their overall well-being.

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