Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Regulation Rendezvous--Sensory Systems Overview

The Miami Valley Autism Coaching Team presents our latest blog series, Regulation Rendezvous, featuring all of the wonderful sensory supports around the Miami Valley.

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.

Tactile Strategies/Supports

sensory tub with beans
tactile brushing


palm presses

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.

Gustatory Strategies/Supports

Alerting flavors: lemon, peppermint, salty foods


Olfactory Strategies/Supports
aromatherapy diffuser
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.

Visual Strategies/Supports

Block out overwhelming visual stimuli
brimmed hat

study carrel


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

Auditory Strategies/Supports
Homedics Noise Machine
noise-reduction headphones** use with caution and for short periods of time to prevent increased sensitivity**
Calm app

Relaxify app

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
Helke Elementary

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.

Proprioception Strategies/Supports

weighted or pressure vest
yoga routine

steamroller squeeze machine (Southpaw)

wall pushes

calming joint compressions
Oral Motor
chew tube

resistive sucking through crazy straws

fruit snacks (freeze for extra input!)

chew tube
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.

Vestibular Strategies/Supports
linear two-point suspension swinging
purposeful walks such as school/office messenger

rocking chair

Stevenson Elementary

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.

Interoception Strategies/Supports
body check

Interoception: The Eighth Sensory System
Kelly Mahler, MS, OTR/L

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