Tag Archives: spatial awareness

Does Your Child “Trace” the Room’s Perimeter or Hate Big Spaces? There is a Sensory-Based Explanation

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Space; the final frontier?

When you see it, it looks like Helen Keller crossed with a Roomba.  A child enters a space, even a familiar space, and runs the perimeter without stopping to play or examine things.  They may trace the room with their fingers, or repeat this process many times before they “land” and engage in some kind of purposeful activity.  If they get upset or challenged, they may resume this behavior.

One explanation for this behavior is that it is a solution to spatial processing difficulties.  When a typical child over the age of, let’s say 14 months, enters a room, they use their visual and auditory skills to tell them about the shape, height, and contents of the room.  As we mature, we use higher-order sensory input to inform our awareness and thinking.  We use sound in particular to tell us about the space to our sides and behind us that we cannot see.  Kids with ASD and SPD are stuck using immature types of information, and need to use them more often and more intensely to get the same knowledge.

How does this feel for them? Think of Notre Dame cathedral (before that awful fire).  The soaring ceilings and the long aisles create an other-worldly feeling you cannot escape.  Your brain knows you are not in your living room, or even in your own place of worship back home.  The medieval architects knew this too.  That was exactly the effect their were aiming for.  To set you back on your heels with the wonders of G-d.  How?  By making the spatial characteristics very unfamiliar and difficult to square with everyday experience.  To have you feel smaller and less in control in the presence of the almighty.

Now imagine that every space you inhabit gives you that feeling.  You enter a room and your eyes go everywhere.  You want to walk around to give yourself more information about where you are.  You don’t, but your nervous system is suggesting it.  You feel off balance and vulnerable.  Sound familiar?

What can you do?  Treating spatial processing issues isn’t easy.  Addressing limitations in vestibular and visual processing can really help, but I think that sound-based treatments are some of the easiest and most effective.  I use Quickshifts effectively to address spatial processing issues  Quickshifts: A Simple, Successful, and Easy to Use Treatment For Processing, Attention and Postural Activation.  Of course, it is best to address all the sensory processing issues any child has to get the best results.  You want to cement in the skills of better sensory processing by achieving good functioning in multiple situations.  But spatial processing problems have to be addressed to achieve a calmer and more organized state.  You want every child to feel safe and supported wherever they go!

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Effective sensory processing treatment helps kids feel safe in big spaces

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Spatial Awareness and Sound: “Hearing” The Space Around You

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Just floating along in a big ocean……..

I hear a lot about kids who aren’t comfortable in big spaces: cafeterias, churches, gyms. Many parents, and even some therapists, attribute it to lack of familiarity: these are places they use inconsistently and are filled with more strangers.  Or they mention noise intolerance:  to music, to shouting, and to sounds like balls bouncing or people clapping.

But how about spatial issues?  We use our hearing to know where we are in a space, and to monitor our position in relation to people and objects as we move through space.  Kids who are poor at orientation to sound (I hear it, and I know where it is coming from) are usually also fair to poor at discriminating sound (I know what that sound is like and what it is or could be).  They may have a diagnosable hearing issue, or they may have a processing issue with no organ limitation.  Or they have both.

As sounds bounce off surfaces, we hear them and determine, like RADAR, how close we are to that surface.  We might turn our heads slightly, but we can hear in both ears, giving us stereo comparisons that tell us about what is behind us, above us and even below us.

In large spaces, sounds are “swallowed up” and give us less information.  This is part of the design of gothic cathedrals; you have a different sense inside them, a sense of being a bit “lost”, of how small you are in the face of the almighty. Not just luck.  Our ancestors understood the effect of altering spatial awareness on our sense of safety and stability.  But for people with spatial issues, they feel uncomfortably lost, very off kilter in environments that make them struggle to get a sense of their position in these types of locations.  For kids with poor sensory processing, it can happen in a grocery store or a new classroom.

What other sense is involved in spatial awareness?  Vision.  Vision is only helpful for about the 180 degrees in front of us, and not all of that vision is acute.  Our peripheral vision is fuzzy but still gives us some information about things going on to our extreme right and left.

The kids with poor auditory skills will use their vision excessively, and the kids with poor vision will try to use their auditory skills to shore up what they can’t see.  What does this look like?  Kids who are turning their heads constantly as they move, trying to get a sense of their location as they move, when their auditory system should be telling them about the distance between them and the boundaries of the room and it’s contents.  Kids who seem to hear everything, and yet not your voice telling them not to step on their brother’s LEGO car, which they don’t seem to see on the floor.

Poor spatial awareness often makes kids anxious.  This can sometimes be interpreted as a psychological issue, but CBT and drugs will never make it better.  That is a hint that perhaps it is a sensory issue.  Spatial issues can also make kids rigid about where they will go.  They may refuse unfamiliar parks, pools, playgrounds and new classrooms.

What can you do to help kids?  Work on auditory and visual skills, and always use vestibular and proprioceptive input as modulators and regulators.  I especially like the Therapeutic Listening Spatial series.   I am using Quikshifts successfully Quickshifts: A Simple, Successful, and Easy to Use Treatment For Processing, Attention and Postural Activation with so much less hassle; they are downloadable too!  Spatial skills are important, and they can be improved!

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