The Child With Sensory Issues

Sensory Processing problems are normally first noticed when the child is around 18 months to 3 years old. The first thing that mum or dad will notice is that the child has an intolerance to noise – loud bangs like fireworks, bells, or sirens. Another very common complaint from the child would be clothes that “itch” or shoes that “pinch” – along with food issues like textures, tastes and smells. Mum or dad may also notice that the little one is a bit clumsy or has difficulty with things like fine motor skills.

Some severe reactions would be, for example, the child screaming if her face gets wet or throwing a hissy fit when you are trying to get him dressed.

Sensory processing Disorder, although now well known as to be called that name by psychiatrists and some GP’s – is not yet recognised in the DSMV as a recognised disorder, but they are known as a symptom of autism. Some children however, who have sensory issues are not on the spectrum – I guess we probably are all a bit sensitive about certain things in our every – day lives aren’t we? But its only when it affects the smooth running of the child’s everyday life that it becomes a real problem.

Tantrums and Meltdowns

The first things that parents notice, in their sensory child, are usually mood swings that can become quite severe. It’s usually when something changes in their routine which upsets their equilibrium that they then notice all these other sensory issues.

Also, we have probably all seen a child in a busy supermarket having a tantrum because mum wont let him have some sweets but the sweets aren’t the real issue here – what’s happened is that the child has a stimulation overload (bright lights, loud noises, lots of people,) and the sweets were the straw that broke the camel’s back – he has a huge melt down and flips out! Much to the embarrassment of poor mum or dad, granny or grandad, who can’t control their normally quiet little Johnny. Some children will just turn and run away from it all instead of having a tantrum and will maybe run out of the shop and into the busy street missing being hit by a car by the skin of his teeth because he has become oblivious to the danger because he is so overwhelmed!

The Ten Most Common Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder

  1. Dislike of being touched or cuddled
  2.  Dislike of getting hands, face or other body parts wet or messy
  3.  Dislike of hair cutting or washing
  4. Fear of trying new foods
  5. Fear of escalators or lifts, aeroplanes or theme park rides
  6. Fear of clowns, loud noises like sirens and alarms.
  7. Dislike of very bright lights or flashing lights
  8. Overwhelmed when out in a public crowded place
  9. Very sensitive to smells, especially petrol, fish and cheese.
  10. Difficulty with fine motor skills.

The above are not in any order but they are the most common symptoms of SPD.

Behaviour that is Misunderstood

Children with SPD are likely to be called “picky” or “oversensitive”, “fussy” or “ even “spoilt”, due to the fact that they DO NEED a lot of help from mum and dad to help them regulate their feelings, so sometimes these children are really misunderstood.

When I chat to parents who bring their children to my clinic with obvious signs of SPD and explain to them what it is and why they are experiencing these sensitivities they say “Oh my goodness – that’s it! That’s typical of him – he does all that!”  and the sense of relief they have that there is an answer to all their previous worries and concerns.

Sensory Care

Most therapists usually only see a child for an hour or so on a weekly or fortnightly basis so it’s important that mum, dad, child and therapist all work together as a team so that parents can carry on some of the therapy at home.

The house can be adapted to make the home more “sensory acceptable” for the youngster. Clearing the house of clutter can help a child as he often feels overwhelmed with “too many things around”.

Comfy corners can be made for the child to go and chill out when he feels a bit stressed or anxious – simply making an area with some bean bags, soft blankets and the child’s favourite cuddly toys can make a huge difference to a child, and can calm him down in a very short space of time. Some parents invest in weighted blankets, jackets and vests to help regulate them and make them feel more secure.

What Natalie says about her son William:

“William was only two when I first noticed that he was ‘different’. I sort of got used to the tantrums but then realised that they were lasting longer than most kids I had seen, and they seemed different to the meltdowns that all my friend’s kids had. Then he started being very fussy with his food – gagging and almost vomiting if I tried to give him something new. At nursery he didn’t like getting messy so when they were doing hand painting or playing with the sand he would get really upset. I took him to Elaine, the children’s therapist, and when she started asking me other questions related to all these sensory issues it all clicked into place. Elaine suggested I try all the techniques she suggested, like making a quiet “Comfy corner” for William to go to when he was feeling anxious or agitated. This worked a treat and now he just takes himself off there himself! She also told me about the weighted blanket and jacket’s, and I had these made for him from soft material that didn’t aggravate him and again, this worked wonders and would calm him down within minutes. Once my husband and I understood what was wrong with William and how we could help him, things were SO much easier for all of us as a family. Yes, we still have the odd meltdown and at times William gets so frustrated he will lash out, but those occasions are rare now. Elaine used some CBT and hypnotherapy with him to treat his anger and anxiety and that has helped enormously, but my biggest advice to all mums with sensory kids is to be patient and just put techniques and coping strategies in place for both you and your child and very soon you will notice a big difference in your child.” Natalie Higgins.

Natalie and her family now live a reasonably calm life but when she first came to see me, she had never heard of sensory processing disorder, probably just like many other mums out there. However, it is quite a common disorder that I treat every day at my clinics so if you know someone who is struggling with an extra sensitive child do get them to contact me, or another therapist to get help, as the sooner it is recognised and coping strategies are put in place for the child, its so much better for the child and the whole family.

If you’d like to have a chat about something that you’ve noticed at home, drop me a message at

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