Sensory Integration Therapy and a sensory diet (targeted sensory activities throughout the day) are effective in reducing children with Sensory processing difficulties and Autism responses to everyday sensory experiences. However I am also an advocate of adapting the environment and activity to match the person’s sensory preferences.
As adults, we choose environments and activities that suit our sensory preferences.
If your ‘modulator’ likes noisy environments you may prefer an open plan office, or having music on while you work. You may prefer to have your breaks alone or go for a walk if your modulator is more sensitive. As an adult we can modify or change the environment to suit our needs which helps us function at our best.
A mismatch between the environment and our sensory system usually results in a feeling of stress.
For example, my modulator prefers quiet, clutter free environments. During Christmas shopping , the busy, chaotic shops usually paired with blaring Christmas music is too much for my modulator and after a short while I start to feel irritated and a need to go home!
Children on the other hand, don’t tend to have as much control over their environments and less choice about when to leave or how to adapt them to suit their sensory preferences.
This also links with my previous blog on the relationship between sensory issues and anxiety i.e. sensory stress can cause more anxiety which can cause more sensitivity to sensation…
So, here are my top 6 tips for changing the environment or activity to match the person’s modulator.
- Lighting- Have a look at the colours,lighting layout, organization of the room- Are there a lot of distractions? Could a distraction free zone be created within the room?.
- Noise- Background noise can cause a huge stress on sensitive modulators. Scan the environment for potential sources of noise such as buzzing lights, extractor fans. The child may wish to wear blockout headphones during especially noisy activities.
- Visual schedules- If the child can anticipate what is coming up next and have as much information about an activity it will be less stressful . Visual pictures schedules can really help with this.
- Change of environment- Sometimes a completely new environment can decrease the sensory/anxiety cycle e.g. brushing teeth in the kitchen sink, lunch in the conservatory, homework in the bedroom . There may be a subtle sensory stress that your sensory system does not register but which is placing stress on the child. Try a different room and see if it helps.
- Modify the activity- If a specific activity such as wearing socks is causing the child stress, rather matching the activity to the child e.g. buying seem-less socks, flavourless toothpaste, tagless t-shirts.
- Choice- As I already mentioned, giving children choice helps reduce stress, but it also validates children’s preferences. The aim of the ‘modulator’ analogy in by book is that the child doesn’t feel to blame for having difficult in school. Every modulator is different.
It is my belief that if there were more options for different learning and play environments, we would not need to use terms such as disorder, difficulties and differences as our world could accommodate diversity !