Sensory processing issues

Imagine you need to buy a new pair of shoes for yourself. You’ll probably go out and find the cutest pair of shoes in your size, and then buy them. Simple, easy, done.

Now imagine you’re picking out a pair for your child with sensory processing issues. There are about a million more factors to count in the shoe-buying process. They might want their shoes to be extra wide because anything else is too ‘constricting’. They might have issues with balance, so you’ll need to make sure the heel isn’t clunky, thick, or too smooth.

But this article isn’t about shoes. It’s written to explain and help you understand sensory processing issues.

So what are sensory processing issues?

Parents notice these problems, most often, in the early years of a child’s life. Parents will often see their child behave in odd ways. Often exhibiting an aversion to light, or noise, or shoes that are ‘too tight’. They may become irritated by the way their clothes fit or feel. They might be unusually clumsy, have trouble climbing stairs, or struggle with fine motor skills (like holding a pencil, or fastening a button).

In extreme cases, which can often be alarming and very confusing to parents, a child will:

  • Become extremely upset if their face gets wet.
  • Have a tantrum when someone tries to dress them.
  • Experience extreme pain thresholds, either low or high.
  • Poor spatial awareness, resulting in bumping into walls or people.
  • Attempting to ingest inedible things like paint or rocks.

These and other odd behaviours like them can be indicative of sensory processing issues. Children become overwhelmed because they struggle with integrating information into their senses. Parent’s of children like this will often refer to this condition as a disorder, however, as of right now it is not recognised as such by medical professionals.

Sensory processing issues

Sensory issues are often considered a symptom of autism since most children on the spectrum have difficulty processing. However, most kids with sensory issues are not on the spectrum. They may be found to have ADHD, OCD, other developmental hurdles, or no diagnosis at all.

The Symptoms: Mood Swings

Unpredictable mood swings and odd behaviour patterns are usually the first things that parents will start to notice. The child will respond in a way that is often far bigger than the situation itself. The change in the child’s behaviour will also be extreme and surprising.

For example, your child may exhibit exemplary behaviour when in a one-on-one situation with a calm person, but in the chaos and stimulation overload of the grocery store; they snap. They will then throw a fit that is both terrifying to both the child and parent. The tantrum will be so powerful and prolonged that ignoring it is not an option.

The Symptoms: Fight or Flight

Another way that children deal with sensory overload is running away. They will react quickly and often dart across a room, playground, or street; unaware of the danger. This response is called the fight or flight response, and a child with sensory issues will just shut down to escape the situation. They may also become violent or lash out if they are experiencing sensory overstimulation. This response is a very real neurological ‘panic’ reaction to dangerous situations; only they are experiencing it because of mundane situations that the average person doesn’t even notice.

Children with sensory issues gravitate to situations and surroundings that make them feel calm. Because they have problems with self-regulation, as well, their safety takes a back seat to their need to be calm.

The Symptoms: Problems with integration of sensory information

The idea behind sensory processing issues is that some people’s brains can’t do what other minds see as simple; Process the sensory information that our senses pick up to create a whole picture of what is happening internally and externally. When the brain can’t process all the information coming in through the senses, things get blocked up, and signals begin to cross and the poor brain can’t make sense of it all.

So before you chalk it up to bad behaviour, or simply a clumsy child, take a harder look at the symptoms. Your child may be throwing a tantrum, or they could be struggling to make sense of the world around them.