When parents have these challenges with their children, we often end up considering whether sensory processing might be at play.
You see, when it comes to sensory processing differences in kids, the triggers to their reactions and behaviours are not so apparent – and can be inconsistent, so isolating a cause for your child’s distress becomes challenging.
As a psychologist, I’ve worked with countless children who have had sensory processing differences – and as such, I’ve learned a lot from the Occupational Therapists who often assess and treat such challenges in kids.
At a very basic level, we all receive and process sensory information – all day, every day. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, the feel of things as well as how our body feels in space and how it balances and moves. When someone has a difference in how they process this sensory information, they may be receiving too much or too little stimulation from that information. Often kids who struggle in this area will show sensitivity to some sensory input (such as avoiding loud sounds or haircuts) but may seek out sensory input in other areas (like bouncing and jumping frequently or visually inspecting objects for extended periods of time).
It’s pretty complicated right?! Here’s how I’ve conceptualised it and what I recommend to parents to help manage these often-tricky situations…
- It really helps to start observing your child in situations where you’re noticing behaviours and emotions that seem ‘trigger-less’. Could there be some sensory processing differences at play?
- Be aware that even with sensory processing, your child will have more tolerance for the input on some days than on others. On some days, they might be able to tolerate loud sounds and overwhelming environments, whereas on other days if they’ve already reached their level of tolerance, being faced with the same situation might cause a meltdown.
- If your child is struggling with processing sensory information, try to avoid exposure unless you have some sort of support or scaffolding in place. For instance:
- Earmuffs for loud environments can work really well.
- If your child struggles with situations like haircuts, try to look for alternative ways to make the situation easier. Attending on a quieter day, asking the hairdresser to use quieter clippers or scissors, or even finding a hairdresser who specialises in kids or provides home visits might be helpful.
- Allow your child the freedom to move around if they’re seeking this, rather than expecting them to ‘sit still and avoid putting them in situations where this freedom to move won’t be allowed until you have other supports in place.
- Look for clothing and fabrics that your child will tolerate
- Book in to see a pediatric occupational therapist for an assessment and specialised recommendations.
Remember, when sensory difficulties are at the heart of your child’s challenges, empathy and understanding will go a long way to helping them.