Sensory Profiles: A Tool for Reflecting and Understanding
by Madison Michel, MM, MT-BC
What does it mean to be neurodivergent? In many cases, it means there is a difference in neurodevelopment that causes divergent neuroanatomy. Neurodivergent behavior often manifests as compensation or coping for sensory systems that are over or under connected. These include visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), gustatory (tasting), olfactory (smelling), tactile (feeling), proprioceptive (awareness of body in space), vestibular (balance), and interoceptive (internal regulation) systems.
For the most part, neurotypical individuals are able to regulate and balance sensory information without giving much thought to doing so. For neurodivergent individuals, this might not be so easy and accommodation might be required.
For therapists, caregivers, coworkers, friends, and family members of neurodivergent individuals, it can be extremely valuable to purposefully work to understand sensory systems and all the ways we develop sensory accommodations. One great tool for doing this is to take some time to create sensory profiles, including a description of how one processes sensory information and accommodations made. This not only fosters self reflection, but relational understanding between neurotypical and neurodivergent individuals.
I’ve created an example Sensory Profile below, but feel free to add rows and columns to your own to include other important information.
Low need; easily filters out sound in environment when needed
High need; sensitive to environmental light and screens, develops headaches with prolonged exposure
Wear blue light glasses when looking at screens, wear sunglasses when driving to protect from environmental light
Moderate need; irritated by extended wear of tight fitting clothing or rough textures on skin
Wear soft, loose-fitting clothing
Low need; easily filters out smells in environment when neeed
Moderate need; seeks occasional input, especially when anxious
Keep silicone chewies or gummy candy/chewing gum available
High need; has difficulty sitting still for long periods of time and maintaining muscle control
Engage in stretching and shift sitting positions frequently to regulate self
Occasional need; experiences dizziness when heart rate is elevated and/or when experiencing respiratory allergies
Take breaks when exercising to regulate vestibular senses; practice deep breathing when experiencing anxiety; take allergy medication as needed to minimize respiratory systems and stuffiness
Low need; recognizes and exercises control of bodily needs/functions such as hunger or needing to use the bathroom
I first created a sensory profile and sensory profiles for clients in a Neurodevelopment in Music Therapy course within my graduate course work at Colorado State University. I found it incredibly valuable for self reflection and evaluating client needs in a new way! I encourage you to create one for yourself, your clients, and/or your loved ones with sensory needs.
How do you support your sensory needs? Let us know in the comments!