While some sensory seeking behaviour is normal for toddlers, extreme behaviours may indicate a problem. These behaviours may be due to under-responsiveness to sensation due to not processing all of the sensory information that is sent to the brain. This often results in a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder. Signs of sensory seeking behaviour typically begin infancy and become quite clear in the toddler years. Occupational therapists, teachers and parents can use techniques to improve sensory integration in toddlers. It is important to engage in these activities slowly and gently and explain to the toddler what he is doing.
Play with craft dough, shaving cream or other gooey substance that can be moulded and shaped. Allow the child to roll the dough and squeeze it through his fingers. Draw or paint with shaving cream. Be creative. This activity improves tactile processing. If the child avoids participating in messy play, it is even more important that he engage in this activity. However, rather than forcing the child to participate, gently show him how to play and provide multiple opportunities until he slowly becomes more comfortable.
Engage in heavy work activities. These activities are beneficial for children who have difficulty managing their sense of arousal. They display this by jumping, crashing and having difficulty sitting still. Examples of heavy work activities are carrying toys or small chairs, pushing and pulling child shopping trolleys or laundry baskets or jumping on a trampoline or mattress. Any pushing, pulling, lifting or moving activity that a toddler can do safely is appropriate.
Play in sand and water. Fill a sandbox, bucket or plastic tub with sand. Allow the child to pour the sand out of cups or small shovels to receive tactile stimulation, or to stimulate the sense of touch. Small cars and trucks, forks and sand toys can be used to make patterns in the sand. Fill a sink or plastic tub with water and give the child cups and empty shampoo bottles to pour water back and forth.
Give the child safe objects to put in her mouth. Toddlers often put toys and other objects in their mouths; however, it is even more common in children with sensory seeking behaviour. This behaviour can be dangerous for toddlers who can choke on small objects or become sick from chewing on items that carry germs or bacteria. To fulfil the toddler's need for oral stimulation, give her a child's whistle, blow toy, sucker, ice pop or teething toy. Ensure that the items are washed regularly.
Consult with an occupational therapist, paediatrician or speech-language pathologist for more information.