Sensory regulation may seem like a complex concept, but at its heart, it’s all about how children make sense of the world around them. From the sights and sounds that surround them to the way they feel in certain environments, sensory regulation helps children navigate their world smoothly. When they can manage these experiences well, they’re able to better move through life with a sense of ease and calmness. 

What is Sensory Regulation? 

Sensory regulation is the process that allows children to manage and respond to the various sensory inputs they experience in their environment. It involves everything from processing what they see, hear, taste, and smell to understanding their own sensations and movements. When children can regulate these sensory experiences effectively, it means they can better adapt and enjoy the environment around them. 

Why is Sensory Regulation Essential for Children’s Development?

Imagine trying to concentrate on reading in a noisy, chaotic environment, like a bustling concert hall. It would be nearly impossible, right? Similarly, children who struggle with sensory regulation might find similar situations challenging to their sensory systems to engage in activities, including learning, playing, and socializing. When their sensory needs aren’t met, whether due to overwhelming stimuli or insufficient input, they might become dysregulated and show signs of sensory processing difficulties. This can lead to struggles with focusing, following directions, or participating in typical childhood activities. Emotional regulation plays a huge part in the sensory experience too, which correlates directly to behavioral regulation. 

What Are Signs of Dysregulation?

Recognizing signs of dysregulation and sensory processing issues in children is vital for offering them the right support. These are a few signs that can present themselves in a handful of ways:

Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: You might notice children exhibiting heightened movement and physical activity, whether it’s moving around without direction or accidentally bumping into things.

Inattention and Disorganization: Some children may struggle to focus on instructions, appearing easily distracted or finding it challenging to stick to routines.

Sensory Overload: Bright lights, loud noises, or a combination of both can overwhelm some children, potentially leading to meltdowns or attempts to escape from the discomfort.

Self-Stimulatory Behavior: When children engage in repetitive actions like hand-flapping or rocking, it could be a way for them to cope with sensory overload. Any increase in such behavior might signal heightened stress or discomfort that requires our attention and support.

Recognizing these signs with understanding helps us give children the tailored support they need to thrive.

How Can Parents Support Sensory Regulation?

Luckily, there are strategies parents, teachers, and caregivers can use to support children in regulating their sensory issues and experiences:

Create a Calming Environment: Minimize sensory distractions by reducing noise levels, providing comfortable seating, and using soft lighting.

Offer Sensory Activities: Incorporate sensory play, such as sand or water play, into daily routines to help your child explore and engage their senses in a controlled setting.

Provide Tools and Sensory-inclusive Clothing: Offer tools like noise-canceling headphones, weighted blankets, or fidget toys to help them manage sensory input and self-soothe when needed. 

Encourage Movement: Movement breaks and sensory-rich activities, like swinging, jumping, or climbing, help regulate kid’s bodies and focus their attention.  

Why is Individualized Support So Important?

It’s important to recognize that every child has unique sensory needs and preferences. What works for one may not be effective for another – and that’s okay! By observing children’s behaviors and responses to different stimuli, parents can tailor support strategies to meet their child’s needs effectively. 

Sensory regulation plays a huge role in a child’s development, influencing their ability to learn, play, and engage with the world around them. By understanding and addressing children’s sensory needs, we can create environments that are rooted in comfort, focus, and overall well-being, helping them grow into the best version of themselves.

About Julia DeNey

Julia DeNey is the founder of Sense-ational You, a clothing brand designed to empower children with ASD and SPD. Before starting her company, Julia studied fashion design at Cornell and served as an education technician where she worked closely with many students on the autism spectrum. Her clothing has been featured in Good Housekeep and The Boston Globe, in addition to being a CNMI Sustainable Fashion Award finalist.