Are you a sensation seeker, or do you prefer a low key evening with quiet music playing in the background? Decoding our sensory style is the subject of a fascinating book, Living Sensationally: Understanding Your Senses, by Dr. Winnie Dunn, Chair and Professor of Occupational Therapy at University of Kansas Medical Center. Dunn's research on sensory processing disorders indicates that people fall into four categories of sensory styles: seekers, sensors, by-standers, and avoiders. In a recent conversation, I spoke with Dr. Dunn about the broad applications of her work.
“People with sensory processing disorders may be more sensitive to sensory input, but we are all wired to have idiosyncratic reactions to sensory experiences - sound, touch, taste or smell,” notes Dunn. In families, finding creative ways to respond to such needs of children can alleviate unneeded emotional suffering. Dunn provides the following example, “At a family gathering, a child with autism may want some time away from the group due to over-stimulation of social energy. Guests present can understand this as a sensory need versus another thing wrong with the child," she advises.
“Actually, these sensitivities are recognizable in all of us, but along a spectrum,” says Dunn. There are countless ways to apply sensory principles, notes Dunn. “Where we sit at the movies, where you park, at what time of the day you shop, or establishing a cue system with children at social settings to manage stress," she adds. Dunn also hopes that sensory concepts can be applied to the way we self manage. In her book she includes a “Sensory Patterns Questionnaire” and an also identifies the needs of each personality type. “A sensation seeker may enjoy getting a series of errands done in a day, while a sensor would do better pacing the same set of errands,” Dunn explains.
Application to interpersonal or romantic relationships is the most fascinating area in which this framework is gaining interest, “When I speak to audiences around the country, what I hear most often from people is that this model helps improve their relationship with intimate partners,” says Dunn. "Living with a partner requires negotiation of food, space, activities, and interactions. One partner may enjoy making a home cooked meal, while the other partner may enjoy the simulation of a bustling
restaurant,” she explains. “The function of these concepts is practical, to understand yourself and others and take the judgment out of it,” she adds. Dr. Dunn’s work has limitless applications for improving each family’s quality of life with tangible solutions for problems related to sensory needs.