What Are Sensory Issues? Sensory Processing Disorder Explained
When we talk about sensory processing issues, we’re referring to difficulty organizing and understanding information that comes in through the senses. You may have heard this called sensory processing disorder. People often think of kids with sensory issues as being over sensitive and easily overwhelmed by sights, sounds, tastes, and smells, and that’s often the case. But kids with these issues may also be under sensitive, and need more sensory stimulation, not less.
We don’t know what causes sensory issues or how many kids have them, but we do know that these challenges are common in kids with ADHD, anxiety, and autism. Kids may have one or the other type of sensory issue, but they can also have both at various times. Kids who are oversensitive or hypersensitive have intense reactions to things other people might not even think about.
Certain food smells might make them gag or cry, for instance. Fire drills at school might send them into a panic. The intensity of those reactions often leads to meltdowns that are beyond kids’ control. These episodes are very different from ordinary tantrums. They’re hard to manage, and often have to just run their course. Kids who are under sensitive to sensory input may behave in very different ways.
They actually seek stimulation from the environment. Many need to feel physical contact or pressure to be calm. These kids also tend to have an unusually high tolerance for pain, so they may not realize when they’ve been hurt or are hurting others. There are no medications specifically for sensory processing issues, but there are many things parents, teachers, and specialists can do to make things more manageable for kids.
When parents know the triggers, they can try to avoid or minimize them. They can also prepare their child for situations in advance, and come up with strategies to lessen the stress kids might feel. At school, the teacher might have your child sit away from direct sunlight or buzzing lights.
The teacher might also allow your child to use fidgets, or have sensory breaks to satisfy a need for movement. Occupational therapists work with kids who have sensory processing issues in a number of ways.
One thing the therapist might do is create something called a sensory diet. This is a tailored routine of activities and accommodations that provides the sensory input your child needs. Everyday life can be challenging for kids with sensory processing issues, and they’re often misunderstood. The good news is that more and more places are creating sensory-friendly opportunities.
Movie theaters, theme parks, sports venues, and even airports are starting to offer special showings, events, and spaces for kids who struggle with sensory issues. With the right support, kids with sensory processing issues can find ways to cope with their challenges, so they’re able to learn, socialize, and enjoy experiences in daily life.