My daughter wasn’t diagnosed with autism until she was over the age of three. So many typical autistic sensory seeking behaviours I just put down to being developmentally appropriate for her age. She used to love making loud noises, disliked all sensory activities and textures, always mouthed everything, seeked firm cuddles….but a lot of babies are like this, aren’t they?
Every individual has a unique sensory profile which involves responding and reacting to sensory stimuli in their own way with their own interpretations and behaviours. It is common for individuals with Autism to experience an overwhelming response to their environment which can lead to sensory seeking behaviours. They experience sensory processing that is Atypical, which essentially means that it is distinctive, can be seen as unusual and not ‘typical’.
Individuals engage in sensory seeking as a way to obtain feedback from their environment. They have an unusual craving or fixation with seeking a certain sensory need or stimulation of some sort to respond to how they are reacting within their environment.
Sensory seeking can be seen as harmful if it is interfering with socialising, learning or involving behaviours or movements that can be dangerous to themselves or those around them. It is then that steps will need to be put in place to intervene and manage the behaviour, your child’s therapist will be able to assist you with developing a plan. Otherwise sensory seeking can help individuals express themselves and to meet their needs in their environment.
Sensory seeking behaviours that may be seen in a one-year old
Young children are still very much developing their ability to engage within their environments and it's normal to have a hard time gathering and interpreting sensory inputs. It can therefore be difficult to determine if behaviours are a result of sensory issues or if they are age appropriate. Below are some actions and behaviours that a sensory seeking one year old may have.
Perhaps your child is often seeking hugs and tight cuddles, but this can be normal right? Often young children love to engage in cuddles with their loved ones but if you are noticing that your little one is becoming obsessive with them and constantly seeking deep pressure and firm hugs it may be a sign of sensory seeking. This is called proprioception. Sensory seeking children will try to get more proprioceptive input, it’s very important to the brain and plays a large role in self-regulation.
It may be difficult for a one year old to get this input they crave as they are still developing gross motor skills, therefore this is why they are seeking constant hugging and touching.
Licking and chewing
Mouthing objects can be developmentally appropriate for young children and it allows them to discover the taste and texture of different objects. Essentially this is just one way in which they explore their environment. At this age teething has well and truly commenced so mouthing objects can be soothing and a way to deal with pain.
While it's hard to tell if this is ‘normal’ behaviour at this age, a constant fixation with licking things and mouthing may mean your baby is in fact craving some tactile input. It may be comforting for them and act as a grounding technique to satisfy emotional responses to their environment.
So, most babies love noisy play, it’s a satisfying way to gain attention and satisfaction. But individuals who are under-responsive to auditory input may seek out additional noise. Perhaps your one year old is always humming and making sounds or they are constantly banging objects to hear noise. They simply just enjoy making noise and this is known as a hyposensitive auditory system.
They may be constantly seeking sounds and enjoy noisy places and creating sounds to stimulate hearing.
Children that are sensory seeking are having trouble handling the information their senses take in. An indication of this in babies could be constantly screaming and seeming upset, they have not yet developed other ways to fulfil their sensory needs and this is their way to cope.
Seeking messy play
Sensory seeking is underreacting to sensory input and craving more of it to function. Messy play can be a fun and joyful experience for sensory seekers as it provides a lot of sensory input.
Perhaps your child shows more interest in playing with their food rather than eating it. Rubbing food over their body and across their highchair or eating space can be a way to explore the sense of touch. Messy play can be a wonderful calming activity that supports brain development and provides great sensory relief.
Our brains are constantly taking on information from our senses. For most people this isn’t a problem but for individuals with a sensory profile that is Atypical this can be a real struggle. They will seek out behaviours and actions that give them the satisfactory input in which they require. For young children they can have a range of sensory seeking behaviours that brings them comfort depending on their environment. While it can be equally intriguing and concerning for parents there is often no harm in their behaviours. Providing positive activities and actions can assist them in gaining the sensory relief that they need to function.