Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What is Sensory Regulation?

You may have heard the term "self-regulation" or "sensory regulation" and wondered what it's all about. Vic West Elementary Counsellor, Dianne Browne, kindly prepared the following information for the PAC to share with school parents.


“Self-regulation” is a psychological concept based largely on the developmental research and teachings of York University professor Stuart Shanker. He refers to children needing to be able to effectively manage (regulate) their own environmental, physiological, emotional, cognitive and social stresses. A medical Sensory Processing Disorder (also referred to as Sensory Integration Disorder) effects how children manage their motor, language and emotional responses. These children will show extremely strong sensory preferences, intolerances and sensitivities. What this “looks like” in the school setting is seeing particular students reacting in one of three ways*: 

  • being over-responsive (becoming fearful or avoidant:  unable to focus, follow directions, transition well, or remain still when the environment has too many distractions);   under-responsive (seeking stimulation in the area of sensation that fails to register with them). 
  • having motor problems, including gross motor skills, with poor body awareness; 
  • being unable to recognize similarities and differences in sensory messages (low frustration tolerance). 

Vic West parents can support their child who is suspected of having self-regulation difficulties by having the child evaluated by either a paediatrician or an occupational therapist who will determine what type of treatment would be most effective. To support all children regulate their stressors, the following Restitution (5 Needs) ideas would be very helpful:  

  • safety: talk with your child about how to keep the home a safe, caring, welcoming place (calm home environment)
  • freedom: give your child choices about how to relax, make good choices, before going to busy places, ie being in the car, at the mall (physiological/body stressors)
  • belonging: protect an introverted child from being pushed into large groups before he or she is prepared;  provide boundaries when an extroverted child is excited about joining large groups, ie family gatherings (social stressors)
  • power: “catch your child being good”, by modeling good thinking/planning strategies (cognitive stressors)
  • fun: limit your child’s activities/day stressors that raise levels of excitement by including shared rewards in your parenting style ie. have your child experience fun, happy activities with you, such as day end bedtime stories (emotional stressors)  

(*see Miller. L.J. 2006: “Sensational Kids”, New York:  G.P. Putnam’s Sons Publ.) 

Feel free to contact Dianne Browne, Vic West’s Behaviour Support Counsellor, for more ideas!