By: Laura Petix, MS OTR/LEPISODE 7

Sensory W.I.S.E. Solutions Podcast for Parents
Sensory Processing Disorder: Sensory Sensitive Profile

Hi everyone! Let’s get back to talking about different sensory thresholds, or sometimes called sensory profiles. We already talked about a low sensory threshold (or a small sensory cup), detailed in Episode 6, and if you want a general “what is SPD” episode, that’s back on episode 5.

If a low sensory threshold and small sensory cup is considered sensory sensitive, then what about high sensory thresholds with big sensory cups? 

Well, there’s actually 2 different profiles. 

High threshold: Low-Registration

First, there’s your high sensory threshold, big sensory cup kids with what we often refer to as having a “low registration” sensory profile. Remember, an overflowing sensory cup equals dysregulation, and so does an empty sensory cup. We’re striving for a cup filled with just the right amount of liquid, which would be a regulated, calm but still alert and focused child. 

Low registration kids have a large sensory cup, meaning it takes more intense, more frequent and longer duration of sensory input and information for them to register that it’s even there as compared to someone with an average size cup (or a neurotypical brain). They need more sensory input to feel regulated and alert enough to participate and function in their environment. 

What does this look like in real life? Well, these kids tend to move slower, have a quieter volume of voice and typically have a slumped posture or prefer to lean on a lot of objects or people. They can tolerate a lot of spinning and don’t get dizzy, don’t mind (or might not even notice some) loud sounds, and sometimes they may not even notice their hands or face are messy from food or crafts. They might not notice changes in the environment, they may miss the sound of an alarm or have a delayed reaction to the teacher saying “okay class, everyone line up”.

And the important part to note is that it isn’t about your child not being able to hear, see or feel things, it’s just that the visual or auditory cues (or any sensory cues) aren’t sending strong enough signals to the part of their brain that labels what it is or tells the body what to do with it. 

Low registration kids look like they’re always tired or quote “lazy” even if they get good quality and good quantity sleep. It’s not related to energy level or fatigue, it’s just a matter of them not being stimulated enough by the environment. 

So you know how on a gloomy day, when you’re indoors sitting on your couch, maybe the lights aren’t on because it’s mid afternoon so the room is kind of dim lit, it’s quiet and you’re just sitting there- you might yawn and just kind of feel “bla”? I don’t know about you but I feel this way every Saturday, when I have no “momentum” from being up and around and about. But then I turn on the lights or the sun comes out and all of a sudden I feel this burst of “energy” and feel more awake and alert? This is kind of how low registration kids are… except… they feel this “bla” and “gloomy weather” type posture even when it’s not a gloomy day. They need an extra boost or extra oomph of sensory input to be more alert. 

When you provide more movement, sound, tactile input or any other alerting sensory input, low registration kids become more regulated, it fills their sensory cup. The tricky part is, they don’t actively seek it out- they don’t KNOW their body needs this input.

Which brings me to the other sensory profile we’re discussing today.

High threshold: Sensory Seeker

Sensory seekers, like low-registration kids also have a high threshold. They need more sensory input. 

They have a HUGE sensory cup. 

But it’s as if their cup has a hole in it. Meaning, no matter how much you try to fill their cup to the just right level… it keeps emptying out. These kids are insatiable for sensory input. 

You’ll know a sensory seeker when you see one. They usually don’t stop moving, or have a really hard time keeping their hands to themselves. Some sensory seekers love making loud sounds over and over again, or humming to hear their voice/feel the vibration of their voice. 

Sensory seekers typically love getting messy, moving fast, jumping, they can be described as “thrill seekers” and commonly get injured because of the risks they take jumping off surfaces or running full speed/climbing structures. 

There’s a huge difference between a high threshold sensory seeker and a high threshold low-registration kid, and that’s the fact that sensory seekers are active in their approach to getting regulated. They know what their body needs and they will stop at nothing to get it (literally will not even listen to rules or adhere to safety regulations to get some of the input that they’re craving).

The other big difference is that offering a low registration child a movement based activity like jumping or swinging will help regulate them. Sometimes, sensory seekers can actually get even MORE dysregulated from more sensory input.

Let’s set the scene. It’s after school. Your child comes home super hyperactive, dysregulated, acting way too silly, moving fast inside the house, knocking things over (clearly just not enough sensory input for them in the day after sitting inside for school). You say “hey honey- why don’t you go outside on the trampoline? I’ll call you when it’s time for snack.” 

They go outside- jump on the trampoline for like 45 minutes straight and when it’s time to come in… they seem JUST as dysregulated, if not worse than where they were before. 

How can this be!? If they have a huge sensory cup, and you give them more input, wouldn’t they be more regulated? Well, yes- ideally. But remember? There’s a hole in their cup. It’s pretty common for sensory seekers to become more hyperactive and more dysregulated with more sensory input, especially (and here’s the key) when the sensory input is unstructured, or as no clear “goal”. 

Here are my general rule of thumbs (rules of thumb?- whatever you want to say) when it comes to providing input that will actually regulate a sensory seeker:

  1. You want to try to MATCH the sensory input they’re craving. For example, if they’re chewing on their t-shirt, replace it with something else they can chew, like a chew toy. Replacing chewing on their t-shirt with telling them to jump on a trampoline is not going to help their regulation.
  2. Offer activities that are structured and goal directed. For example, if your child is running around aimlessly, give them a goal like “how many brown leaves can you pick up in 30 seconds?” 
  3. The most under-rated tip I could give you about sensory seekers is- if it’s not harming anyone, let it be. I know there are some sensory seeking behaviors that can drive you up the wall (I personally don’t live with a sensory seeker, and I’m already over-stimulated in my pretty low-key house, so I can only imagine how tough it must be)- but if it’s not harming anyone, find a way for you to just let that sensory seeking behavior go. Focus your energy on redirecting seeking behaviors that are unsafe or causing more dysregulation. 

I want to end the episode here- I like to try to keep these episodes under 20 minutes but there’s still so much more to share! I could literally talk for hours about all this stuff. Gotta pace myself though 🙂 

If you are wanting more information on sensory seekers and high thresholds, my instagram (@TheOTButterfly)  has a ton of information in the highlights section. There’s a section called “seekers”, there’s one called “movement sekers” and there’s a highlight called SPD FAQ. You’ll definitely find those helpful.

Links

instagram: @TheOTButterfly / www.instagram.com/theotbutterfly
Website/blog: www.theotbutterfly.com
Email: LauraPetix@TheOTButterfly.com
Work with me: www.theotbutterfly.com/parentconsult
More SPD parent resources: www.sensorywisesolutions.com

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MEET THE PODCAST HOST

Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

I’m an enneagram 6, so my brain is constantly moving. My OT lenses never turn off and I can’t “un-see” the sensory and other developmental skills that go in to literally every activity. I love taking what I see and breaking it down into simple terms so parents can understand what goes into their child’s behavior and skills.

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