One of the first questions that I get asked after teaching parents about the different sensory profiles is, “My child shows signs of sensory seeking and sensory avoiding. Is this possible?”
Yes. It’s possible, and actually pretty common.
What does it mean if my child is sensory seeking and sensory avoiding?
A child who is sensory seeking is often referred to having a high sensory threshold, while a child who is sensory avoiding is often referred to having a low sensory threshold. Thus, a child who displays both sensory seeking and sensory avoiding behaviors is often referred to as having a mixed threshold. A person with a mixed sensory threshold is someone who doesn’t respond consistently to sensory input in one specific way. For example, they may over respond to sound, but under-respond (and maybe even seek) other inputs, like touch and movement.
You could also have a child who has mixed thresholds WITHIN the same sensory system. So let’s take the tactile/touch system for example- a child might be sensitive to the feeling of clothes or seems of socks, but also really enjoy and crave messy play and love getting dirty/playing with slime etc. All of that input is classified as touch input, but they may respond differently to each of them.
Heavy Work Is the Common Denominator
Have you heard of heavy work? Read this blog to hear why it’s the magic pill. Long story short, heavy work is very calming to the nervous system, and it’s very rare for anyone to actually be sensitive to heavy work.
Here’s how heavy work can look for mixed thresholds:
- The sensory sensitive child who loves cuddles, tight bear hugs (both provide heavy work)
- The sensitive child who is scared of playground equipment yet can’t stop jumping and stomping around the house.
What’s the common denominator?
Heavy Work or proprioceptive input!
Proprioceptive input is extremely calming to the nervous system (aka calms down a hyperactive seeker, while also calms a nervous/anxious sensitive kid).
You really CAN’T go wrong with proprioceptive input/heavy work, unless your child has some sort of medical condition that requires you to be cautious with adding weight or bearing weight on their arms or legs.
But the truth of the matter is, most kids love this kind of input so you can definitely see this mixed in with a sensitive kid.
Aside from heavy work, deep breaths and low lighting are also universally regulating to both a seeker and an avoider.
Want to find out more about heavy work? Check out this mini webinar.
How to help your mixed threshold child
It can really feel like rocket science when you’re trying to “Decode” your child’s mixed threshold behaviors. If you can start taking notes, notice patterns, and respond with a consistent way, you can create a consistent schedule in which you provide the most regulating environments and activities for your child everyday.
Then, the important part is to clue your child in to it: “wow, Johnny! Your body and brain seemed to really like that quiet time in your room when you were playing legos. I noticed your body was so calm after that and you got to enjoy a fun game with your brother.”
The more you link your observations with narrative and verbal examples, the more your child will resonate with it and learn about their body so they can hopefully start to recognize the tools and strategies that help them too.