Dear Students and researchers.

At Sensory Modulation Brisbane, we have clinicians who often identify topics for research, but who are unable to research them due to time or logistical restraints. We are very aware of the need for further research on Sensory Modulation, so we are going to list ideas through blogs when we have them.

We request that you acknowledge Sensory Modulation Brisbane (Carolyn Fitzgibbon and Julie O’ Sullivan) as inspiration. Also ,we request that you identify Sensory Modulation as an intervention being championed by Occupational Therapists. We would be very interested in hearing if you do proceed with any of our research ideas. Here are our first ideas:

Use of scent of a familiar person/place to decrease anxiety or panic .

Parents of babies and also people with puppies, use the scent of the person to provide calming. In older children and adults, scent could also be utilised with those who do not feel safe.

OT researchers could use this process:

1.     Identify a scent that reminds the person of a safe person, place or memory.

2.     Identify a way to incorporate this scent into daily occupations.

3.     Assess if anxiety is decreased.

Clinical applications include:

  •  Mum sleeps with a hanky and then child with anxiety takes this to school to assist with separation anxiety
  • Young man has a sprig of rosemary in his backpack as it reminds him of his Grand Dad’s garden.
  • Young woman smells the deodorant that her Mum uses when she is anxious. (I had one client who ceased having panic attacks when she tried this)
  • Person feels safe at the beach, so brings a little jar of sand home, and smells this when feeling anxious.

Soothing and Grounding Sensory Modulation Strategies for clients with Severe Anorexia Nervosa

Clients with severe anorexia nervosa are often asked by treating teams to not exercise due to the energy and calories that this takes. However ceasing exercise often takes away a strategy that has been being used to calm and ground. Other strategies for providing vestibular and proprioceptive input could be explored with this clinical population.

Researchers could use this process:

1.     Interview a person with Anorexia Nervosa to explore the type of exercise that they enjoyed.

In collaboration with the individual, explore options for sensory modulation that could be meeting a similar sensory need. This may include:

  • grounding sensations – squeezing a hand grip or theraputty.
  • soothing  – explore other vestibular options eg hammock , chair swing.
  • feeling in control – tight clothes such as thermals, T-Jackets.

Or sensory modulation could be used to explore soothing options for clients with anorexia nervosa.

Using warmth with clients with Severe Anorexia Nervosa.

Clients with Anorexia Nervosa on inpatient units are often finding it difficult to maintain their core body temperature.

Sensory Modulation strategies could be increased with these clients including using electric blankets, electric hot water bottles, hand warmers, pyjamas heated in dryers etc.

Clients could be interviewed before and after using a heated item, to explore whether this improved their emotional state.


"Sensory Modulation Resource Manual" (2018), J O' Sullivan and C Fitzgibbon

Ideas 2: 

The above blog generated some interest so we have added some more_

Do medical procedures increase oral hypersensitivity in children?

Some children develop oral hypersensitivity and some then have difficulty with eating foods with textures. Is it possible that the hypersensitivity developed after medical procedures involving anaesthetics, tubing, and needing medication in oral syringes?

Interview parents of children with oral hypersensitivity and also a control group of parents of children without oral sensitivity. Take a sensory history to identify if children were orally hypersensitive from birth (eg more difficulties with breast feeding, bottles etc) and also the rates of medical procedures. 

Are children who are super tasters also orally hypersensitive?

Some people are super tasters. Is there a link between taste sensitivity (super tasters) and oral motor sensitivity?

Nail Biting and Sensory Modulation

Nail biting can have a number of identified causes and solutions. Could sensory modulation work as an intervention? 

People who nail bite could be interviewed to identify if nail biting provides them with oral input, pain input, or other sensory input. Then alternative strategies for sensory input could be explored. These may be similar eg replacing oral input with another oral input? Or perhaps different sensory input eg do warm sensations, cool sensations, vibration or deep pressure sensations work to provide sensory input and decrease the need for nail biting? 

Using the dive reflex prior to an exam to decrease anxiety.

Many students experience anxiety prior to an exam. One option for decreasing the physiological impact of anxiety is to use cool water and breath holding to invoke the dive reflex. (eg cold water in zip lock bags and held over the eyes whilst breath holding). 

Fibromyalgia and light and deep touch.

We have had clinical experience with two clients with fibromyalgia who were sensitive to deep touch, and found light touch calming. Does this occur with other people with fibromyalgia?

Cleaning toilets with scent sensitivity. 

Some clients with scent sensitivity have difficulty cleaning toilets or other cleaning tasks. What strategies are the most useful for them to be able to complete this task?

Strategies for people who have sensory sensitivities and are in open plan offices

Several clients have had difficulties with misophonia or scent sensitivity or sound sensitivity within an open plan office. Research could be completed to identify the most useful strategies for coping with this. 

Intense Sensations and self-harming.

In the Sensory Modulation Resource Manual*, there is a worksheet with additional intense sensations to those traditionally used within DBT. Which of those intense sensations tend to be most useful for those with urges to self-harm?

5 strategies series.

In the Sensory Modulation Resource Manual*, there is a short list of 5 strategies to trial for symptoms including anxiety, agitation, hallucinations, etc. Research could be conducted to trial these in different clinical populations.


"Sensory Modulation Resource Manual" (2018), J O' Sullivan and C Fitzgibbon