To get started, we will review the 8 sensory systems starting with the common, external systems: tactile (touching), gustatory (tasting), olfactory (smelling), visual (seeing), auditory (hearing)
Tactile system: The tactile sensory system provides information about temperature, pain, pressure, and textural qualities of objects. It is also responsible for reactions to food. The tactile sensory system assists with the social and emotional development of an individual.
|sensory tub with beans|
|tactile exploration wall|
Bellbrook Intensive Needs Classroom
Gustatory/Olfactory systems: These sensory systems work together. The Olfactory system has the fastest impact on an individual’s nervous system and takes around 20 seconds to have an impact since it does not have to be processed by the brain.
Alerting scents: lemon, peppermint
Calming scents: lavendar, vanilla, rose
|homemade aromatherapy dough made with essential oils|
Visual/Auditory systems: These sensory systems also work together. The visual system in individuals with autism is an extremely sensitive system. This is why it is such a powerful system through which to work. Blue/green color palate is calming whereas red/orange color palate is alerting. It is important to remember that children with Autism tend to struggle with filtering auditory input and take longer to switch between the two sensory systems.
Block out overwhelming visual stimuli
Block out overwhelming visual stimuli
Increase physical and visual boundaries to block out stimuli using dividers
|Kenzie Bruggeman, Versailles Elementary|
|Laura Brown, Perrin Woods Elementary|
|Brittany Bush, Spinning Hills Middle School|
Provide proactive sensory breaks with calming visual input
|Perrin Woods Elementary|
|Beth Young, Snyder Park Elementary|
|Bellbrook Intensive Needs Classroom|
|Orchard Park Elementary|
|Homedics Noise Machine|
|noise-reduction headphones** use with caution and for short periods of time to prevent increased sensitivity**|
|use acoustic sound blankets to dampen the sound in an echo-y bathroom|
Jennifer McGowan, Smith Middle School
|use gym mats to dampen the sound in a small sensory space|
Many people are not familiar with the internal sensory systems: proprioception (deep pressure), vestibular (movement), interoception (internal feelings)
Proprioceptive system: The proprioceptive, or heavy work, sensory system is primarily a calming sensory system. It has a regulatory effect over all of the sensory systems. Proprioceptive input has a calming effect on the nervous system for up to 90 minutes. When using passive proprioceptive input (e.g. weighted vest), it needs to be applied 15 minutes prior to the calming input to begin. When in doubt with which sensory supports to utilize, especially with a student showing signs of anxiety/escalation, begin with sensory strategies from the proprioceptive system.
|weighted or pressure vest|
|steamroller squeeze machine (Southpaw)|
|calming joint compressions|
|resistive sucking through crazy straws|
|fruit snacks (freeze for extra input!)|
Anne Rosenbaum, Orchard Park Elementary
Vestibular system: This sensory system is responsible for giving information about where our body is in space in relationship to surrounding objects, coordination of both sides of our body, overall muscle tone/posture, and visual tracking. It has a direct connection to our digestive tract (think motion sickness) and the language center of the brain. Active vestibular input has an impact on the nervous system for 3 to 6 hours. Vestibular (or movement) input that is linear and predictable encourages calming for a student, whereas, rotational and unpredictable movements are alerting for a student. Always begin with linear and predictable movement until you are very familiar with the student’s responses to vestibular input.
|linear two-point suspension swinging|
|purposeful walks such as school/office messenger|
Orchard Park Elementary
Interoception system: There are receptors throughout our organs, muscles, skin, bones, etc which gather and relay internal information to our brain. The brain helps to make sense of these messages and enables us to feel sensations such as hunger, fullness, itch, pain, temperature, nausea, need for the restroom, tickle, exertion and arousal. Interoception also allows us to feel our emotions.