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Sights, Sounds, Smells, &
Textures:
Addressing the Sensory Sensitivities of the Gifted Child
angelahousand.com
I feel the
greatest reward
for doing
is the opportunity
to do more.
- Jonas Salk
Overexcitabilities
 Characteristics that
reveal a heightened
response to stimuli
 Found more frequently in
gifted population than
general population
 Dabrowski and
Piechowski
Overexcitabilities
 Psychomotor
 Sensual
 Intellectual
 Imaginational
 Emotional
Overexcitabilities
 Psychomotor
 Sensual
 Intellectual
 Imaginational
 Emotional
Sensual Overexcitability
 Heightened awareness
of sensual pleasure or
displeasure
 Increased appreciation
of aesthetic pleasures
 Overstimulated by
sensory input
Sight Aesthetics
Smell Odors
Touch Tactile
Experience
Taste Flavors
Hearing Sound
Sensual Overexcitability
 When overstimulated, some increase stimulation
 Seek the center of attention
 Go on shopping spree
 Listen to loud music
 Others withdraw from stimulation
 Seek privacy
 Quiet contemplation
 Soothing music or nature sounds
 People with SOR respond to sensation faster,
with more intensity, or for a longer duration
than those with typical sensory responsivity
 Considered a Sensory Modulation Disorder by
some
 Behavioral responses
◦ Impulsivity
◦ Aggression
◦ Withdrawal
◦ Avoidance of sensation
 Emotional Responses
◦ Irritability
◦ Moodiness
◦ Inconsolability
◦ Poor Socialization
CNS Arousal
• CNS responsible for controlling and regulating
autonomic responses
• Operates from rest
state (neutral)
– Excitation
– Inhibition
CNS Arousal
• Necessary for all cognitive function and all
emotional expression
• Must happen first in any
behavioral response
• Its occurrence leads to
every other aspect of
behavior
Neurological Thresholds
• Amount of stimuli required for
a nervous system response
• Children whose thresholds are
too low are likely to be overly
responsive to stimuli or
hypersensitive to their world
Neurological Threshold Continuum
Habituation Sensitization
Sensory Modulation
 Occurs as the central nervous system
(CNS) regulates the neural messages
about stimuli
 Brain processes information from CNS to
maintain homeostasis and produce
adaptive response
 If a student is having trouble with
Sensory Modulation, they may be
interpreting their environment uniquely
Sensory Sensitivity
• Greater CNS Arousal
– Show greater responsiveness
to sensory stimuli in all
sensory modalities
– Emits more voluntary motor
activity
– More reactive emotionally
• Might also explain
psychomotor and emotional
overexcitability
Characteristics of People with
High Sensory Sensitivity
• Sense of being different
• Need to take frequent
breaks during busy days
• Conscious arrangement
of lives to reduce
stimulation & unwanted
surprise
Characteristics of People with
High Sensory Sensitivity
• Acknowledge importance
of spiritual and inner lives
(including dreams)
• Sense that difficulties
stemmed from fear of
failure due to overarousal
– While being observed
– Feeling judged
– During competition
Sensory Sensitivity of Gifted
• Tested gifted vs. normed sample on the
Sensory Profile (Dunn, 1999)
• Significant differences on 12 of 14 sensory
sections between groups
• Gifted children are more sensitive to their
physical environment
• More affected by sensory stimuli
Why address sensory sensitivity?
• Sensory stimuli create CNS arousal which
places demands upon the body
• The intensity and duration of arousal affect
responses to stimuli
• Maximum and prolonged overload of
information can be stressful
Why address sensory sensitivity?
• To reduce stressors
• To positively enhance the experience of
the highly sensitive gifted individual
• To be responsive to unique needs
• To promote healthy working environments
• To increase the sustainability of focus and
effort in productive endeavors
Offensive Stimuli
• Loud or sudden noises
• Strong odors
– Molds
– Perfumes
• Rough textures or fabrics
– Clothing tags
• Sharp edges
– Angular furniture
Someone Has
Soiled the Air!
Offensive Stimuli
• Visual overload
– Certain color saturation
and hue
– Manmade materials
– Unorganized space
– Low ceilings
• Bright Light
– Glare
– Fluorescent lighting
Great for some students…
Organized, Natural Materials…
Organized and with Views…
Organized, High Ceilings…
Ceiling height is ranked among top 3
architectural details that influence psychological
well being.
• A controlled color vocabulary is essential in
creating a sense of place
• Low screeners perform better in blue work
spaces
• Feelings of emotional control are stronger in
monochromatic spaces than in vibrant colorful
spaces
• Mean blood pressure readings 9% lower than
white classroom
White was rejected…
Provide a Cohesive Color Palette
Color: Red Hue
• Workers in red offices reported more
feelings of dysphoria than workers in
blue offices
• More confusion and tension reported
• Lower performance for low screeners
Brightness Increased
Performance
So many things right…
No Windows?
Full Spectrum Lighting
Variety of Light Sources
To Meet a Variety of Needs
Both Well-Lit and Dimly-Lit
Notice the use of natural materials...
Dimmer Switches…
…an inexpensive alternative
Glare Reduction with Visual
Access
• Increase Cognitive Control
• Reduce Hostility, Aggression, and
Violence
• Assist in Recovery from Mental
Fatigue
Brief Interactions with Nature
Indoor Gardens…
Something is Better than Nothing
…and if there is no beautiful courtyard,
GET CREATIVE!
Bring natural materials in using furniture
Natural Materials and Privacy…
Privacy gives opportunity for…
Retreat, Reflection, and
Relaxation
The opportunity for recovery when one
becomes overstimulated by
environment
It does not have to be
elaborate…
As simple as a quiet corner…
Rugs and Fabric Wall Art Reduce
Noise
Carpet, Soft Wall, and Natural
Light
Ahh, the sound of lockers…
Consider alternatives for
personal storage…
Avoid Sharp Edges…
Sharp Edges Activate the
Amygdala
…the part of the brain that registers threat
Which do you prefer?
So many things right…
Do you love coffee?
Consider a breath mint.
Someone Has
Soiled the Air!
Avoid Perfume and Fragrant
Lotion
Low VOC Paint
The Industrial Age Classroom…
Comfortable & Flexible Seating…
75% of total body weight is supported on only 4
in2 when humans sit up straight in a hard chair.
Functional Example:
Comfortable…
…and Mobile
Flexibility is Important…
If everything has wheels…
…the classroom becomes a
dynamic and interactive work
environment.
Technology in Students’ Hands
Empowers students to feel more in
control.
Honor Diversity of Style
Allow students to participate in
classroom design
Help students define organizational
structures that suit their needs
Allow trial and error: Have patience to
give ideas a fair chance
The Goal:
Balanced Sensory Integration
A dynamic integration in how the
brain processes sensation producing
balanced reactions in motor,
behavior, emotion, and attention
responses
Thank You!

