What is Sensory Defensiveness?

Updated: Oct 19, 2018



originally written for and published on Harkla.co

AN OVERVIEW OF SENSORY INTEGRATION AND SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER

Sensory Integration is the process your central nervous system goes through when it takes information in from your body’s 8 senses, processes that information, and then responds accordingly. When one’s central nervous system has difficulty processing any of this sensory information, the body’s responses are atypical and can be observed in motor, language, or behavioral skill difficulties. Occupational therapists diagnose these atypicalities as Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD.

When we talk about Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), occupational therapists diagnose 3 subtypes of SPD: Sensory Modulation Disorder, Sensory-Based Motor Disorder, and Sensory Discrimination Disorder. It is likely that people with sensory processing dysfunction demonstrate a combination of symptoms from the subtypes, however, the symptoms we are focusing on in this article fall under one particular subtype: Sensory Modulation Disorder: Sensory Over-responsivity (SMD-SOR).


SENSORY OVER-RESPONSIVE TYPE AND SENSORY DEFENSIVENESS

A child who presents with SMD-SOR has a low threshold for sensory stimuli - meaning, it doesn’t take much for him to be overwhelmed, overstimulated, irritated, or avoidant. This child is very sensitive to sensory stimuli. This oversensitivity or over-responsivity to sensory input limits the child’s willingness to play, explore, and feel safe or comfortable in his environment.

This over-responsivity can be referred to as “sensory defensiveness” because the child often defends himself (emotional or behavioral response), avoids, or tries to minimize the exposure to these sensations. Sensory defensiveness can be seen in any or all sensory systems and the child will avoid or become irritated by sensations, eliciting a physiological response that is referred to as “fight, fright, flight.”

SIGNS OF SENSORY DEFENSIVENESS


Sensory defensiveness can affect social, emotional, and behavioral areas of a child’s life. Some common complaints in daily sensory life can present as: