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Have you heard the term sensory sensitivity? Additionally, you may also be wondering why more events and locations as identifying as being sensory-friendly. Learn about how sensory sensitivities are driving a large and growing community of people to seek out sensory-friendly experiences.
Sensory sensitivity and the eight senses
Because everyone has different sensory preferences, sensitivities, when they exist, are different for each person. According to a research article by Robertson and Simmons (2013) titled, “The Relationship Between Sensory Sensitivity and Autistic Traits in the General Population”, many with autism and other diagnoses will experience hypersensitivity or hypersensitivity 1. Hypersensitivity occurs when there is an overload of sensory information. Whereas hyposensitivity occurs when people have decreased sensitivity and are sensory seeking.
With your eyes you see and then process visual information. For someone who is hypersensitive what they see, they might experience dizziness, anxiety, nausea and discomfort in environments that are visually sensory-rich. Common examples that are a problem include lights that are:
As a result, sensory-friendly lighting reduces the sensory experience for people who are sensory sensitive to light. For instance, sensory-friendly lighting includes dimmed lights, the use of natural lighting and/or using different types of lighting (overhead, diffuse, etc.).
With your ears you hear and process noise and sound. Therefore, for someone who is sensory sensitive to what they hear, they often have a very low threshold of noise they can tolerate, or particular noises are bothersome. Common examples of noise that causes a problem is:
- Background music.
- Multiple people having simultaneous conversations.
- Noise from the surroundings. E.g. fans, beeps of equipment, movement of people or vehicles.
Sensory-friendly environments for instance, make changes to reduce noise. For example, strategies include:
- Reduce the number of people
- Eliminate background noise
- Offer ear plugs or noise-cancelling ear muffs.
Your tactile sense is felt through your skin. For instance, people who are sensory sensitive to touch are often irritated by certain materials and fabrics. Further examples are:
- Seams on clothing.
- Textures of shirts, pants, socks or underwear.
- Clothing tags.
- Materials of blankets, like wool.
Sensory-friendly clothing is specially designed from soft fabrics with seams reduced and tags eliminated to remove those irritants.
You smell through your nose. People often have different sensory preferences for scents and smells, but some people are very sensitive to smell, event scents that most people enjoy like perfumes or cologne, scented candles or essential oils. As a result, sensory-friendly environments reduce or eliminate all scents, adopting a scent-free approach.
Some people who are sensory sensitive are bothered by what they taste through their mouth. Examples of things that may be avoided due to sensory sensitivity:
- Spicy foods.
- Salty foods.
Movement uses your muscles. Your sense of movement is called proprioception and is delivered from your joints and muscles and even your inner ear, to your brain. Furthermore, your sense of movement tells your body where you are in space. People who are sensory sensitive to movement may struggle with managing how their body moves. Therefore, sensory-friendly environments that help make moving around easier, like eliminating steps or stairs, creating wide spaces and even having things like benches for people to sit down.
Your sense of balance is also called your vestibular sense. Sensory receptors in your inner ear help you keep upright and tell you where your head is in space. Thus, people who are sensory sensitive to balance may experience motion sickness, be afraid of heights or struggle to manage walking on uneven surfaces. Sensory-friendly environments for balance are like those for movement, with level surfaces, for example.
Interoception is likely a new word for you! it is your internal body sense. It tells you when you are hungry, or thirsty or have to go to the toilet. As a result, people who are sensory sensitive to interoception may have difficulty knowing when they are hungry or thirsty or even when the have to go to the toilet. Therefore, sensory-friendly environments have spaces for people to eat and drink and ensure that they are enough and accessible toilets.
Experiences and Products for Sensory Sensitivity
Sensory-friendly environments help people who are sensory sensitive with experiences that are comfortable. Moreover, there are products that help, too.
Sensory Sensitive Environments
A common sensory sensitive environment modification is sensory-friendly shopping. During these special hours, stores will change things like:
- No background music.
- Turning off fans or machines that beep.
- Turning down bright lights.
- Limiting the number of people in store.
- Reduce any smells or scents.
Sensory Sensitive Products
As mentioned, sensory-friendly clothing is a product that helps people with sensory sensitivity. Chantilly Comfort Wear is an example of sensory-friendly clothing. Moreover, other products are specifically designed to be sensory-friendly. Two examples for swimming, include Frogglez Goggles and Hammer Head Swim Caps.
Chantilly Comfort Wear, Frogglez Swim Goggles and Hammer Head Swim Caps are all Sensory Friendly Solutions’ Favourite Things. Sensory Friendly Solutions’ Favourite Things recognizes products that help people manage sensory sensitivity or reduce sensory overload. Sensory Friendly Solutions does not receive fees from the mention of specific products.
Sensory-friendly events and locations, as well as products, make experiences accessible and include more people when they are sensory sensitive.
Finally, interested in learning more? Discover:
- What Are the Signs of Sensory Issues?
- Who Has Sensory Sensitivity?
- Sensory Overload: Is it a Problem in Your Life?
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- Robertson, A. E., & Simmons, D. R. (2012). The Relationship Between Sensory Sensitivity and Autistic Traits in the General Population. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(4), 775–784. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-012-1608-7