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Exploring the Four Foundational Senses: A Guide to Understanding the Lesser Known Senses.

Enjoy this journey of sensory exploration and understanding. In our quest for knowledge and compassion, we want to shed light on the lesser-known sensory world, where we don't have just five senses but eight!


Three of these senses, are often hidden from our awareness. Join us as we delve into the rich tapestry of sensory experiences, focusing on empathy and education during Sensory Processing Awareness Month.


The Sensory Universe:

Many of us are familiar with the traditional five senses taught in school: Seeing, Hearing, Smell, Taste, and Touch. But let's uncover the hidden gems, the unknown senses: Vestibular, Proprioceptive, and Interoception. These three senses are our silent guardians, helping us feel safe and secure in our internal world. Each sense can be either under or over-responsive, leading to unique challenges in how we interact with our environment from our internal lens. It's like having a secret code to the world around us!


The Harmony of Eight:

Our sensory systems are intricate and diverse, just like each of us. These eight senses work together in a symphony, supporting our integration and ensuring our survival. All senses offer protection, while others enhance our experiences. Our mission is to help you understand each sense so that you can see your child’s behaviors as a result of sensory glitches and "neuron traffic jams" rather than conscious choices.


Sometimes choice has nothing to do with it.


The Foundational Four:

Let's focus on the Foundational Four senses: Touch (Tactile), Proprioception (Body Location), Vestibular (Balance), and Interoception (Internal State). When these four senses are not in harmony, they can manifest as quirks, behavioral challenges, and emotional reactivity. Our aim is to shine a compassionate light on these lesser-known senses and offer ways to promote healthy integration through sensory experiences and ease parenting stress.


Tactile/Touch (The Skin Symphony): This sense allows us to process pain, pressure, texture, and temperature. Some of us may have heightened sensitivities, and for others, they don’t seem to register at all. To engage this sense, consider keeping fidgets around for exploration, creating sensory tubs filled with various materials, or simply cuddling up with a soft pillow or cozy blanket. These activities can help soothe and regulate our bodies. Remember, our skin is sensitive to protect us from danger; keeping us safe is its number one goal.


Proprioception (The Body Whisperer): Proprioception informs us about our body's position in space, muscle stretch, and contraction. It helps us avoid collisions with objects. Engage this sense with activities like yoga poses, creating a pillow nest, playing with stretchy materials, or even trying activities that require heavy lifting. These actions provide a sense of grounding and stability.


Vestibular (The Balance Buddy): Vestibular senses change in head position and when our feet are lifted off the ground. It plays a crucial role in our balance and contributes to motion sickness. To activate this sense, try activities like cross-body movements of playing catch, drawing on vertical surfaces, rocking, bouncing on therapy balls, or indulging in some good old-fashioned spinning. These activities can help us feel more centered and balanced. When our head knows our body is safe, it allows other brain areas to engage, like our executive functioning.


Interoception (The Internal Insight): Interoception informs us about internal sensations like hunger, thirst, heart rate, and the need to use the bathroom. Engage this sense with activities like taking a warm bath, drinking tea, or paying attention to changes in temperature. These actions help us connect with our inner state and promote a sense of well-being. Our emotions shine through when our interoception tells our brains we are safe and comfortable.


Understanding the Impact:

Recognizing that challenges in these Foundational Four senses can lead to behavioral, emotional, and self-esteem issues is crucial. Sensory sensitivities affect our daily lives, and understanding the connection between body and brain is essential. Sadly, not all professionals are aware of sensory sensitivities and their impact. Seek out licensed professionals who understand sensory sensitivities, and don't hesitate to ask questions during your search.


Fostering Sensory Education:

Our mission is to continue fostering education in sensory processing and sensory functioning. One in five individuals has sensory sensitivities that impact their daily lives. If you've ever felt overwhelmed by the statement, "Nothing works," it might be related to sensory sensitivities. Specific intervention plans can be the key to success, leading to less stress and healthier relationships for everyone in the family. Sensory processing challenges are often inherited, increasing the stress levels of the whole family sometimes.


The Role of Occupational Therapy (OT):

If you suspect your child's sensory sensitivities are hindering their ability to experience the world, consider seeking an evaluation by an Occupational Therapist (OT). OT can provide valuable support not only in addressing sensory challenges but also in developing essential life skills. When searching for an OT, look for one specializing in Sensory Processing Challenges (SPD) and has experience with pediatric cases. Don't hesitate to ask questions to find the right fit.


Olympia Therapy's Compassionate Approach:

At Olympia Therapy, we understand the challenges parents face. Our Director, Cary Hamilton, is deeply passionate about sensory processing and the "body before brain" lens. We've trained countless professionals in sensory sensitivities and regulation strategies, emphasizing attachment and connection between children and adults. As mental health professionals we strive to help other learn, understand and navigate the connections between the body and brain in therapuetic ways.


Finding Peace and Connection:

We often hear about parenting and behavior strategies that seem to fall short. Sometimes, it's the unaddressed sensory sensitivities that lie beneath the surface. Our hope is that through education and compassionate support, parents and educators can find the stress relief they seek. Every family deserves a more peaceful, confident, and secure relationship.


For those both near and far from Olympia, WA, we offer an online parenting program called Playful Wisdom. It educates and supports whole-body wellness for children, incorporating sensory, play, neuroscience, and child-parent relational sciences. Learn more at Playful Wisdom Parenting.


Parenting is a challenging journey, and understanding there are Eight Sensory Systems with the Foundational Four being imperative for learning, this can be the missing puzzle piece to finding effective parenting strategies. We're here to guide you with knowledge and compassion. So, embark on this sensory adventure, and may you find peace, connection, and a deeper understanding of your child's unique sensory world.



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