While trying to get on top of meltdowns that happened every time we had errand day, I was thrust into the sensory integration regulation world with my child. Sensory issues are real and they are not caused by poor parenting, a strong will, or lack of exposure to the world.
What are sensory issues?
Sensory issues mean that normal every-day sensations are causing stress in our children.
Think about rubbing sandpaper on your skin, hearing a air horn blasting over and over, or looking directly at a bright flashing light for minutes at a time. These are all sensations you would avoid, right?
With children with sensory-avoidance tendencies, this is how their brain is interpreting normal every day sensations such as wearing jeans or canvas pants, the radio playing in the car, or the stark contrast of black words on a white page.
It’s becoming more common
As I’ve been involved with other families and the school system, I’ve seen that sensory issues are very common, even if the children are not on the autism spectrum.
Based on the teachers and childcare workers that I have talked to, sensory issues are on the rise, especially in this current generation of children. They tell me that where they used to have 1 or 2 children in their class that were over or under sensitive, now it’s at least half the class and often more.
More and more kids are not responding typically to the sensations of:
- And more.
It’s not a consistency or parenting problem
Let’s explore the child who can’t handle typical errands due them being visually avoidant.
This child can’t tune out the brightly colored detergent containers, the slight flicker from the fluorescent lights, the bright shopping carts, and the constant unpredictable movement from everyone around them.
A trip through Target is the equivalent trying to get the shopping done with a strobe light flashing different colors right in their peripheral vision the whole trip. This would make anyone cranky, and exposure on a daily or weekly basis really wouldn’t help much.
So, no, they can’t just “get used to it.”
Normal Sensory Preferences
We all have sensory preferences such as:
- Preferring a calm minimally decorated home vs bold colors and big prints on the walls.
- Crunchy or chewy foods like chips or taffy vs smooth soft foods like ice cream.
- Tight stiff jeans vs loose flowy dresses.
- Background or ‘white’ noise vs silence.
- Scented vs unscented cleaning products.
- And more.
Little things like this are okay, it’s when it starts impacting daily living, or the quality of a person’s life and their ability to do the things that they want to do that it becomes a problem.
Sensory seeking behaviors
Do you know how you are itching to go run and jump after being in the car for a long time?
Have you ever heard someone say, “I can’t think, it’s just too quiet in here?”
Do you move into a rental with white walls and tan carpet and have the immediate urge to put up posters, paint the walls, and add some colorful throw rugs?
These are all normal sensory cravings. Our ‘system’ is balanced by visual input, tactile input, and auditory input that we get in our normal every day lives by working, playing, eating, breathing, etc.
When children are sensory seekers they are not feeling balanced by normal sensory input that they get from everyday living activities. If they are auditory seeking, they may listen to the TV ‘too loud’, constantly be crashing into things, or making noise all the time.
It’s not because they’re trying to annoy you, it’s because they feel disregulated and they’re trying to get the input they need to be calm.
But there are solutions!
As parents, once we figure out the sensory piece of the puzzle with our children and can provide a sensory diet that they need, we are often amazed at how…
… Meltdowns are greatly reduced
….. Irritating behaviors stop
…. Our children are better able to concentrate on both learning and play
….. Interactions with others are a positive experience.
Providing what these children need can prevent meltdowns in the first place
Once you know what areas your child is avoiding or craving sensory input, it’s easy to be mindful of the children’s needs, and provide them sensations that they seek or a refuge from sensations they avoid before they head into meltdown mode, or appear ‘hyperactive’ because they are sensation seeking.
Here are a few that I use in my family:
Heavy work balances the sensory system for nearly every child. This can include: Shoveling snow, moving or digging in sand, bringing in groceries, playing with canned food, and really anything that the child has to push, pull, or lift.
Tactile seeking: High impact exercise – running rather than biking.
Tactile seeking: Tight hugs.
Visually avoiding: Limit errands to one or two a day.
Visually avoiding: Cover book pages with a colored plastic sheet to minimize contrast.
Auditory seeking: Take children to the race track, request that they vacuum for me, provide cap guns.
Take the quiz
I’ve put together a quiz for you to use in your family to identify your sensitive child’s unique sensory needs.
Once you notice patterns in family members and are able to provide simple accommodations, you will notice a positive change in your entire family dynamic.
Why is this happening?
I suspect that this, like the rise in autism, is a side effect of our junk food intake, lack of good gut flora, and over consumption of harmful chemicals. This is a brain/body issue, the brain is not processing normal sensations like it needs to. You can read more about the gut-brain connection here.
- Sensory Tips for Holidays
- Gift ideas for Sensitive Children
- Building Bridges through Sensory Integration
- The Autism Discussion Page’s Book
- The Out of Sync Child
- Visually Seeking Children
- Visually Avoiding Children