Revisiting the Senses
It will help your child to have a good basic knowledge of how her senses work. You don't have to go into great scientific detail. Your child probably already knows about her sense of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Tell her she also has a sense of balance and a sense of where her arms and legs are.
Then explain that information from each of these senses travels through nerves to the brain and that the brain uses this data to put together a picture of what the world around your child is like. Each person's picture will be different from everybody else's because each person's senses give different amounts of information.
Exercises to Understand the Senses
To help him understand how the senses work together, try these exercises in which certain senses are blocked:
Have your child close his eyes and smell some fragrant items, like a lemon, an onion, some cinnamon, and a flower. Can he identify the scent without the sight? Is it more difficult?
Have your child close his eyes and see if he can identify some items by touch. You can do this with different textures, like rice, sand, cereal, and clay, or with different shaped blocks.
Have your child taste something while holding his nose. Does the food taste different?
Watch a movie with your child with the sound turned off. Can you still follow the action? Do you miss some details? Do you enjoy it as much?
Walk through a room blindfolded or with all the lights off. How does the lack of vision change the way you recognize familiar objects?
A game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey is also great for identifying the way senses work together. First, just put on the blindfold, and see how well your child finds her way to the right spot. Then repeat, but spin her around to make her dizzy. Repeat again, removing the blindfold but making her dizzy. How is her sense of where things are and where she is affected by the loss of sight, of sight and balance, and just balance?
The loss of good information from one sense can make it hard for other senses to do their job well. Too much information can do the same. Talk to your child about how things like loud sounds, strong smells, a head cold, bright lights, a sleeping foot, or other hard to ignore sensations can make it difficult to concentrate on anything else. The information doesn't stop coming in through those other senses, but it can't get interpreted very well when there is so much information from the one overstimulated sense.
Emotion and Memory
In addition to too much information or not enough information, emotion and memory can also make a difference in the picture your child's brain makes. Talk again to your child about the way certain sensations make him feel. What sensory information makes him feel happy — certain colors, movements, types of music, textures of fabric? What makes him feel frightened? Sad? Excited? Silly? Those feelings will cause his brain to make a different picture than it would if he did not have those feelings.
There may be sensory experiences that bring back unpleasant memories for your child. While these will do an excellent job of illustrating the connection between senses and memories, they may be so upsetting that they make it difficult for your child to concentrate on what you're telling her. Use careful judgment in deciding whether to include these in your conversation.
Help your child think of some memories that ride along with sensory information. Have her think of a smell that makes her remember something good — cookies you baked together, the smell of a grandparent's house, movie theater popcorn. Then think of smells that bring less happy memories — a disinfectant used in a doctor's or dentist's office, a food that once made her ill, perfume worn by a disliked relative or teacher.
Talk about some of the associations you bring to particular smells and other sensory information. Explain that these memories will also color the picture that the brain makes out of information from the senses.