Tuesday, January 12, 2016

But It Hurts: Sensory Overload

Many times as a parent, teacher, aunt and mental health coach, I've heard these three words uttered by a child: "but. it. hurts!".

So what is she talking about? Sensory overload.

This is most recognizable to a parent when a child says, for example:

"This sock hurts me". You take the sock off, turn it inside out and show your child there's nothing in there. You put the sock back on her foot and she screeches again. You ask where it's hurting her and she points to the "toe line". And that's the last time you buy socks with "lines". Maybe she goes to school without socks that day.

You get your kid ready for school, but she keeps screaming that the tag in her shirt is scratching her. You tuck the tag in and press it down flat, but she insists that it's still uncomfortable. You take the shirt off her, carefully cut the tag out, and put the shirt back on her. She screams, "it still hurts!". Thank god we live in a world with tagless clothes! (It's just a matter of finding them and replacing her entire wardrobe).

Ponytails, pigtails. Thirty minutes later, your daughter insists that her hair still hurts. You loosen the hair ties, but now she is distraught because "my pigtails are uneven". After fixing the stubborn pigtails twice more, you're drenched in sweat. But at least sweetpie is satisfied. Or is she?

"The lights are too bright! I can't see! Please turn them down," she pleads.

Crowded places. Noise. The texture of certain foods.

Does any of this sound familiar? Your child might have sensory issues. Sensory issues are common among children with special needs, including Selective Mutism.

Sensory Overload Coping Tips

1. If it's too bright, allow your child to wear sunglasses (even indoors).

2. Try sensory activities to stimulate your child's senses in a more positive way.

3. If your child is hypersensitive or has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD; severe hypersensitivity), see an occupational therapist (OT) for Sensory Integration (SI). SI involves exposing children to overstimulating sensory situations in a healthy way.

4. Learn to prevent sensory overload- related meltdowns. Pay attention to your child's mood and notice their triggers. For example, you wouldn't take a child who is sensitive to noise to an especially crowded mall.

5. Remember your child is not misbehaving by having a meltdown related to sensory overload. She literally cannot help it.

Does your child experience sensory overload? Share in the comments below.

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