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St John XXIII Catholic Primary School Inspiring Faith in our Future

What does it mean if my child has sensory needs?

Our life is full of sensory experience. We all respond to sensory information. We touch, move, see, hear, taste and smell. We are aware of or are subconsciously aware of where we are and how we interact with the environment. When we manage to interpret sensory information with ease, it impacts on our behaviour at a subconscious level. One example of this is switching off the alarm clock. When it goes off in the morning we reach out and switch it off, often without looking. Our brain knows exactly how much movement/force is required to reach out and press the off button. If we hit the wrong spot our fingers provide our brain with the information needed for further movement so we can then switch off the alarm - all without looking. SUCCESS!

  • Sometimes we seek sensory information to make us feel better (e.g. a cuddle). 
  • Sometimes we retreat from sensory information if it makes us feel overwhelmed (e.g. very loud noise

By thinking and planning positive sensory experiences we can help understand how to best manage situations some young people find over/under-whelming. Avoiding a disliked or upsetting sensory experience may help the young person with the sensory issue calm down and be able to take part in daily tasks.

  • It is important to recognise that difficulties interpreting sensory information can have an impact on how we feel, how we think and how we behave or respond.

We have constantly to make responses to sensory input from within our bodies (internal) and from the environment (external).




Becoming a detective to identify if there is a pattern showing how sensory information is reacted to, may help you plan for any inappropriate reactions. This may allow you to provide strategies to help someone regulate the amount of sensory information they need, in order to respond as appropriately as they can.





Highly SensitiveLow Sensitivity

• noise levels feel magnified

• dislikes like loud noise

• is easily startled

• likes to ‘chew’ to damp down noises

• is anxious before expected noise (school bell)

• talks loudly.

• enjoys really loud noise

• fails to pick up expected cues.




Highly SensitiveNot sensitive enough or under-sensitive vision

• dislikes bright lighting;

• prefers dark environment;

• is distracted by visual information.

• takes more visual information

   to react;

• likes bright environment,

   reflective or spinning light.




Highly SensitiveNot sensitive enough or under-sensitive

• dislikes strong tastes

• likes only bland tastes

• tastes or smells objects, clothes etc

• smells people

• likes consistent temperature of food or really cold or really hot

• over-reacts to new smells

• gags easily.

• eats non-food items

• has lots of hard, crunchy food in diet

• craves strong tastes

• under-reacts to strong, bad or good smell.




How we process touch has a huge impact on how we feel. The same sensation causes a different reaction depending on how we feel. An easy way of understanding this is to imagine the sensation of a fly landing on your arm you dismiss how it feels). Although the same sensation could be felt if a wasp lands on your arm you react to keep yourself safe. If a young person is constantly reacting to touch it can be difficult to focus on a task or activity.


Overly SensitiveNot sensitive enough or under-sensitive

• fussy

• avoids

• loves or hates hugs

• mouths objects

• only likes certain textures, clothes

• dislikes or really likes messy play

• can react aggressively to another’s touch

• feels pain and is very sensitive to temperature.

• takes firm touch to respond to stimulus

• is sometimes heavy handed

• over-grips objects

• is sometimes too close to others

• has difficulty responding to pain/temperature.