5 tough situations for kids with sensory processing issues

ByThe Understood Team

Kids with sensory processing issues can be oversensitive to their surroundings, undersensitive, or both. And what triggers a negative reaction for one child might have no impact on another. Here are some common trouble spots for kids with sensory processing issues.

Situation #1: Getting dressed for school

Kids with sensory processing issues can be overly sensitive to the way different textures of clothing feel on their skin. They might not be able to tolerate the feeling of new shoes because the material is too stiff. Their reactions to items like itchy sweaters or stiff jeans can range from annoyance to outright refusal to wear something. Being aware of what triggers negative reactions in your child can help. For instance, cut off clothing labels if they bother your child. Small adjustments could reduce complaining — and get you out the door faster.

Find out what to do if your child refuses to wear winter clothes.

Situation #2: Social gatherings

Some kids with sensory processing issues don’t like being touched. Situations with lots of casual bumping and hand shaking can be very difficult for them. Other kids with sensory processing issues are eager to touch people and objects — including when it may be inappropriate. For example, a child who’s overly “touchy” at a birthday party might think there’s nothing wrong with touching someone’s clothes or hair rather than just commenting on how it looks. Here are some ideas on how to prepare your child for social gatherings.

Situation #3: Eating at restaurants

A noisy restaurant can seem like an acoustic assault for kids with sensory processing issues. Young children may hide under the table or get up and move in an effort to escape the noise. They might have aversions to foods that are “crunchy” (cereal, carrots), “slimy” (melon, spaghetti) or “smelly” (fish, cheese). Kids with sensory processing issues might also have strong preferences for foods to be served at certain temperatures. For instance, they may turn away drinks served with ice. Keeping track of your child’s behavior can help you anticipate and avoid sticky situations at home and in public.

Situation #4: Shopping

A crowded store can be an overwhelming experience for kids with sensory processing issues. Bright fluorescent lights can be irritating for children who are highly sensitive to certain types of lighting. For kids who dislike being touched, repeatedly brushing elbows with strangers in a packed store can make them edgy (and even trigger a meltdown). As they get older, they might dread going to the store or just avoid going to public places altogether.

Situation #5: On the playground

Kids with sensory processing issues often have difficulties on the playground. They might realize when perched on top of a ladder that they strongly dislike the way the cold metal rungs feel against their hands. They might worry about bumping into equipment or other kids. Some kids with sensory processing issues are fearful of getting hurt. As a result, they sometimes stick to equipment meant for younger kids. They might keep a distance from other kids or avoid the playground altogether. Here are tips on how to deal with playground problems.

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About the author

About the author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Sheldon H. Horowitz, EdD is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.