If you’ve seen your child struggling with things like bright lights, loud sounds, and strong smells for a while now, you may worry that it’s not a passing thing. You may even wonder if your child has sensory processing challenges.
Kids with these challenges have trouble managing information that comes in through their senses. They might seek out quiet places. Or they may have a meltdown because there’s too much sensory input for them to cope with.
Seeing your child struggle is upsetting. But there are ways to help. Here are six steps to take if you think your child has trouble processing sensory information.
1. Learn about sensory processing challenges — including myths.
Kids respond in different ways to sensory input. It depends on the type of input and the type of sensory challenges they have.
Kids don’t always avoid sensory input. Sometimes they seek it out.
Also, there are many myths around sensory challenges. Some people wrongly think they aren’t real or that kids are just being difficult.
2. Look for what triggers your child’s behavior.
Keep an eye out for triggers that cause your child to become overwhelmed. Is it always the same sound? Is it a certain smell or anything with a strong scent? Is it worse at certain times of day or in certain situations?
Spotting patterns gives you valuable information to share with people you talk to for information or advice. That includes your child’s teacher or health care provider. It also lets you find the best strategies to help your child.
3. Find out what’s happening at school.
You see what’s happening at home. But is the same thing going on at school? Connect with your child’s teacher to find out. You can email or call, or set up a time to talk in person. Share what you’re seeing and talk about how you can work together to support your child.
4. Talk openly about challenges.
It may not be comfortable to share that your child is struggling. But if you tell people about your child’s challenges, you may find other families with similar experiences. Those families may have tips and resources to share with you. You may also find that they’re a source of support to you and your child.
5. Let your child know it’s OK.
When kids have sensory challenges, they can have reactions that are very noticeable to others. They may get negative reactions from other people. Feeling judged can impact your child’s self-esteem. Let your child know that kids with sensory processing challenges are as smart as other kids, and there are ways to make these challenges easier.
Bullying can be a problem for kids who learn and think differently, too. Tell your child you want to know if kids are doing or saying mean things.
6. Know where to go for answers.
Teachers and health care providers can be great resources. They can suggest strategies to try at home. And they can recommend steps to find out what’s causing your child’s sensory difficulties. One suggestion may be to have your child evaluated. Your child’s school can do this for free.
Get the basic facts about sensory processing challenges. Plus, learn how to explain sensory challenges to friends and family.
About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Vanessa M. Pastore, MA, OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in sensory integration. She has a private clinic in New York City.