Know the Foundational Senses: How to recognize & regulate these four senses with activities.
We thought it was important to inform others that we have EIGHT senses, not five, and 3 are ones you likely have never heard about! Many of us are taught the FIVE senses in school: Seeing, Hearing, Smell, Taste, and Touch.
What we are missing are the Foundational senses of: Vestibular, Proprioceptive, and Interoceptive. These THREE are of particular import as they help our bodies know we are safe and secure in out internal and external states of just being. For every sense, we can be under or over responsive to any of our 8 senses, and when we are, that often causes challenges to how we interact with the world around us. For example, we may avoid certain activities or be thrill-seeking in others!
Our sensory systems are complicated and no one's the same! The 8 senses work together to support their integration and to ensure our survival in this world. Some have more protective factors while others enhance each other. Our goal is to help you know each sense in more depth so that you may see behaviors as a result of sensory dysfunctions and “neuron traffic jams” versus conscious choices of children. When you can respond to a child struggling from this “body before brain” lens, you can feel more confident in having success in managing the behaviors and guiding a child towards healthy behavioral interventions that actually calm their bodies and decrease stress for everyone.
Our primary senses are called the Foundational Four. These include: Touch (Tactile), Proprioception(Body Location), Vestibular(Balance), and Interoception(Internal state). When these four are not working just right, we and those around us notice! Often this can look like quirks, behavioral challenges and emotional reactivity. Not knowing about them places humans at a disadvantage particularly parents, who don’t see these challenges coming until you are begging for answers and are at your wits end.
In this article, we will break down and discuss the Foundational Four. While the Functional Four tend to provide our sensory system with external signals, our Foundational Four tend to receive internal signals from our world to provide our brains with a “whole body” picture to make sure we are safe inside and out. The Foundational Four are the least known, so we will discuss how they function and how to ensure you are “working” your senses to foster healthy integration by having a variety of sensorial experiences.
Tactile/Touch: is where we process pain, pressure, texture, & temperature and can have immense sensitivities too as our skin is our largest organ.
What to do to engage the Tactile/Touch sense:
Have a variety of fidgets around to explore, figure out what you like/don’t like
Make a sensory tub! Fill it with rice, lentils, sand, kinetic sand, orbeez/water beads
Messy play! Shaving cream on a table provides a great tactile experience. For younger children, try pudding!
Find large soft pillows or a cozy blanket and curl up with your child to read a book.
Do these activities to engage the tactile sense to seek calming and regulation of the body's systems. Learn more about the Tactile Sense here
Proprioceptive: Informs us of our body position in space, provides us information on how our muscles stretch and contract, and help us avoid objects.
What to do to engage the Proprioceptive sense:
Practice yoga poses (individually or together)
Make a pile of pillows to nestle underneath
Play with something stretchy, like Putty or Model Magic
Create a tape maze on your living room floor and practice walking heel to toe on the line
Animal walks (crab walk, gorilla arms, slither like a snake)
Jump on a trampoline
Sit under a weighted blanket
Lift heavy boxes or carry in groceries
Do these activities to engage the proprioceptive sense to seek calming and regulation of the body's systems. Learn more about Proprioception here
Vestibular: Informs our body of a change in our head position or having our feet lifted off the ground. Contributes to our sense of balance! Think motion sickness.
What to do to engage the Vestibular sense:
Cross-body touch toes (right hand to left foot, then reverse)
Play catch where ball crosses body (right arm throws, opponent catches with right arm)
Lay on your back on the floor and put your feet in the air for a Ceiling Walk
Rock body/Boat Pose
Hang upside-down off a chair
Bounce on a therapy ball
Games that require you to move your body!
Spin both ways in a chair-equally
Do these activities to engage the vestibular sense to seek calming and regulation of the body's systems. Learn more about the Vestibular sense here
Interoception: Informs our body of internal sensations like intuition, the feeling of hunger and thirst, sickness, heart rate, and the feeling that one needs to use the bathroom. Read our blog post about Interoception here to learn more from personal experaince.
