Young children in early intervention (EI) may need extra support and patience as they explore the sensory world around them. Together, families and the EI team can plan for enjoyable sensory play and experiences that can give them the extra support they need to confidently explore their world.
Caregivers may wonder about these big variations in behavior among children. Caregivers may want to know which responses to these experiences are typical and which are not (atypical). A caregiver may even find that a child could show interest and fear at different times—even in response to the same experience. How is it possible that the responses of children could be so different? Families and the EI team can work together to figure out a child’s pattern and support her unique developmental needs. Consider the examples below:
“Beep, beep—vroom!” Joey, a 9-month-old infant, loves riding in the car. He smiles and kicks his legs and waves his arms when his mom puts him in the car. His mom hears him giggling when they drive on bumpy roads and when the engine revs up. Lily, also 9 months old, dislikes riding in the car. She cries when her dad buckles the car seat and screams when the engine rumbles or the horn beeps.
“Splish, splash, bubble bubble!” Hui, a 12-month-old, crawls over to the bathtub with a big smile on her face and pulls up on the edge of the tub when she hears the water running. After her grandma places her in the bath, she kicks her legs and plunges her hands into the water. Brandon, also 12 months old, crawls away from the bathroom when he hears the water running and protests when his mom puts him in the bathtub. He reaches up his arms toward her with a frown on his face.
In the above examples, both responses are typical of young children’s behavior. Infants and toddlers are developing their ability to process and understand different sensory experiences. It is helpful for adults to remind themselves that the world is a new place for them. These very young children are discovering what kinds of textures, sounds, tastes, smells, and sights the world contains and what these experiences feel like to their bodies and what these experiences mean.
Electric hand dryers, flushing toilets, thunderstorms, and fire sirens are all loud sounds. Some children hear these sounds and are frightened. Others hear these sounds and are very excited and interested. In time, children learn what these sounds mean. For example, the flashing lights and sirens from a fire truck mean firefighters are going to help someone. Knowing the sounds means someone in trouble is receiving help, and getting used to the volume and intensity of the sound of the siren after hearing it many times can make this sensory experience less scary.
Families and EI providers can tune into a child’s sensory experience by watching her response to different sounds, tastes, textures, smells, and sights. Does she go toward loud sounds or turn away from them? Does he like vigorous swinging or does he cry in the swing? Does she laugh and smile at light tickly touches on her toes or relax and respond to firm pressure on her feet? By observing these differences, caregivers and an EI team can work together to provide opportunities that are “just right” for an individual child and help her learn about her world. This EI Clearinghouse newsletter will provide you with resources and ideas for everyday sensory play that can support the learning and development of young children.
Originally written in collaboration with the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse Staff for the Fall 2016 Newsletter