Hello, my name is Jon Streckert, and I am an occupational therapy assistant student at Partners In
Excellence. I am doing my second fieldwork placement, at Partners in North St. Paul and have enjoyed
the direct supervision of Richelle Harmon, COTA who has worked at Partners for 1 and ½ years. One of
the many reasons I love Partners is the progress we see each child make every day in many different
areas of life, especially emotional regulation and fine motor skills.
Today we will be discussing sensory stimulation and the regulation of emotion.
Sensory stimulation, by definition, is when our senses are activated. This might happen when we hear
our friends during a conversation or when our proprioceptive senses are activated as we jump on a
The 8 senses recognized in occupational therapy are:
• Visual – what we see
• Auditory – what we hear
• Olfactory – what we smell
• Gustatory – what we taste
• Tactile – what we feel
• Vestibular – the position of our head in space
• Proprioception – what we feel in our joints
• Interoception – what we feel in our internal organs
Now, let’s talk about our senses and how it may be regulated differently in someone with autism.
Autism is a disorder that specifically affects our senses and how we see, hear, and feel the world around
us. Some specific examples of autism’s effects on our senses could be only eating foods that are all one
color or wearing only one texture of clothing. Another challenge for individuals with autism is regulating
the emotions their senses create.
Real life nonfunctional (or perceived inappropriate) ways individuals with autism regulate their
emotions when their senses are stimulated include:
• Walking or running – which sometimes may look aimless
• Flapping their arms and/or hands
• Eye edging – watching wheels of a train or car
• Mouthing items
• Bolting (running away) to reduce or escape from stressful or unknown situations
• Scripting – i.e. reciting line from a TV show, echolalia
• Vocalizations such as humming, screaming, etc.
Real life, functional (or appropriate) ways to help individuals with autism regulate themselves during
sensory stimulation are:
• Walking on an appropriate walking trail while maintaining safety awareness
• Deep breathing exercises or other calming strategies such as yoga
• Playing functionally with toys the (e.g. playing with dolls in a doll house) – as opposed to mouthing or stimming off objects
• Chewy tubes or other oral-sensory toys
• Introducing new people and situations slowly over time by providing a social story
We can help our clients learn to react to their senses in functional ways to manage sensory stimulation in a positive, healthy, and more appropriate manner.
Our occupational therapy team is excited to continue to contribute to our Partners’ blog this year to offer insights into our field. Be on the lookout for more posts from our occupational therapists and certified occupational therapy assistants!
Your 8 Senses. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://sensoryhealth.org/basic/your-8-senses.