Sensory defensive and sensory seeking at the same time? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 14 Old 12-10-2009, 05:30 PM - Thread Starter
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Can a child be sensory seeking and sensory defensive at the same time? We are seeing an OT but she just didn't really answer my question. Also, sorry I keep posting. I feel like I am losing my mind trying to figure out what is going on with my son. There have been so many different things thrown out there by everyone working with him and he's 20 months so nobody really knows yet. Apraxia, autism, add, spd, hearing is making my head spin. I just feel like I *need* to know. And I know I can't...

Anyhow, he is sensory seeking (I think) in that he is constantly wanting to touch our skin with his face and hands, and within the past few weeks is now pinching our skin or his own. It hurts realllllly bad. He gives himself little red marks. He'd rather pinch us (and it isn't aggressive at all), but if that isn't an option, he'll pinch himself. He is not slamming into things or anything like that and he cries easily when he gets hurt. He also is pouring water and milk out. He will then slurp it off his tray. He gets so incredibly angry when he's not allowed to pour and mush stuff around. Then he frequently paints his face and stomach with whatever he's eating...yogurt, spagetti sauce. He also paints his hair. There is no way to get him to stop pouring. I have tried everything "gentle." OT and SLP are telling me I need to be less gentle. I don't know what to believe. They are looking for more "firm" out of me, but I do try to be firm and gentle. ugh. Is the food play still typical at this age or sensory?

The for sensory defensive...also covering his ears for weird (not loud) sounds, and now recently for light that he perceives as being too bright. I am fairly sensory defensive myself, but it is at a whole different level with him. He sat at the PTs office today with one hand over one eye and wouldn't let me move it down.

So, can he be both? How do you deal with that? We are already brushing and doing joint compressions. A weighted blanket is on its way. Do you think it will help? I don't think he's going to tolerate sitting for 10 seconds to be under it... I just feel like every week things are getting worse and worse instead of better..... TIA.
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#2 of 14 Old 12-10-2009, 05:50 PM
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Hi there,

I don't have much advice.. but here's my 2 cents. If he is autism spectrum or something along those lines, I'd "go with the flow" for those things that aren't harmful. ie - let him pour his milk out on his tray (maybe get a better one with higher sides, and make sure he doesn't have enough to spill) and let him eat off of it. If it makes him feel better, what's the harm?

I don't have any advice for the pinching. If you haven't already, check out Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues by Barry Neil Kaufman and his website:

I feel like that is the Autism world's version of GD :-D


Momma to born April 18, 2010!
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#3 of 14 Old 12-10-2009, 06:15 PM
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My two cents as well:

Don't most toddlers "play" with their food?
I also have to agree with the pp. What's the harm in allowing him to mush things around and pour things a little bit? Kids love that. Maybe you could provide him with something you won't mind him pouring or mushing around?

As for the advice you're getting from OT and SLP: My experience with SLP and my asking for advice and answers, if you ask they tend to feel the need to come up with an answer. Also, from my experience with three SLP's, they're used to working with behavior problems that can stem from lack of language and hearing loss. They tend to be rather firm with the children and that has never meshed well with our AP style. I've had to defend decisions and advocate for our way of parenting, even had to fire one SLP because of her inability to work with our parenting style.

And the pinching: All four of my dc have had one habit or another. Not sure if it's this simple for you ds but oldest dd played with finger nails to the point that it felt like she was going to pull them off, second dd pulled arm hair ouch!, ds picked cuticles ick!, and youngest dd pulls ears and pinches ouch! I'd say this behavior was outgrown by the time they turned 3 or 4. I'm sure that's of no reassurance as your ds is rather young.

I know your head must be spinning, I've been there. I know it helped me to take one step at a time. One dx at a time, one worry at a time. Do your best and listen to your heart and instincts. That's the best path, imho.
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#4 of 14 Old 12-10-2009, 07:20 PM
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Yes. My toddler is tactile defensive, auditory defensive, smell sensitive, and sensory seeking (those are the big ones, anyway). For instance, he will not let us cut or brush his hair, cut his fingernails, clean his face or hands. He also does not like us singing to him and hates loud noises. But he also loves to bump and crash, fall hard on the floor, jump, gallop, break things, hit us HARD, pinch, bite on everything, and pour out everything he can get open.

