How your child’s sensory system sets them up for life

Understanding how your child learns is important

As human beings, we learn ‘from the bottom up’…

In other words, as babies and small children, our development begins with physical and sensory skills that we master, one by one, step by step.

Our 7 senses are our foundation stones, and even before we are born these senses are busy working and integrating.

Over time, as we grow, we are able to do more…

But if the foundations for our learning are not solidly in place, then our development can falter.

The Learning Pyramid, first devised by Williams & Shellenberger (1996), proposes that learning is incremental and that a child’s sensory integration plays a huge part in their development.

The Learning Pyramid demonstrates the way in which our bodies ‘organise’ input from the world in which we live.  

It also offers a simple explanation for the way in which all of your child’s senses and skills are linked.

Turning the Learning Pyramid on its head

Sometimes, though, it’s easier to look at your child’s development the opposite way, as world renowned occupational therapist Lucy Jane Miller suggests in the image above.

This pyramid offers another perspective on your child’s development and the possible causes of your child’s meltdowns.

Here, we can see how the ‘pointy end’ of your child’s skills – or the basic competencies that form the foundation of the way they interact with the world – have a big impact on their behaviour.

Children’s senses, which modulate how they feel in any situation, help them to feel ‘balanced’ and in control.

The slightest ‘tip’ however, can affect this fragile equilibrium and, for little kids especially, this can result in feelings of uncertainty, discomfort and, often, meltdowns of volcanic proportions.

If you have a sensory sensitive child, this is an important concept to understand. The environment that your son or daughter is in, as well as the relationships they have with you and others, will probably always be a factor in how they manage the social and emotional demands of the world.

This is a big message for parents and teachers …..

Children who have heightened sensory sensitivities are often susceptible to big reactions when the delicate balance between their body and brain is interrupted.

It’s up to us to help them stay balanced by ‘tweaking’ their environment, providing them with the tools they need, giving them predictability and supporting them with empathy so that, over time, they learn how to regulate their reactions on their own.

Sensory Processing & its effect on learning

Children with sensory sensitivities often access occupational therapy to support their regulation

If your child’s nervous system and sensory processes don’t operate as they should, there is ‘knock on effect’ all the way up to the top of the pyramid.

For your child to be able to learn and master ‘higher order’ skills like speech, language, problem solving and critical thinking, their sensory integration needs to work well.

And if it doesn’t, then communication, behaviour and learning problems can occur.

Imagine a pyramid.

You can’t place stones on the top until the foundation stones are in place… every block relies on the ones underneath to be strong and stable.

In the same way, your child’s sensory system provides the basis for all of their higher order skills.

When you support the way in which your child’s sensory system works, you support your son or daughter’s capacity to function successfully at home, in the classroom and in the community.

© 2019 Sonja Walker
 Kids First Children’s Services

Does your child struggle with tantrums and meltdowns?

Kids First Children’s Services’ occupational therapists have post-graduate training and experience in helping children with sensory sensitivities to thrive and not just cope.

If you and your child need help to manage meltdowns, contact us today on 9938 5419 to find out how we can help.

Learn more about occupational therapy for kids here

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