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Addressing the Sensory Sensitivities of Gifted Students

Editor's Notes

  1. Miller, Anzalone, Lane, Cermak, & Osten, 2007
  2. Miller, Anzalone, Lane, Cermak, & Osten, 2007
  3. Ayres, 1979
  4. Pfaff, Ribeiro, Matthews, and Kow, 2008
  5. Pfaff, Ribeiro, Matthews, and Kow, 2008
  6. Dunn, 1991; 1997
  7. HabituationCNS recognizes familiar or repetitive so neurons are inhibitedNecessary for mediation of incoming stimuliEnables one to ignore distractionsSensitizationCNS recognizes unfamiliar stimuli so neurons are excitedNecessary for mediation of incoming stimuliEnables heightened attention and immediate responseDunn, 1997; 1999; Aron & Aron, 1997
  8. Pfaff, Ribeiro, Matthews, and Kow, 2008
  9. Gere, Capps, Mitchell, & Grubbs, 2009
  10. Rejected by workers when provided the opportunity to state their preference.
  11. Less saturation preferable
  12. Speck 2003
  13. Speck 2003
  14. Color can be used to facilitate the transmission of cultural values. The artwork and accents should reflect the culture of the region or the school community to enhance a sense of place. Use the bright and highly saturated colors sparingly and respectfully.
  15. Architectural sketches: Fielding and Nair
  16. Mental Fatigue = a state characterized by inattentiveness, irritability and impulsivity
  17. Views of Nature via Student Garden
  18. People generally like objects with a curved contour compared with objects that have pointed features.
  19. Volatile Organic Compounds
  20. About 75% of total body weight is supported on only four square inches of bone when humans sit up straight in a hard chair.Architectural sketches: Fielding and Nair
  21. Steelcase
  22. Steelcase
  23. It allows the classroom to be responsive to the changing demands of educational settings and students’ needs.Architectural drawing: Fielding and Nair
  24. Bundy, Lane, & Murray, 2002; Clark & Primeau, 1988