Your Child’s Seven Senses in Learning
Published on: September 15, 2019
Contrary to what we know, we have seven senses — not five. Find out what the other senses are and how they affect our children’s day-to-day activities.
By Chiman Estephan and Camila Gutiérrez
Did you know that your child has seven senses?
Most people think that children only have five senses — touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste. However, your child (and you) have two additional, or ‘hidden’ sensory systems, that work together to organize and regulate the other senses.
The first of these two hidden sensory systems is the proprioception sense, which gives your child information about body position and the movement of their body parts. The second is the vestibular sense, which gives your child information about the position of their head in space and their balance.
Your child’s seven senses all work together to achieve ‘sensory integration.’ Sensory integration is how your child uses the information from their body and the environment to respond to daily challenges and new circumstances (emotional, social, or cognitive learning). It also helps your child with their self-regulation, self-care, activity level, attention, social functioning, and emotional regulation.
Sensory processing disorder
However, most children with special needs find it hard to understand the sensory information from their bodies and their environment. This is called sensory processing disorder.
If your child has sensory processing disorder, you might notice that:
- your child’s activity level is unusually high or low
- your child is over-responsive to sensory stimuli (movement, smell, taste, touch, sounds, sights). This means that your child may avoid certain stimuli. For example, they might become upset when having their hair combed or their fingernails cut.
- Your child is under-responsive to sensory stimuli (movement, body awareness, smell, taste, touch, sounds, sights). This means that your child may not notice certain stimuli. For example, they might not be aware of having a messy face, hands, or clothes. They might also seem ‘clumsy,’ without body awareness.
- Your child ‘seeks’ sensory stimuli in their environment. For example, they might show an unusual need to touch certain textures, surfaces, and toys. They might often put objects in their mouth, seek out all kinds of movement, such as being upside down, spinning, rocking, pulling, pushing, or dragging more than other children.
There are ongoing challenges for children with sensory processing disorder, which can interfere with their daily life and with learning. If your child’s senses are not regulated, it is difficult for learning to happen in any environment, including in class or during a therapy session.
Your child’s seven senses all work together to achieve ‘sensory integration.’
For example, it would be difficult for your child to focus on learning new vocabulary and social skills if they need to move constantly without the ability to sustain their attention and engagement.
Another example is, it would not be possible for a speech therapist to give your child tactile cues for speech sounds by touching their face if they are over-responsive to touch.
Learning with sensory processing disorder
However, your child can still learn many skills while having a sensory processing disorder. The key is to create the right conditions for learning before the teaching happens.
A great way to achieve this is combined speech therapy and occupational therapy sessions. Instead of your child working on skills in isolation, these combined sessions focus on your child’s learning while meeting their sensory needs.
During these sessions, the occupational therapist will first regulate your child’s senses to create the optimal conditions for learning and provide the sensory inputs required for your child to be alert and attentive.
The speech therapist will then engage your child in learning and teach them the skills necessary to improve their communication.
From our experience working with children abroad and in Thailand, children respond well to these combined speech and occupational therapy sessions and learning tends to happen quickly. We hope to see more of these combined sessions in Thailand in the years to come.
Image by Nathan Legakis from Pixabay
About the Authors
Chiman (aka ‘The Expat Speechie’) is a speech language pathologist and advanced certified autism specialist. Chiman grew up in Sydney, Australia and has a Master of Speech Language Pathology from the University of Sydney. She moved permanently to Bangkok in 2014. Chiman loves working with children from the age of 12 months until teenage years in the areas of speech, language, social communication, and stuttering. She is currently the only therapist in Thailand who is trained in Level 2 of PROMPT Therapy. You can read all about tips and techniques to support your child’s communication development on her blog: www.theexpatspeechie.com.
Camila graduated with a degree in occupational therapy from San Sebastián University in Chile. She also has a diploma in neuro-rehabilitation of developmental disorders from Andres Bello University and higher studies of neuroscience in neuropsychological disorders. Camila has extensive experience working with children with special needs. She specializes in sensory integration (SI) and is passionate about promoting the importance of SI when working with children who have learning differences.
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