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Sensory Attachment Intervention

Combines sensory integration theory with attachment theories.

Attachment – frequently intergenerational i.e. we parent how we were parented

Attachment styles:

A – also known as avoidant

B – balance of cognition and affect

C – also known as ambivalent

A&C – also known as disorganised

Secure attachment (B) – infant expresses need (thru crying – increased arousal), need is met appropriately in a timely manner – arousal / anxiety reduces

A – parents display anger, reject or are dismissive when child expresses needs inhibit their emotion. Core fear is true intimacy. Parasympathetic Nervous System bias

C – unpredictable response or only respond to high arousal – core anxiety is fear of separation / abandonment. Sympathetic Nervous System bias

Sensory Attachment Response to Self Regulation

1. Autonomic Functioning – psychobiological e.g. heart rate, sleep/wake cycle, digestion, muscle tone. Nurture – womb and maternal space.

2. Sensory-emotional modulation – ability to modulate arousal whilst engaged in activity i.e. hypo / hyper response to sensation & emotion, attention, hyperactivity. Balance of nurture & challenge.

3. Sensory-emotional discrimination – self care, play, academic. Diff with interpreting non-verbal cues – probs with social skills, empathy. Enhance – end products of praxis etc. Father space & independent space.

4. Executive functions (cognitive) – memory, attention, motivation, organisation. Deficits: ADHD, poor empathy, challenging behaviour. Cognitive approaches. Father space & independent space.

SAI – focus is on parent / child engagement. Provision of womb, mother / father / independent therapeutic space. Sessions videoed for feedback. Advice on enriched environment – home / school / other


‘A’ Pattern

‘C’ Pattern

Compulsive caregiver – role reversal

Pull in / push away (ambivalent)

Compulsively compliant – avoid making demands – but can be very different with others (may bully)

Always wants attention

Wary, vigilant

Possessive of others

Over independent – parents feel unneeded

Over dependent – looks for help

Avoids rows – bright smile

Clingy – dislikes separation

Withdrawn / socially isolated

Engages in risk taking activities – for attention

Inflexible – stubborn resistance

Illogical, chaotic, disorganised

Negative feelings are hidden

Taunts others; fights

Self harm is likely to be hidden

Self harm – for attention

Suicide – secret

Suicide attempts – for help

Associated sensory patterns (Bhreathnach, 2003)

‘A’ Pattern

Can’t sit still – always have to be busy

Visually avoidant – as eye contact is about intimacy

Auditory sensitive – to produce the script they think is being looked for

Low muscle tone – guilt, shame, compliance – freeze mode

Tactile defensiveness – as associated with intimacy

‘C’ Pattern

Movement seeking , esp. upside down, active traction

Can’t sit still

Visually sensitive

Auditory sensitive – to produce the script they think is being looked for

Seeks rough & tumble play – gives sense of boundaries

Disorganised / dyspraxic

‘A’ & ‘C’ category:

Disorganised behaviour

Assymetrical & mistimed movement

Contradictory behaviour

Treatment Implications

‘A’ Pattern – fears proximity

‘C’ Pattern – fears abandonment

Engage thru activity – initially distal

Containment, boundaries, predictable

Avoid activity that is win / lose

Calming, regulating activities

Facilitate engagement – have fun!

Facilitate end product, constructive

Vestibular – deactivate PNS bias

Proprioception – deactivate ANS bias

‘B’ Parent:

Regulates own affect to attune with child

Acknowledges own contribution to breakdown of child’s behaviour

Provide healthy dependency relationship to facilitate independence

Adaptive, responsive to guidance

Insecure ‘A’ Parent

Insecure ‘B’ Parent

Fear failure – all about performance

All about them; impact of child on them

Avoids discussing emotional impact on them – ‘I’m fine’.

Intense negative and positive affect – try to get professionals ‘on side’

Minimises – only tells half of what is going on

Exaggerates in the telling of events

Not receptive to affective signals of child

Avoidant of success; wants child dependent

Actively supports distal play activities

Over-stimulating engagement – no boundaries

Seeks solutions to ‘fix’ child

Likes process solutions as takes longer

+ many more!!

Sensory regulating activities:

Taste / smell



Movement: joints & muscles

Movement: space & gravity


Therapeutic Space

Wilbargers brushing protocol


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