Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into responses. Senses can include touch, sight, smell, taste, and sounds. For kids diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, the sensory information is perceived differently (or not detected properly) in the brain, resulting in abnormal responses to stimuli.
Examples of sensory triggers in kids can include a crowded loud room, visual patterns, bright flickering lights, scratchy clothing, a sudden noise, certain foods and textures, or strong smells. Another issue that affects kids with sensory processing issues involves body movement, body awareness, and balance.
These issues can result in serious challenges and have a big impact on a child’s ability to learn and function in everyday life.
Not all kids have the same reaction to situations and sensory input, but kids tend to be either over-sensitive, under-sensitive, or a combination of both to sensory input.
A child who is under-sensitive to stimuli tends to seek more and more sensory stimulation. They may appear clumsy, hyperactive, lacking boundaries, or display problematic behaviors. This can look like giving people very tight hugs, hitting things or crashing into things to feel the physical contact or pressure. Sensory seekers may also hang upside down, rock back and forth, swing around in chairs, etc.
Sensory avoiders are just that- avoidant of certain textures or other sensory information. They may also avoid swings or bodily movements and are more physically cautious. They experience sensor input more intensely than the average child and become more easily overwhelmed. As a result, a sensory-avoidant child will appear more timid, rigid, particular about foods or clothing, and may not enjoy physical contact such as hugs.
Can my Child Experience Both?
According to understood.org, a child may display a combination of both sensory-seeking and sensory-avoiding. The response to stimuli depends on the child’s ability to self-regulate. The environment and whether the child is comfortable or familiar can make the difference in the ability to regulate or having a sensory meltdown.
Does my Child Experience Sensory Difficulties?
STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder created a list of sensory processing disorder symptoms by age for parents suspecting possible sensory issues in their children:
____ Problems eating or sleeping
____ Refuses to go to anyone but their mom for comfort
____ Irritable when being dressed; uncomfortable in clothes
____ Rarely plays with toys
____ Resists cuddling, arches away when held
____ Cannot calm self
____ Floppy or stiff body, motor delays
____ Over-sensitive to touch, noises, smells, other people
____ Difficulty making friends
____ Difficulty dressing, eating, sleeping, and/or toilet training
____ Clumsy; poor motor skills; weak
____ In constant motion; in everyone else’s “face and space”
____ Frequent or long temper tantrums
___ Over-sensitive to touch, noise, smells, other people
___ Easily distracted, fidgety, craves movement; aggressive
___ Easily overwhelmed
___ Difficulty with handwriting or motor activities
___ Difficulty making friends
___ Unaware of pain and/or other people
How to help your child experiencing sensory difficulties
We at Sunny Path Counseling recommend you work with a team of professionals to help your child. We recommend collaborating with an occupational therapist so your child can experience stimuli and learn regulation skills in a contained setting.
We also recommend you work with your child’s teacher to discuss what you notice about your child and put informal supports in place as soon as possible. The teacher may be more willing to reach out to you when your child is having difficulties regulating in the classroom.