Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a neurological condition that affects the ability of the body to accurately interpret the brain’s sensory messages into appropriate behavioural and motor responses. While it is not uncommon for people to sometimes experience sensory overload or feel immensely overwhelmed by strong odours, crowded places, and loud noises, these seemingly simple sensations can overwhelm and significantly disrupt the daily life of kids with SPD.
Understanding Sensory Processing Challenges
In certain individuals, their brain can’t accurately organise and respond to information sent by their senses. Certain smells, sounds, tastes, textures, and sights could result in sensory overload. Loud sounds, flickering or bright lights, scratchy or itchy clothing (usually the tags), and certain food textures are some of the things that could trigger a sensory overload and make children feel upset and overwhelmed.
Sensory processing challenges come in two types, and lots of children experience a combination of the two. The first one is hypersensitivity or oversensitivity that results in sensory avoiding to avoid being more overwhelmed.
The second one is hyposensitivity or undersensitivity, which results in children seeking certain sensory stimulation to calm themselves and avoid overload. These kids need more sensory stimulation, not less, and will want to feel certain things, pressure, and physical contact. They could also be hyposensitive to pain and highly tolerant of it. This is the reason they might prefer rough play, deep pressure, and might not understand or feel when they are already hurting someone or themselves.
Some children could also be both sensory seeking and avoiding. This means that they might be hypersensitive to certain sensations and hyposensitive to others. It is vital to note that sensory processing challenges are not considered learning disabilities. However, they can negatively impact learning. Also, children’s responses can change throughout the day or week, depending on the situation and environment.
Helping Kids Manage Sensory Processing Challenges
Occupational therapists work with children to manage their sensory issues and help them find ways to reduce sensory overload through a sensory diet. This diet is a customised plan of activities that typically involve physical activities and sensory toys for learning disabilities. This will help them calm themselves and control their emotions and behaviours in the face of overload. This can also help make them more receptive to socialising and learning.
Admittedly, managing unexpected behaviours resulting from sensory challenges could be difficult for parents and family members. But, once you figure out what sensory issues are causing them, you can then find ways to help your kids cope with them. For instance, you can follow the sensory diet provided by your kid’s therapist, make your own sensory kit for travelling, look up sensory-friendly home activities, make sure that your child is accommodated at school, and ensure that your kid knows how to advocate for themselves outside the home.
Lastly, always remember that while helping kids cope with sensory challenges can be tough, think how tougher it is for your little ones. Figure out your their triggers and reactions, get support for them and yourself, and then go from there.