November 20, 2018 — By Wendy Sachs
Children are in a constant state of taking in stimuli. Their brains are working very hard to figure out and sort thru information from their 7 senses. You probably already know about the basic 5- sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. But did you know there are 2 others that are equally important.
Vestibular sense sensory organs are located behind the ear and help with balance, body position and movement. If you have ever felt dizzy, experienced motion sickness or experienced a momentary loss of coordination that is your vestibular sense. Kids who need more vestibular stimulation are often those who can’t sit still, spin in circles or love to stay on a swing forever.
Proprioception is the sense that lets you know how your body moves. It helps you know, for example, how hard to push the elevator button and controls your limbs without you even thinking about it. There is no single organ for this sense- instead it is controlled by the central nervous system as a whole. Watch a kid clap their hands with their eyes closed and see the proprioceptive sense in action.
So think about all that information coming into your little ones brain. Even with a simple task like crawling across the floor- hundreds of stimuli are being fired off in the brain and need to be processed. What does the floor feel like on their hands? Is that a different feeling than on their knees? What is that smell in the kitchen? How can I make my hand move to the next spot? I hear Mommy’s voice. My head feels heavy, how do I hold it up? What do I look at, the floor or where I am going? Add into all that input the fact that their language may not be as developed to handle all that sensation.
Most children have little trouble learning to process all of this. Although it does explain why little ones can get overwhelmed very easily and need plenty of sleep so the brain can file information away and integrate it. Some children are over sensitive and the sensory information can literally feel so powerful that it can cause melt downs or shut downs. Imagine if you are hyper sensitive to sound and even a simple song can sound as loud as a siren in your mind. Some children may be hypo sensitive and need more stimuli. Think of a little one who puts everything into their mouth or who spends all their time fidgeting.
Keeping this in mind, we can watch our kids and adjust the additional stimulus if necessary. Providing sensory activities for infants and toddlers allows them to explore each of these areas at their own pace and to practice their skills. If you see signs of hyper or hypo sensitivity, it’s a good idea to keep a journal and document your observations. Share them with the parents and if there’s a concern, talk to the pediatrician. The more information on how you can guide growth for your precious ones, the better.