Why parents need Sensory Intelligence®

I have been working as an occupational therapist in a clinical setting for the past 20 years. Although the hands-on part of my work involves individual therapy with children, I have learnt over the years that a child cannot be treated in isolation. The importance of family members and dynamics must always be taken into consideration.


If I may add to John Donne’s words: “No man… nor child… is an island”.


Most families consist of vast diversities in terms of personalities, preferences, moods, habits and sensory assesss. Just because you share some DNA, does not automatically mean you will enjoy the same food, clothing, music, smells, colours, sports, activities and friends. We are all unique and different – thank goodness – and we all enjoy different types and amounts of input from our environments.


When considering diversity from a sensory perspective, children (actually all people) are either sensory seekers, sensory neutrals or sensory avoiders.

  • Sensory seekers

-have high thresholds for sensory input
-they need MORE input from their environment to function at
their best

  • Sensory neutrals

-have medium thresholds for sensory input

-they are not severely affected by sensory input and is able to
respond to important stimuli and ignore unimportant stimuli

  • Sensory avoiders

-have low thresholds for sensory input
-they need LESS input from their environment to function


Knowing your children’s sensory assesss is half the battle won when it comes to healthy family dynamics.
Knowing your OWN sensory assess is the other half of that same battle.


Let’s consider some examples of family dynamics:

A sensory seeking child and sensory seeking parent will have lots of fun together. They have loads of energy and a lust for life. These two will understand each other’s need for MORE and will enjoy an active lifestyle filled with activities. However, they may not always know when to stop and can be an exhausting pair for the rest of the family. They may also be restless and struggle to focus on one task at a time, especially when they are together.


A sensory avoiding child and sensory avoiding parent will not demand too much from each other, as they both understand that LESS works best for them. They can spend the whole day in each other’s company, without a word… and be perfectly content. This pair might intuitively know what the other one needs. For the rest of the family, they may appear boring, slow and uninteresting, lacking “oomph”. They might need a ‘sensory seeker’ to get them up and going!


A sensory seeking child and sensory avoiding parent can potentially experience lots of conflict due to a difference in sensory needs. The seeking child might demand more affection and attention than the avoiding parent is able to give. This child will typically be perceived as a fidgety, busy, on-the-go child by an overwhelmed sensitive parent. For the seeking child, the avoiding parent might mistakenly seem uninterested and closed-off.


A sensory avoiding child and sensory seeking parent can often be seen in shopping malls on a Saturday afternoon. This sensitive child often experiences sensory overload and reacts by a flight/fright/fight reaction, i.e. “a meltdown”. The seeking parent might seem oblivious to the child’s reasons for this reaction as they’re actively engaging in activities with the intention of creating fun for all. An avoiding child might experience a seeking parent as overwhelming and too much.


As you can see, each pair has strengths and hurdles to overcome.


The fact remain that families are made up of ALL of its members. And to be completely honest, life would be pretty dull without all of these assesss.

In family-life, self-understanding, acceptance of others and Sensory Intelligence® is key to creating a harmonious safe haven for the WHOLE family to enjoy.


To discover your and your family’s sensory thresholds, take our basic FREE Sensory Quiz™ or for a more detailed report, do a Sensory Matrix™ (from 12-year-olds).


Why I need Sensory Intelligence®. How about you?

It was one of those crazy mornings. I had very little sleep the night before, back-to-back clients booked, a ton of admin waiting for me, and when I arrived at the office the discovery of a drenched floor. The rain from the previous evening had highlighted massive cracks in the wall that suddenly needed urgent attending to in my already crazy day. The morning went by in a blur – explaining to clients why there were towels all over the floor and a damp smell in the air, making calls to my landlord, doing my best to focus on my sessions, making to-do lists in the back of my mind… By lunchtime I felt stressed, unfocused and completely out of control. On top of that I realised I had forgotten to pack lunch! As I sat in front of my computer, trying to answer emails in my lunch hour, my brain felt like it couldn’t string a coherent sentence together if my life (or job) depended on it.


And that’s when my Sensory Intelligence® kicked in. I took a full, deep breath and closed my eyes for a few seconds. I counted back from 10 to one, taking deep breaths with each number. This didn’t stop my mind from spinning, but allowed me to take a step back and assess the situation. I realised three important things:

  1. I wasn’t going to be very productive at the time. If I sent emails and attended to my other admin, I was going to make mistakes and would have to re-do a lot of it later.
  2. I had a long afternoon filled with appointments and I owed it to my clients to be focused and attentive during their therapy sessions.
  3. I was hungry! My stomach was growling. I needed to eat and rest, or else my afternoon would be a nightmare.


I made the decision to close my laptop, put my phone on silent and headed out to lunch. Sensory Intelligence® taught me that my body comes first. I can’t expect my mind to work if my basic needs aren’t met. And right now my basic needs were food and some rest. After I got a sandwich from the shop across the road, I sat outside in the garden to enjoy my lunch. I removed myself from my office and the sensory overload happening due to the smells and damp air, and just focused on the sunshine on my arms as I satiated my hunger. Then I had about 30 mins left, and I decided that it was time for my weighted blanket. I searched for another empty office, closed the door and lay under my blanket for about 15 minutes – until I felt my muscles relax, my breathing slow down and my mind opening up.

(A weighted blanket offers deep pressure sensory input through our touch system. Deep pressure is calming and helps us to self-regulate when we feel out of control. Think of the effect a big hug has when you feel overwhelmed. Weighted blankets can be used by children and adults. Pretty Special is our recommendation for a company that makes excellent, custom-made weighted blankets: http://www.prettyspecial.co.za/index.html)


By the time my first afternoon client arrived, I was ready for her session. I was able to focus on her needs from a relaxed and present state. I’d also realised that none of the admin, that felt so important at the time, was actually that urgent. I planned to spend some time in the afternoon to address the things that needed to be done on that day, and then would allocate the other tasks to other days in my week. And when the time came I actually worked much faster and got so much more done, than I would have if I’d forced myself to work when I wasn’t focused and clear-minded.


I look back on this day often, as a reminder of how Sensory Intelligence® is a skill (and a wisdom) that we use every single day. On that day I understood that my body needed to be attended to first, before I could expect my mind to perform at its best. I also had the tools from my ‘sensory toolbox’ at my disposal: breathing, my weighted blanket and luckily some sunshine, to use my senses to re-focus, relax and self-regulate. I always try to remember that we can’t always control our days or our environment, but we can always control our bodies.


It’s important to note that not everything would work for everyone- people have different sensory thresholds and need to self-regulate in different ways. Some people might need a quick run during their lunchtime, contact a friend or listen to their favourite radio station. Others might need to use noise-canceling earphones, move offices for the day due to the smell, or do a longer breathing meditation.


Sensory Intelligence® means understanding your own sensory threshold, so why don’t you do our free Sensory Quiz™ to confirm your overall threshold. Better yet, do our Sensory Matrix™ and get a personalised 26-page report that guides you in understanding your sensory threshold in each of your senses and how to self-regulate in a way that works for your body. I promise you, you will never think about your senses in the same way again!


Who has benefited

Sensory Quiz™
Sensory Matrix™
Senses on Call™
Social media
Sensory Intelligence®