What Is Sensory Seeking & Sensory Avoiding?

Sensory seeking refers to the desire to seek out and engage with sensory input. This can include seeking out things like loud music, bright lights, spicy foods, and physical touch.

Ruben Kesherim
June 22, 2023

What Is Sensory Seeking & Sensory Avoiding?

What Is Sensory Seeking & Sensory Avoiding?

Sensory seeking and sensory avoiding are two terms used to describe the ways in which people interact with sensory input from their environment. Sensory input includes things like touch, sound, smell, taste, and visual stimuli. Some people seek out sensory input, while others avoid it. Understanding these concepts can help us better understand ourselves and others.

What Is Sensory Seeking & Sensory Avoiding?

What is Sensory Seeking?

Sensory seeking refers to the desire to seek out and engage with sensory input. This can include seeking out things like loud music, bright lights, spicy foods, and physical touch.

People who are sensory seekers may enjoy activities like roller coasters, bungee jumping, or skydiving. They may also enjoy fidgeting with objects or tapping their feet to music.

Sensory seekers may have a higher threshold for sensory input, meaning they require more intense stimuli to feel satisfied.

They may also have a higher tolerance for pain or discomfort. Sensory seeking behavior is often associated with conditions like ADHD, autism, and sensory processing disorder.

What is Sensory Avoiding?

Sensory avoiding refers to the desire to avoid or limit exposure to sensory input. This can include avoiding things like loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, and certain textures.

People who are sensory avoiders may prefer quiet environments, soft lighting, and bland foods. They may also be more sensitive to pain or discomfort.

Sensory avoiders may have a lower threshold for sensory input, meaning they become overwhelmed more easily.

They may also have a lower tolerance for pain or discomfort. Sensory avoiding behavior is often associated with conditions like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

How to Identify Sensory Seeking and Sensory Avoiding Behavior

Identifying sensory seeking and sensory avoiding behavior can be challenging, as different people may have different preferences and thresholds for sensory input. However, there are some common signs to look out for.

People who are sensory seekers may:

  • Seek out loud or intense noises
  • Enjoy spicy or strongly flavored foods
  • Fidget or tap their feet
  • Enjoy physical touch or roughhousing
  • Enjoy fast-paced activities like sports or dancing

People who are sensory avoiders may:

  • Cover their ears or avoid loud noises
  • Avoid certain textures or fabrics
  • Prefer bland or mild foods
  • Avoid physical touch or prefer gentle touch
  • Prefer quiet or slow-paced activities like reading or gardening

How to Accommodate Sensory Seeking and Sensory Avoiding Behavior

Accommodating sensory seeking and sensory avoiding behavior can help individuals feel more comfortable and engaged in their environment. Some strategies for accommodating sensory behavior include:

  • Providing a variety of sensory experiences, such as quiet spaces for sensory avoiders and sensory-rich environments for sensory seekers
  • Offering a range of food options, including mild and spicy flavors
  • Providing a variety of textures and fabrics for clothing and seating
  • Allowing for physical movement and fidgeting, such as standing desks or stress balls
  • Providing earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones for those who are sensitive to noise

The Impact of Sensory Seeking and Avoiding on Social Interactions

Sensory seeking and sensory avoiding can have a significant impact on an individual's social interactions. For example, a person who is a sensory seeker may come across as loud or overly energetic to others. They may struggle to sit still during meetings or conversations, or they may interrupt others while they speak.

On the other hand, a person who is a sensory avoider may struggle in loud or crowded environments. They may feel overwhelmed or anxious in social situations that involve many people or intense sensory input. As a result, they may avoid social events altogether, which can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

It's important to remember that everyone has different needs when it comes to sensory input, and accommodating those needs can help individuals feel more comfortable and engaged in social interactions. For example, providing quiet spaces for sensory avoiders at parties or events can help them feel more at ease. Similarly, allowing for physical movement during meetings or conversations can help sensory seekers stay focused and engaged.

By understanding and accommodating each other's sensory needs, individuals with different sensory preferences can interact more comfortably and effectively with one another.

How to Support Children with Sensory Processing Difficulties

Children who experience sensory processing difficulties may struggle with everyday tasks that involve sensory input, such as getting dressed, eating, or going to school. As a parent or caregiver, there are several ways you can support children with sensory processing difficulties.

1. Create a Sensory-Friendly Environment

Creating a sensory-friendly environment at home and in the classroom can help children feel more comfortable and engaged in their surroundings. This can include providing soft lighting, using calming colors on walls and furniture, and minimizing clutter. You can also provide a variety of textures for children to touch and play with, such as sand or playdough.

2. Offer Sensory Breaks

Children with sensory processing difficulties may become overwhelmed by too much sensory input. Offering regular breaks where they can engage in calming activities like deep breathing, listening to music, or taking a walk outside can help them regulate their emotions and stay focused.

3. Provide Sensory Tools

Sensory tools like weighted blankets, fidget toys, or noise-cancelling headphones can help children regulate their sensory input and feel more comfortable in their environment. These tools can be especially helpful during activities that may be overwhelming for the child, such as going to the grocery store or attending a birthday party.

4. Work with an Occupational Therapist

Working with an occupational therapist who specializes in sensory processing difficulties can be a valuable resource for parents and caregivers of children with these challenges. An occupational therapist can help identify strategies to support the child's unique needs and develop a plan for addressing any challenges they may face at home or in school.

By creating a supportive environment and providing tools and resources that accommodate their unique needs, parents and caregivers can help children with sensory processing difficulties thrive both at home and in social situations outside of the home.

The Relationship Between Anxiety and Sensory Avoidance

Anxiety and sensory avoidance often go hand in hand. When someone experiences anxiety, certain sensory input can trigger feelings of distress, discomfort, or panic.

For example, someone with social anxiety may find it overwhelming to be in a crowded room with loud music and bright lights. Similarly, someone with generalized anxiety disorder may feel anxious around strong smells or textures.

As a result, people who experience anxiety may engage in sensory avoiding behaviors as a way to manage their symptoms.

They may avoid situations that involve intense sensory input or seek out quieter environments where they feel more comfortable. While this can help alleviate feelings of anxiety in the short term, it can also lead to isolation and avoidance of important activities or social events.

It's important for individuals who experience anxiety and sensory avoidance to work with a therapist or mental health professional to develop coping strategies that allow them to engage with their environment in a healthy way.

This might include exposure therapy, which involves gradually exposing the individual to increasingly intense sensory input while teaching them relaxation techniques to manage their symptoms.

Ultimately, understanding the relationship between anxiety and sensory avoidance can help individuals better manage their symptoms and feel more comfortable engaging with the world around them.

Conclusion

Sensory seeking and sensory avoiding are two ways in which people interact with sensory input from their environment. Understanding these concepts can help us better understand ourselves and others, and can lead to more accommodating and inclusive environments. By providing a range of sensory experiences and accommodations, we can help individuals feel more comfortable and engaged in their surroundings.

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