How many of your children have come home from school complaining about the lighting in the school? Maybe they have mentioned it hurts their eyes, they feel tired, or have a hard time focusing? What about when you or your family have gone to a fair or pumpkin patch? There is always so much to see there with the lights, rides, food stands, crowds, and more. Has it ever felt quickly tiring, or maybe found yourself in an irritable mood after being there for a while? If any of these scenarios sound familiar, it may be worth looking into the rest of this blog about sensitivity and preferences surrounding your visual sense.
Our visual (sight) sensory system provides us with 80% of the information we receive regarding our environment. It is highly sensitive and works closely with our other systems as well. Our visual system is very sensitive to movement, colors, lighting, patterns, etc. Sometimes this system can naturally be over-responsive, which means that the sensory experience is too much for the brain and body (i.e. hard time focusing or feeling fatigued in a brightly lit room). Sometimes this system can be naturally under-responsive, which means the body and brain are not getting enough visual input or the eyes struggle to receive input(i.e. hard time finding items in an ISpy book). Our vision system comes online a few weeks after being born and quickly allows us to scan for safety and learn about our environment.
With that in mind, we want to help you explore and support your visual sensory preferences and possible sensitivities!
One way to identify some sensory preferences you have, or your child has, in relation to your sense of sight is by thinking about the following questions:
What colors are your eyes drawn to (bright or pastel)?
Do you like bright or dark rooms?
Do you like seeing things that move or that don’t move?
Do you prefer posters on your walls or bare walls?
Do you enjoy lots of knick-knacks in your room, or do you prefer less in your room?
How does a messy space impact your ability to focus or find things?
Do you enjoy watching fish in an aquarium?
Maybe thinking about those questions or attempting to imagine what it would be like does not work for you; maybe you are someone who needs to DO(act) to know. Another way to explore sensory preferences for yourself or your child is to engage in the following experiences that target your visual system. As you do them, notice how you or your child respond to them.
Have family coloring or drawing time and notice which colors each of you is drawn to.
Do your work, and have children do their homework, in different lightings (bright, dark, dim, types of lightbulbs) and see how focused you and they are.
Have a family day at the park, bring sunglasses and hats along. See if your children prefer to wear them or not on a sunny or cloudy day.
Play with color-changing lights: notice what colors make you feel calm versus energized
Look at messy spaces and clean spaces. Can you FEEL a difference?
Does reading come easily or with difficulty?
Now that you have explored your sense of sight and maybe even identified some preferences you or your child has. It is important to recognize if your responses are neutral or are indicative of sensitivity to visual stimulus. One way to identify if you have an over, under, or neutral responsivity to visual experiences is by exploring this handout.
If at this point if you are noticing that you or your child may have a sensitivity to sight, there is no need to worry. There are professionals who are trained to assess, identify, and support sensory sensitivities and sensory processing disorders. Seeking out a professional for more information, assessment, and support is encouraged. In the meantime, we have listed some activities and guidelines to support both over and under responsivity for visual experiences!
Supportive activities for an over response to visual experiences:
Wear a hood, hat, or sunglasses when outside
Purchase dimmable lights, or utilize lamps or natural light in rooms
Utilize bins, baskets, etc. to organize room or space to reduce the visual clutter
Don’t enforce eye contact to show they are listening, come up with a different system (i.e. hand signals, light touch on shoulder or hand, etc.)
Decrease wall decor
Supportive activities for an under response to visual experiences:
Play a game of I Spy
Look at bright colored objects
Read a book and let your child read you a book
Go outside on a sunny day
Play Flashlight Tag
Use color systems to organize belongings
Play with colorful blocks and organize them
Be mindful of decorations and spatial distance of objects in the home
Play catch with easy to catch items
For more information on the visual sensory system and Sensory Processing Disorder, please visit any of the links below.
By Celia Courser & Cary M Hamilton