Have you read Out-of-Sync Child? There is a section in there about kids who switch back and forth. They are okay with some things and not okay with others. I've found that some things that I thought fit in one category (orally underresponsive since he stuffs food in his mouth, even when he's choking?) I think fits better in sensory seeking. Or he will be totally grossed out by the smell of me cooking onions (to the point of throwing up), but when they're on his plate, he will eat 3 helpings of them. And I'm still not really sure if his tactile defensive about hair, teeth, nails, etc. is that or emotional regulation because the event scares him. Who knows.

I feel like we've had to throw out the GD book with him. Gentleness is necessary, but our response has to be different. If he's hitting, it's because that's how he shows affection, not because he's deliberately trying to hurt us (I'm not even sure he understands that it hurts). If he's pouring something out, I give him something appropriate to pour out. Probably our best tactic on that one is putting him on a chair in front of a sink full of warm water and bubbles with lots of little containers to pour.

Sorry, that was kind of all over the place, but we're still figuring all this stuff out too. Best of luck.
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#5 of 14 Old 12-10-2009, 09:58 PM
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Yep, my son is sensory defensive in some areas and seeking in others.

Mama, Painter, Special Needs Coordinator
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#6 of 14 Old 12-10-2009, 10:03 PM
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Absolutely, yes. I would find a new OT if the one you are seeing can't break down for you the ways in which your child is sensory seeking (tactile) and sensory avoiding (auditory). My DD is the same way, and has even been sensory avoiding in some areas and then become, over time, sensory seeking in the same area (vestibular and proprioceptive, for instance). For instance, when we started brushing she hated it because she couldn't stand the sensation. Now, two years later, she often asks for it. She used to hate the swing; now she can go for hours, and hours, and hours.

I like Out of Sync Child, but I love Sensational Kids. Really breaks down how these children function on a day-to-day, or moment-to-moment, basis. But I think what would best serve you is an OT who has a clear understanding of your child's issues, and a game plan to make it better.
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#7 of 14 Old 12-10-2009, 10:15 PM
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Hi! My 4yo is sensory-seeking -- but she does occasionally seem sensory-defensive. I.e, she usually hasn't liked for me to sing for her, though she enjoys singing herself and enjoys music.

She now likes to be read to some -- but when she was younger she used to get upset if I tried to read to her (or tell her stories) -- she would take the books out of my hand and "read" them to herself. She loves me telling her stories now.

She also enjoyed throwing and dumping food and drinks well beyond the age when this was considered normal toddler behavior.

As far as OT -- I initially found it helpful because I learned lots of good exercises to help dd to feel where her body was in space, and get the contact and resistance activities she needed to get her sensory needs met. I initially found the OT helpful in increasing my understanding of my child.

But then our particular OT seemed to get increasingly wrapped up in asserting her dominance over my dd. The sessions became more about "kinderdarten readiness" than about the activities that were so helpful to my child.

Even though the OT knew we homeschooled, she just thought it was so important for all children to learn that they had to sit down when adults wanted them to sit down, and not get up 'til the adults said they were done and excused them.

And I finally said that I understood her focus, and didn't want to ask her to go against her conscience when she felt the school-readiness was so important. But that just wasn't what I felt we were needing.

So I said I'd greatly appreciate any materials she could recommend to help me better understand my sensory-seeking child, and I'd go ahead and keep working with her at home and discontinue the therapy.

And this is what works for us. I don't want to be pessimistic, but I get so tired of dealing with folks who think I'm too gentle with my child. I sure don't need it from people who I'm trying to get help from. That's no help to me at all.

And I'm finding that lots of behaviors are improving with maturity. I.e. the "dumping"-behavior hardly happens at all now (well, maybe with toys but not with her food and drinks, LOL). And this was without me needing to punish her -- I think she finally filled her need, it just took a lot longer than it does for most children.

So, I am all in favor of continuing to persevere in being patient and gentle with our special needs children (not that I'm always perfect in that department). Maturity happens with all children when they are ready.

As another example, for the longest time dd wasn't wanting to use the toilet, even though she would sometimes announce what she was about to do in her diaper, and definitely seemed to have control of her bodily functions -- she just usually preferred going in a diaper and the wetness didn't bother her.

Some people warned me she'd be in diapers forever if I didn't "make" her use the potty. But then, suddenly, one day (shortly before she turned 4 1/2) she announced that she was wearing her panties and didn't need diapers any more. And she was trained just like that.

