Sensory Needs Crash Course for Moms

Sensory needs are becoming more and more known in children. Often associated with children with autism, sensory needs are actually applicable to all children {and really, humans}. Sensitivity to noise, visual stimulation, touch, movement, and smell are important factors in how children react to the constant stimulation from the outside world.

But did you know moms have sensory needs too? And knowing your personal sensory needs can help you better care for yourself and be a better parent. Here’s a crash course in sensory needs to help you learn more about yours.

What are Sensory Needs?

girl covering her ears and wincingSensory needs follow the five senses, with a few others thrown in as well. You know the five senses, hearing, taste, touch, vision, smell. Did you know there are two additional senses? Proprioceptive is input into our joints and muscles that tell us about our movements and body position, and vestibular is any change in direction or movement of the head. 

For each sense, an individual can be either seeking {they like it and want more of it} or avoiding {it feels overwhelming and they don’t like it}. Let’s break that down by sense and learn more.


noisy toddler toyIn my home, if the TV is on, musical toys are playing, and a child is trying to talk to me all at the same time, it makes me want to cover my ears and run away. I am avoiding when it comes to noise input. I can only handle so much before it feels overwhelming. My husband on the other hand, can tune it all out. And my youngest child is seeking- always looking for something that makes noise and then making it himself most of the time. Knowing this about myself makes me aware that when I am in an environment with lots of noise I am going to be more on edge. I also take practical steps to reduce noise for myself, like avoiding lots of noisy toys and putting tape over the speakers of the ones we have to reduce the volume. 


Can you walk into a room and instantly pinpoint if something is out of place? Do you remember where all the lost things are in your home because you can envision in your mind where you last saw something? Does visual clutter stress you out? Then you might be sensitive to visual input. For those who are not, they literally may not see the mess or clutter, it might not register in their brain. Crazy I know, but there might be an actual reason your kids don’t notice a mess that you can hone in on from across the room. Walking into my older child’s room causes my shoulders to raise in tension when I can’t see the floor. I’ll let it go until I can’t take it anymore and then we do a big clean. I tend to have a home for everything and keep up with clutter because it bothers me. Other people may have piles all over their home and not be bothered at all. Or the visual stimulation and clutter is comforting. Have a kid who loves screens? They may be visually seeking. 


plate of spicy foodCraving strong flavors or spicy foods? Hate certain textures of food? My husband can’t stand beans or peas because of the sensation of a skin with mushy stuff inside, but dude will put hot sauce on almost anything. I’ve known kids who can’t handle things like pudding or yogurt because of the texture. We all have our own preferences when it comes to how we experience food, and it may not be just about taste. 


candles burning in front of sign that says Be KindMy husband’s worst nightmare is a candle store. All of the competing smells make him want to throw up, and it’s too overwhelming. He is sensitive to smells. For us that means I avoid burning candles when he is home, or I burn them in a room he doesn’t frequent. We use unscented laundry detergent and mildly scented soaps and cleaning products. I’ve found that I’ve become more sensitive to smells just living with him, and notice immediately if someone is wearing perfume or other strong smells. Other people don’t register those at all, or love smell input. These are your scented candle addicts. 


woman snuggles cozy sweaterWhen you walk through a store, do you like to run your hands along the items to feel them all? Do you have a child who is always touching you in some ways? My toddler literally sits on top of me if we are watching TV, and can’t sit still otherwise. How do you feel about feeling messy, doing things like washing dishes, finger painting, or handling shaving cream? Or maybe you can’t stand tags in your clothes or the seams on your socks. I no longer have a tolerance for underwire bras. All of these have to do with how your body processes touch. This one is also why you and your spouse are constantly fighting over the thermostat.


Do you like to chew on pen caps? Always chew gum? Does a bear hug or weighted blanket calm you? When you exercise are you doing high impact activities? I love a bear hug or a massage but can’t take light touches. I also love the sensation of being tucked in like a burrito in bed. It makes me feel comfy and safe. For other people, it may feel confining. Depends on your preference.


girl swingingDo roller coasters make you sick? Can’t do the swings at the park? Or do you love them and can’t get enough? Motion sickness is directly related to our vestibular sense, and how much input we can handle. 

Why should you care about your sensory preferences? Because depending on your needs, your daily input may be stressing you out. You can use sensory input to help you calm yourself down, or decrease the input you find stressful to help lower your overwhelm. What sensory needs do you have? Tell us in the comments!


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Lindsay Garrett
Lindsay G. was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, and she and her husband headed south to Spring in June of 2016. As a clinical social worker, she works full time with families growing their families through adoption. Lindsay met her husband John when they were both camp counselors. They welcomed their future little campers G in December 2017 and R in 2020. Lindsay is constantly reading, researching at least one new thing, and attempting to organize her life through bullet journaling. Her first book, Parent Goals: The Millennial’s Guide to New Parent Preparedness will be published in November 2021. In her free time, she enjoys binging Gilmore Girls on a loop, baking, and running in the Houston area’s beautiful parks. Check out her website for parenting prep, support, and more.


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