Sensory Issues In Kids – What Every Parent Needs To Know

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This post was written by School Mum Contributor By Renée Meier

When my youngest son was small he was extremely fussy about what he wore. He had a wide range of clothes but only a select few made the cut. I tried to steer him towards items I thought had prints or patterns that would appeal to him but to no avail. The tantrums that would arise if he had to wear something he didn’t “like” were traumatic for both of us.

It wasn’t until he was older that he was able to verbalise his aversion to the texture of certain things. Here I was thinking he was just being difficult and picky, but it wasn’t about fashion at all, it was all about the feel!

My older son chimed in at this point and informed me that he too didn’t like particular textures, which is why he never wore his (rather expensive) school jumper.

Needless, to say, I no longer buy clothing for my sons without the touch test.

We all have sensory aversions and preferences. Tags that rub, sounds that irritate, smells that appeal or sights that stimulate, will drive us to respond in certain ways.

However, sometimes the brain has issues processing sensory input to the point it impacts daily functioning. This is when difficulties can arise. Particularly for children, who are still learning to make sense of the world around them and are heavily reliant on those senses to do so.

When talking about sensory processing, there are actually 7 senses. Kid Sense Child Development outlines them as follows:

  • Visual sense: The ability to understand and interpret what is seen.
  • Auditory Sense: The ability to interpret information that is heard.
  • Gustatory Sense: The ability to interpret information regarding taste in the mouth.
  • Olfactory Sense: The ability to interpret smells.
  • Tactile sense: The ability to interpret information coming into the body by the skin.
  • Proprioceptive Sense: The ability to interpret where your body parts are in relation to each other.
  • Vestibular sense: The ability to interpret information relating to movement and balance.

We can be driven to sensory seeking behaviours where input is sought to satisfy sensory needs, or avoidant behaviours when certain sensory input is not tolerated.

So how do you know if your child has sensory issues?

Here are some of the signs:

Picky eating – One of my sons has always hated mashed potato but loves chips or roast potatoes. Potatoes aren’t the problem – he simply has an aversion to the texture of mash.  Extreme picky eating could be a symptom of something more than typical childhood behaviours.

Does not cope with crowds – Most people don’t like being pushed about in the hustle and bustle of a busy place, but a situation like this for a child with sensory issues would be a complete assault on the senses.

Difficulty with getting dressed and personal care – As mentioned before, textures of certain fabrics can trigger our tactile senses, as can tags or fastenings that rub . This can extend to shoes and socks. Personal hygiene routines like getting nails trimmed, hair cut or washed can also be difficult.

Constant chewing or moving – Chewing the neck or collar of shirts is a common sensory seeking behaviour in children. So is excessive movement, such as climbing, spinning, running, jumping or perpetual fidgeting.

Extreme clumsiness or constant injuries – This can be a symptom of proprioceptive (spatial) and vestibular (balance) sensory issues.

Aversions to sounds – This could be loud noises or a particular pitch of sound such as chalk on a blackboard. My son cannot tolerate the scratching sound made by certain types of colouring-in pencils on paper.

Obviously these are just a few examples of behaviours exhibited by someone experiencing sensory issues. In many cases, people learn to adapt and develop coping mechanisms to accommodate their sensory preferences.  The growing number of blogs and websites dedicated to sensory strategies are a great starting point to help you understand and help you meet your child’s sensory needs.

However, if your child’s sensory issues are a major disruption to their daily functioning, it may be time to talk to a paediatrician. They will refer you for an assessment so that you can seek professional support and treatment. This is the best way to help your small person make sense of their sensory world.

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Being a mum to 3 kids (one of them full time at home with me) and trying to juggle everything became pretty crazy.

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