Occupational Therapist guest speakers joined the group to discuss sensory regulation. How can we support children to understand and manage different sensory stimuli, which can affect their regulation needs?
Sensory regulation skills help support a child with processing and managing their tolerance to different stimuli, so that they can help regulate their body and get it ready for learning, sharing, and playing. Sensory regulation skills continue to change and develop throughout childhood and adulthood.
- Arousal – how awake or alert or how tired you are. For example, a child may have lots of energy and will run, jump, and bump into things, or they may not sleep well at night and are tired during the day.
- Regulation – the ability to match arousal to the environment and the activity. For example, during circle time, a child can sit quietly in one spot to listen to their teacher as they read a story. Their bodies can process all of the different sensory stimuli that is happening around them, including the brightness of the lights, any noise around them, etc.
- Dysregulation – this is the opposite of regulated, the individual is not in the optimal state. For example, a child may become upset and distressed when visiting public washrooms, where the loud flushing toilet is overwhelming for them, or the sound of the hand dryer scares them.
- Optimal Arousal – the level of arousal matches the environment and activity, this is sometimes referred to as “just right”. For example, at night-time, optimal arousal is low enough to facilitate sleep
- Co-Regulation – regulation develops over time and begins with co-regulation, this is when someone else helps another individual to regulate. For example, if a child is crying, an adult will lend them their calm by saying soothing words in a soft and gentle voice.
- Self-Regulation – the ability to stay regulated without the help of others, using strategies to help achieve the optimal arousal. For example, as a child gets older, and with support and modelling from an adult, a child starts to recognize signs when they need to seek sensory regulation support. This could be knowing that if there is a loud noise, they can cover their ears with their hands, or wear noise-cancelling headphones, or if their body is feeling busy, they can go and jump on a trampoline for a short while, or if they need to calm their body, they can go to a quiet area and look at a book. Self-regulation takes time, patience, and a lot of practice.