The brain receives signals from both external and internal stimuli continually. Most people are aware of Sight, Sound, Touch, Taste and Smell as senses. However, we also have vestibular (balance), proprioceptor (awareness of our body position in space), pain and temperature receptors. The digestive tract is also considered have its own sensory system. When the signals between the sensory receptors and the brain get mixed up, it is known as Sensory Processing Disorder.
People can either be over (hyper) or under (hypo) sensitive to sensory stimuli or both. This can lead to people either avoiding or seeking sensory input. A study carried out in 2006 found the most common sensory behaviour was sensory seeking of the vestibular and tactile systems. This accounts for love of rollercoasters and tight hugs amongst those with Angelman Syndrome (AS). Although 64% of people demonstrated tactile defensiveness with grooming, this shows a mixed pattern of hypo and hyper sensitivity.
Understanding sensory processing differences in people with AS can help to rationalise certain behaviours. There are different techniques and accommodations that can be made to help people to regulate their senses. A sensory diet is a set of exercises that address different sensory issues for example:
- Tactile – body brushing with a surgical scrubbing brush, having a massage, playing with play-dough
- Vestibular – being on a swing, riding a trike
- Oro-motor – using a vibrating toothbrush, “chewlery”, applying scented lip-balm
- Being involved in heavy lifting or pushing work may also be beneficial.
Occupational Therapists can assess sensory needs and give advice on exercises and sensory diets. Private therapists or charities, such as Brainwave, may be able to provide input.
Sensory processing, anxiety and behaviour all have close links in establishing small, but relevant, helpful changes into a person’s sensory integration which can help lessen anxiety and lead to a decrease in behaviour that challenges.
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