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What is Sensory Defensiveness?

Sensory Defensiveness is a constellation of symptoms that are the result of aversive or defensive reactions to non-noxious stimuli across one or more sensory modalities. It is an over reaction of our normal protective senses. Individuals with sensory defensiveness have their own response style. There may be patterns of avoidance, sensory seeking, fear, anxiety or even aggression. 

Social Emotional Disorders Related to Sensory Defensiveness are the pattern of learned behaviors that create habits and interaction styles that are protective and defensive in nature. These stress and anxiety reaction can continue after the primary symptoms of sensory defensiveness are no longer present.


What are the types of Sensory Defensiveness?  

Tactile Defensiveness is an overreaction to touch or tactile experiences. This may result in avoiding touch from others, dislike crowds, irritation when having hair washed or cut, avoidance or certain types of clothing, and many other similar reactions. Tactile defensiveness was fist described ba A. Jean Ayres in a California study of hyperactive children. The behavior patterns observed during somatosensory testing were distinctive and led to many studies in occupational therapy clinical practice that further elaborated this syndrome.

Oral Defensiveness is an avoidance of certain textures of food and irritation with activities using the mouth in general. The patterns of avoidance are unique to each individual. Some avoid soft, slimy foods, others, avoid rough texture for example. Others will seek out certain sensation in their mouth and may chew or suck on objects.

Gravitational Insecurity appears to be an irrational fear of changes in head position or movement. Individuals are often fearful of having their feet leave the ground, or having their head tipped backward or downward. They may be fearful of certain movement experiences such as carnival rides, riding a bicycle, walking down stairs or climbing on playground equipment.

Postural Insecurity is a fear and avoidance of certain movement activities because of poor postural control. This may result in fearfulness traversing certain unstable or variable surfaces or resistance to challenging balance.

Proprioceptive Defensiveness is a resistance to input into the joints either by compression or traction. Some children avoid putting weight on their joints such as when standing, pushing things or jumping. Some complain about lifting heavy things.

Auditory Defensiveness is an over-sensitivity to certain sounds. Vacuum cleaners, fire alarms or other noises can trigger an alarm or a defensive response.

Visual Defensiveness appears as an over sensitivity to light, visual distractibility, and/or gaze avoidance.