Although ... she has since decided that she doesn't want the panties either. At first she liked the panties but always wanted to pull them up into her butt-crack. Then she decided she preferred just wearing pants, tights, or shorts without any panties.

ETA: Also, in the past my dd was really into smearing and playing in her poop, so I'd have to hurry to get her cleaned up. But she's outgrown this, too, with out any need for me to punish her or give negative consequences. Like I've said, gentleness and believing in your child really does work, even in areas where they seem to be slower in growing out of certain stages!

Susan -- married unschoolin' WAHMomma to two lovely girls (born 2000 and 2005).
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#8 of 14 Old 12-10-2009, 10:55 PM
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My son is a sensory seeker but has some pretty serious oral defensive traits. In fact, orally, he is both a seeker and defensive!
It is possible to have both.
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#9 of 14 Old 12-11-2009, 01:28 AM
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My son is both sensory avoiding and sensory seeking.

FWIW, I found that my son spiraled downward from 18 until 24 months and has made progess back upwards since 24 months, so don't lose hope. My ODS's official diagnosis is SPD and PDD-NOS.

Brusging therapy with joint compressions and removing milk helped tremendously with auditory defensiveness. We have a weighted blanket.....but he doesn't use it. He currently sleeps under about 20 stuffed animals, so it is the same thing.

We have auditory and visual defensiveness with tactile, movement seeking.

Michelle, mama to spirited toddler Liam (August 20, 2007) and high needs baby Ben (April 6, 2009)
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#10 of 14 Old 12-11-2009, 05:01 PM - Thread Starter
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Thank you all for the thoughtful replies. I requested the Out of Sync Child and Sensational Kids from the library so hopefully they'll be in soon. The deal with my OT is that she is not very good at explaining things to me and she has been critical of AP (she has backed off when I kind of pummeled her with a bunch of research), but she seems really intuitive and we've seen amazing (temporary...few days to a week) results when she's done craniosacral on him. She is even willing to come over to our house from 9pm to 10pm to work on him while he's asleep since he won't tolerate it when he's awake. She is really truly a nice and caring person. There is just something slightly "off" about her and communication isn't her strong point. I have an aunt who is an OT who I can call for help explaining things to me, but I feel like I'm burdening her bugging her 24/7 because she is super busy. I am still waiting on EI to get an OT in here. The one we're working with is private. EI is taking their slow time doing anything EXCEPT for education of course, which I am pretty much trained to do myself and which I find completely unhelpful and annoying. ugh.

One last the therapy for sensory seeking and sensory defensive behaviors are the same then? ie...brushing and joint compressions and weighted blanket should be helping both? If anyone posts again, if you could mention your child's age and if they have a dx that would be great too. Thanks!
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#11 of 14 Old 12-11-2009, 05:50 PM
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We do brushing, joint compressions, therapeutic listening, swinging, trampoline, and mouth massage. I think they can all be used for both.
My son is 6 and has SPD.
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#12 of 14 Old 12-11-2009, 08:45 PM
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Yes, my son has always been both. Easiest way to describe it.. sensory seeking on HIS terms, sensory defenseive otherwise.

Mom to Joscelyne 14, Andrew 12, and Mackenzie 10 and wife to Nate.
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#13 of 14 Old 12-12-2009, 06:06 AM
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yeo but usually they wold say something like

Sensory seeking with tactilce defensiveness or Sensory seeking with auditory defensiveness. etc...

my daugter is a sensory seeker but she squeals if clothing touches her the wrong way. I mean like totally freaks out. yet she bounces around the house running into things all day. the child has bruises up and down looking like we beat her, but she can't handle a dress. lol

transtichel.gifMom of three - (2.5 yrs, 7yrs, and 11yrs). Birthing Doula, editor, and wife to my soulmate. I've had a c/s, hospital VBAC, UC and not yet decided what I'll do about this next little one

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#14 of 14 Old 12-12-2009, 06:55 AM
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Yep, my son is too. He almost always has his fingers in his mouth and likes to chew. He's very touchy with people too. However, he will not wear a stitch of clothing at home, EVER. He likes getting dressed, but 2 minutes later he's pulling on his clothes and screaming.

Carly [30] + DH [28] + DS [10]
TTC my second and his first!
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