Sensory Strategies in Action: How to Alert or Calm Yourself or Your Child

April 22, 2024

You may have heard of relaxation techniques to calm oneself by using soothing music or deep breathing. What about techniques to alert oneself when experiencing low energy? When addressing sensory strategies we often think of the sense of smell, sight, hearing, touch, and taste.  From a sensory integration perspective, we also have the vestibular (balance) and proprioceptive (body awareness) systems.  Based on personal responses and preferences, we can change or “regulate” the level of arousal through the use of these sensory systems.

Some activities tend to be calming in nature and some activities tend to be alert. You may notice that you have already used these strategies without realizing it. For example, you may have used calming strategies with a young baby by dimming lights, playing soft music, swaddling, and gently rocking him/her. These strategies address the vestibular, tactile, visual, and auditory input.

Or you may have used alerting strategies when staying up late working or studying by removing clutter from your desk beforehand to prevent distractions, talking to yourself or reading aloud, fidgeting with your pencil, tapping your foot, and eating a crunchy snack. These strategies address the visual, auditory, tactile, vestibular, and oral motor input.

Think about what you do or what your child does in a small subtle manner to maintain appropriate levels of arousal. This may help you select appropriate types of sensory input.

Remember that each individual responds differently to different types of sensory input. Individuals need to reflect on their responses to different types of input.

VESTIBULAR (movement of head through space =>  contributes to balance) fast, jerky, changes directions, moving in suspended  equipment slow, rhythmic, movement in one direction, using grounded equipment
PROPRIOCEPTIVE (on joints => contributes to body  awareness and coordination) fast-paced, quick changes, jarring, jerking, starts or  stops abruptly joint compression, slow stretch, heavy resistance, (e.g.  push-ups, heavy work, weighted blankets, backpacks, vests, or lap pads)
TACTILE light touch, unexpected touch, cold, rough, cool  environment pressure touch, tight wrap, firm stroking over large area,  predicted touch, warm environment
VISUAL bright colors, unexpected visual stimuli, bright lights,  red-yellow shades, changing/moving stimulus dark colors, predictable rhythmic pattern, dim lights, blue-green  shades, stimulus remaining constant
AUDITORY unexpected, loud, complex or mixed, pronounced expected, quiet, gentle rhythm, simple, melodic or  sing-song
OLFACTORY all odors tend to be alerting familiar odors associated with pleasurable & comforting  experiences, interactions or people
ORAL MOTOR Crunchy textures (e.g. pretzels, chips, raw veggies), cold  temperatures (ice chips, ice-cold drinks)) Deep breathing, resistive biting and chewing (e.g. fruit  leather, non-food items like Chewelry or Chewy tubes), sucking on hard candy,  thumb, or pacifier)

If you have any questions, please contact an occupational therapist who can assist you with using environmental/sensory strategies to support you or your child.







ALERT program from Therapy Works, Inc.:

Ayres, J. (2005). Sensory Integration and the Child. Western Psychological Services.

Biel, L. & Peske, N. (2009). Raising a sensory smart child. London, England: Penguin Books.

Cohn, E., Miller, L. J., & Tickle-Degnen, L. (2000). Parental hopes for therapy outcomes: Children with sensory modulation disorders. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 54, 36–43.

Kranowitz, C. (2006). The out of sync child: Recognizing and coping with sensory processing disorder. New York, NY: Perigree Trade.

Sensational Brain:


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