Marti’s Therapy Songs
Trauma Lens Sensory Activity Response Checklist

Trauma Lens Sensory Activity Response Checklist from Marti Smith, OTR/L

As you work through these activities, check if the activity brings the client pleasure or restful calm, feels neutral, or makes them anxious or fearful. Make notes if you are not sure. The notes column is for clarity and included with the intention of personalization. It may be helpful to indicate in the notes column which sensory activities may have been influenced by previous trauma or adversity. The goal of this checklist is to assist the person filling it out to identify activities that are dependent upon integration of the various senses. This list is intended for curiosity purposes and to help identify sensory-based patterns. It is not meant to diagnose. It is recommended that the user find a knowledgeable occupational therapist to assist them with interpretation.

When looking for the patterns, be curious. Consider the following:

  • Activities that could be influenced by trauma or adversity are marked with a “T.” Whether something is perceived as traumatic is incredibly personal and individual. The notes column is for clarification if needed.
  • Activities usually involving relationships are marked with an “R.” Sometimes it isn’t the sensation, but rather the proximity and involvement of other people that might cause decreased sensory capacity. For some individuals, the complexity of being in relationship with others decreases their capacity to engage in sensory activities. For others, adding predictability, routine, perceived control, or relational support can increase their capacity for these activities. If there is a lot of relational activity strength, treatment might be reinforced by relational influence. If relational activity is highly deficient, it may be beneficial to address relational security first, because co-regulation and relationship are the heart of the human sensory experience.
  • When a client enjoys a lot of typically alerting stimuli, I look for patterns in the type of sensation they are seeking most. I wonder if they are looking for more information from that sense in order to feel safe. Or I wonder if their body has difficulty perceiving or integrating it. My treatment for these individuals could look like isolating the activity and helping them safely explore the sensation with more intensity.
  • When a client is more anxious or fearful, I help them avoid the intensity of these sensations initially and work to incorporate more preferred sensations to help them integrate the most fearful sensations. I pair preferred and non-preferred sensations and work intentionally to make sure they have felt-safety during this exploration.
  • Typically activating and typically calming activities are separated in this checklist. I find it helps to see patterns of felt-safety more easily this way. If a child is fearful of activating activities but is comforted by calming activities, I can lean into the calm activities they seem to like most as I pair them to expand their capacity for the more alerting activities. If they enjoy the activating activities more than the calming activities, I am curious about whether they feel safer when sensations are a bit more chaotic and thus match early childhood experiences that were influenced by trauma or adversity.