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Unlocking the Power of Senses: Sensory Processing in Fostering, the five senses.

Aly Thompson - Therapeutic Lead, Mosaic Foster Care

Sensory processing in fostering has been a prevalent theme for us here at Mosaic this month, so we thought it might be helpful to explore the senses in more depth.

What is Sensory Processing in Fostering?

As we know babies and children first learn about the world around them through their senses. Playing and interacting with everything around them stimulates the senses and creates engagement with others, which forms the foundation from which they see the world and relate to it. The children and young people we see in our agency have often been deprived of caring interactions and nurturing stimulation. It follows that this learning process has been impeded which often causes difficulties with sensory processing potentially affecting all the skills that a child develops.

Sensory Processing in Fostering

Many things can be effected. From the way they hold themselves, catching a ball, running, eating, communicating, focussing on an activity or in the classroom and engaging in social relationships. However, as we discussed in our SMILE training at Mosaic the nervous system has plasticity which means with time and your help as a therapeutic foster parent with us, it can heal and repair as through repetitive activities new brain pathways can be created.

5 of our senses, hearing, touch, taste, vision, and smell are commonly known about but three are not so well talked about. With the trauma our children have experience we are having to think about the Vestibular, Proprioceptive, and Interoception systems in greater depth.

Sensory Processing in Fostering Part 1 : The VESTIBULAR SYSTEM

Which is in the inner ear, this system helps us know where our head is in relation to gravity. It helps us adopt an upright posture.

It helps us to move in a coordinated way and works closely with the visual sense to help us move our limbs to reach, grasp and to focus on tasks. Something called the vestibular ocular reflex helps with this.

A young baby needs a great deal of good vestibular input such as rocking by primary caregivers. The vestibular system is especially important in helping to regulate us. This important sensory system under pins many other body and mind functions.

To learn more, why not take a look at this site from the Sensory Processing Hub.

Sensory Processing in Fotsering Part 2 : The PROPRIOCEPTIVE SYSTEM

This system helps us to know where our limbs are in space and how hard we are pressing, pushing, or pulling. For example, it helps us to move in a coordinated way, hold a pencil with just the right amount of force and helps us to judge how hard to throw a ball for example. A young baby learns about proprioception even in the tight space they are in utero, then after birth tight, cosy cuddles are vital to develop this sense.

Proprioceptive activities may be either:
Passive: Where resistance is applied, e.g., someone/something pressing on the body.
Active:Where we actively participate in movements involving resistance such as pushing, pulling, or pressing. The child is the instigator of the movements

To find out more check out this document from the nhs.

Sensory Processing in Fostering Part 3 : The TACTILE SYSTEM

The tactile system is vital in enabling a child to develop not only awareness of objects around them but to develop a sense of self in relation to others. A child with poor tactile awareness will drop things and lack finer co-ordination. They may also struggle to know where to put their feet and trip easily.

Tactile sensitivities will affect a child's ability to engage with the world and to tolerate clothing or a toothbrush in their mouth.

A child with a lack of good touch or inappropriate touch in early life may well develop tactile defensiveness or tactile seeking behaviour. This means that they will pull back from some touch sensations or in contrast may seek out fidgeting or touching things constantly.

Want to lear more abou sensory processing in fostering in relation to the tactile system? Take a look at this.

Sensory Processing in Fostering Part 4 : HEARING, VISUAL, TASTE AND SMELL

All the senses help us to learn about the world around them and to engage socially - you will probably know about these already! The oral senses (this includes tactile oral and proprioceptive oral: chewing) are vital in secure attachments. Sucking is usually related to nurture and infants usually explore their world first orally.

If you would like to look over these different senses, take a look here.

Sensory Processing in Fostering Part 5 : INTEROCEPTION

Interoception is the body's especially important hidden sense which tells us what is happening inside our body, and it is often overlooked. It enables us to know whether we feel hungry, need the toilet, or have a headache. It enables us to know how fast our heart is beating or how deeply we are breathing. This is especially important in being able to care for ourselves properly and meet basic needs so that we remain safe. If your child is over-responsive to sensory information, this means that they will have trouble suppressing information that they receive into that sensory system.

They will overreact to a normal amount of sensory stimulation and therefore will feel overloaded and may experience hyper-sensitivity. For example, with the tactile sense, they will be sensitive to some touch or textures and find that sensation uncomfortable. The effect may be cumulative and by the end of the day they may be unable to process additional information and become distressed.

If they have an over responsive vestibular system, they will be affected by motion to the point that they may have motion sickness. They may lose balance and avoid sport activities. This will have the long-term effect of poor co-ordination. They will need carefully planned sensory input to help them become less reactive to the uncomfortable input.

What does this mean in terms of Sensory Processing in Fostering?

If your child is under-responsive it means that the nervous system is not receiving enough stimulation through one or more sensory organs. They will need additional input to help them be aware of what is happening in that part of their nervous system. A child who is under responsive to auditory input may lose focus because they do not register that someone is talking to them.

They may trip over obstacles because the visual system is not recognising that there are steps or rough ground underfoot and does not send the message fast enough to the muscles and joints to help them adjust their stride to avoid the obstacles. These children will need additional, intentional input to help them to learn to react to stimulus.

All our children can be easily over aroused or under aroused with their sensory processing difficulties and because it takes time to modulate arousal levels the following difficulties often occur:

  • Distractibility/over excitable
  • Sensory defensiveness (dislike of certain noises/touch/light/fear of rocking)
  • Need for extra stimulation to senses such as sucking, rocking, repetitive movements

We can also often see developmental delay by:

  • Poor postural control
  • Poor hand eye co-ordination
  • Difficulty with spatial awareness
  • Visual perception deficits
  • Difficulties with learning
  • Poor self esteem

Sensory processing is very much linked to our early experiences in that having inappropriate sensory input may result for example in hyper vigilance. A child may seek out sensory experiences which they lacked as an infant. Or a child, for example, who heard a lot of distressing shouting may be auditory defensive (That is not to say that all sensory defensiveness is always caused by such things).

Sensory discrimination is the nervous system's ability to interpret information from our senses and compare details. It helps us in making an effective judgement on how we participate and interact with the world around us. Without good sensory discrimination, we may struggle with knowing the difference between hot and cold, soft, and hard, judging distances between ourselves and another person, knowing how hard we are pushing or pulling; or detecting the taste of something we put in our mouth. This is something we at Mosaic support you with at all times.

Mosaic Foster Care is a Private Ltd Company (reg no 07133494) providing fostering placements for children and young people to age 18.
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