What to do to engage the Interoceptive sense:
Take a warm bath
Drink warm tea
Drink ice cold drinks
Sucking on ice cubes
Language use of differences- opposites: Hot/cold, tight/loose, soft/hard touch.
Do jumping jacks and then listen to your heartbeat
Practice yoga core poses (boat, chair, cat poses)
Sit under a weighted blanket
Do these activities to engage the interoception sense to seek calming and regulation of the bodies systems. Learn more about the Interoceptive sense here
It is important to note that individuals and children are often demonstrating behavioral, emotional, and self esteem challenges due to sensory sensitivities of their foundational four senses. Understanding the connection between the body and the brain enables professionals to assist with the appropriate interventions. Unfortunately, not all professionals are aware of sensory sensitivities and how these present and impact a person's overall functioning. Seeking out licensed professionals who understand sensory sensitivities can assist parents and individuals in receiving the correct referrals for effective treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask in your search if the professionals understand sensory sensitivities and to keep searching for someone that does.
Our goal is to continue to foster education in sensory processing and sensory functioning because 1 in 5 humans have sensory sensitivities that impact their daily lives!
One of the most common statements made by parents is “nothing works, I have tried all the behavioral plans, rewards and punishments, NOTHING works!”
The answer may be your child is struggling with sensory sensitivities and needs specific intervention plans to be successful in integrating more consistently so you both can have less stress and a more positive relationship. If you feel that your child’s sensory sensitivities are hindering their ability to fully experience the world around them, then your child may benefit from an evaluation by an Occupational Therapist to address these concerns. Occupational Therapy (OT) can provide wonderful support to the family system, not only in addressing sensory challenges but in helping your child (and family) develop life skills. When looking for an OT in your area, you want to look for one that works with Pediatrics and/or specializes in Sensory Processing Challenges (SPD). Not all OT’s are trained in sensory processing challenges, and some OT’s have age limits/requirements! Do not be afraid to ask questions. Just as you would want to find the right fit for your child in counseling, it is to your benefit to do some research before selecting an Occupational Therapist for your child. You can find more information about sensory processing challenges and find the names of providers in your area at The STAR Institute, as well as teaching hospitals in your area that may have specialists for sensory processing evaluations.
At Olympia Therapy we know the frustration many parents experience and feel. The therapists at Olympia Therapy have had extensive training in Sensory Processing because of our Director, Cary Hamilton’s own personal experience. Cary is passionate about educating mental health professionals in sensory processing, and to be looking at a child’s behavior from a “body before brain” lens. She has trained hundreds of professionals counselors and educators on sensory sensitivities and using the “body before brain” lens with regulation strategies for behavior management that support and grow a child’s attachment and connection to the grown-ups around them.
We hear about all the parenting and behavior strategies not working! We have found that many times it is these sensory sensitivities that are not being addressed sufficiently. We are hoping that through education and compassionate support, parents/educators can get the stress relief they are seeking, knowing that you are finally getting to the root of, what can be, significant behavioral and emotional conflict and strain in the home and at school. All families deserve to experience a more peaceful, confident, and safe relationship.
If you, parent, are looking for more information on this topic, we highly recommend the following books:
The Out Of Sync Child purchase here
Understanding Your Child’s Sensory Signals purchase here
Positively Sensory! purchase here
For those local or not to Olympia, WA we offer an online parenting program, Playful Wisdom, that educates and supports a child's whole body wellness; applying sensory, play, neuroscience and child-parent relational sciences in webinar form. You can learn how to support the emotional and mental health of your child and family at your own pace, in the comfort of your own home, and receive support if you wish in our private Facebook group. You can learn more about it here at Playful Wisdom Parenting.
Parenting is hard and messy as it is! Understanding the impact of our EIGHT Sensory Systems is often the missing link to your parenting strategy and we are here to help.
Cary M Hamilton