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Sensory Processing, Part 3: Addressing Sensitivities

If you missed Parts 1 and 2, you can find them here and here.

One of our earliest science lessons is about our senses. Coincidentally, sensory needs are often the driving force behind a lot of children’s behavior issues, starting very early in life. Avoidant behaviors can limit activities and cause families a lot of stress, but understanding the issue can help avoid a lot of frustration on all sides.

Addressing sensory sensitivities is usually the bigger issue. Because others don’t experience the input as noxious, there’s often a lot of minimizing of the impact of that sensory input. But it’s essential that others are compassionate about this issue, even if they don’t necessarily totally understand it.

Managing sensory sensitivities is about avoidance when possible and mitigation when it’s not possible. But, avoidance is always preferred. However, to avoid something, you have to understand what the trigger is. And this is where that detective thing comes back into play.

Here are some behaviors that suggest your child is more sensitive in these areas:

Sight: avoiding screens or bright lights, wanting to wear sunglasses, tantrums in the car when it’s sunny, avoiding fluorescent lights

Hearing: turning volume down on devices, covering ears, asking people to stop yelling, avoiding loud environments

Smell: complaining of smells that you can’t detect, avoiding strong-smelling environments and foods

Taste: preferring bland foods

Light Touch: dislike of tags and seams in clothing, complaining that clothing is itchy, dislike of touch from others or tickling, problems with food texture

Deep Pressure: dislike of tight clothing or tight waistbands or sleeves, kicking off blankets

Proprioception: fear of falling, avoiding swings or unstable surfaces

Vestibular: dislike of swinging and spinning, complaining of feeling dizzy

Interoception: complaining of severe pain from minor injuries, frequent abdominal pain or headaches

Again, avoidance is key whenever possible. But some things are inevitable. Here are some items that come in handy when senses are likely to be overwhelmed.

Hearing: ear defenders like Loops and Flares which lessen noise but allow for conversation or noise-canceling headphones that block all sound

Light touch: seamless or compression clothing and socks that won't move around

Deep pressure: loose clothing, drawstring waistbands

It's absolutely critical that sensory sensitivities be acknowledged and honored. While we may not understand what our child experiences, ignoring, minimizing, or forcing children to manage sensitivities unsupported is not acceptable when solutions are easily found. A lot of parents express the idea that "he needs to learn to deal with it." There's no nice way to say that this is horribly cruel. Adults have the power to avoid painful things. Children should be treated the same way.

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