What does sensory mean?

Sensory describes the way the body responds to environmental stimuli or information, like sounds, textures, lights, smells, pain, and temperature. Kids who are blind or have low vision, and kids who are Deaf or hard of hearing, have reduced sensory awareness.

Sensory concerns also include extreme reactions or behaviour in response to sensory information. Some kids can find certain sensory information uncomfortable or distressing. For example, some kids may be bothered by loud noises (e.g., covering their ears or become upset in large crowds), while others may be oversensitive to certain textures (e.g., being bothered by some fabrics, tags on clothing, or types of food). Some kids can also show an interest in sensory stimuli, like sniffing toys or objects, or being fascinated by lights or movement. Some kids can show under-responsiveness to some types of sensory information, like pain or temperature, which can increase their risk of getting hurt.

Who has sensory challenges?

All kids can show sensitivity to some types of sensory stimuli, but they often grow out of them or are able to manage it without becoming too distressed.

Kids with developmental delays or difficulties, such as autism spectrum disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, are more likely to have sensory challenges. They may find some sensory stimuli very uncomfortable and distressing, while they find other sensory stimuli comforting. All kids will differ in the type and severity of sensory concerns they have. For example, some kids with autism spectrum disorder will show many sensory concerns, while others may have none or very few. Every child is different.

What might be some challenges on the footy field?

Kids who are oversensitive to noise may cover their ears or cry when they hear loud noises (e.g., a siren, a whistle, yelling, lots of people talking, or an alarm). Some kids may be bothered by textures like mud or dirt, and may find it harder to play footy in different weather conditions. Kids who find comfort in particular smells or textures may do things like sniff objects (e.g., the footy or other equipment), or they may like to touch particular items or surfaces. Some kids may not feel the cold and will want to wear only shorts in winter, while others may not feel the heat and will wear warm clothes in hot weather. Kids who have altered sense of pain may not realise they have been hurt or there may be a delay in them feeling pain, while some kids may be very sensitive to pain and show distress with something that appears to be only a minor incident.

Quick tips

  • Allow alternate ways to play: If you know that a child finds a particular activity challenging due to sensory sensitivities, prepare them in advance and offer an alternative activity.
  • Kids can use their own gear: Allow kids to use their own or preferred equipment if they wish to. This may be a particular coloured football that they feel attached to.
  • Kids can wear gloves: Some kids won’t like getting wet and muddy. Let them wear gloves, for example, and gradually become more confident touching the football.
  • Kids can wear earplugs: Some kids will find loud noises distressing. Let them wear earplugs or earmuffs at noisy times if it helps. You may need to adapt the activities or the way you communicate with the child so they are not disadvantaged by wearing the earplugs/earmuffs. Noise cancelling headphones may also be helpful.
  • Have a safe back-up activity: Have a safe activity that the child can do if things become too demanding. This would be an activity that they enjoy and are able to do well. The activity could be used when the child needs a break or time to calm down.
  • Consider playing indoors in bad weather: Bad weather (rain, too hot, too cold, storm) might make it hard for some kids to play outside. Consider finding a place indoors like the clubroom to run your sessions.
  • Allow time to calm down: Some kids might need to take time out from the group and have more breaks to calm themselves when they get overwhelmed. Let them to do this whenever they need to.
  • Let parents or siblings help: Parents know their child best. Getting them or the child’s siblings to help might encourage the child to get more involved and feel safer to play.
  • Parents can help calm kids: Sometimes kids might become angry and upset and the reason for this might not be clear. Giving them a break and getting their parents to help might assist them to calm down. Make sure a clear code of behaviour is known up front and provided visually.
  • Consider different roles: Consider different roles: Game play may sometimes be difficult for some kids. Kids can do other roles (e.g. umpire).
  • Use footy stories: A footy story might be needed to teach a kid a new football skill or to help them play.
  • Have a consistent routine: Provide predictability by having a consistent routine at each session.

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