5 tough situations for kids with sensory processing challenges

Itchy sweaters. Crowded rooms. Bright lights. Learn about common triggers for kids with sensory processing challenges and ways to help.

Kids with sensory processing challenges can be oversensitive to their surroundings, or undersensitive, or both. And what triggers a negative reaction for one child might have no impact on another. Here are five tough situations for kids who have trouble managing everything their senses are taking in — and some tips that can help.

1. Getting dressed for school

Kids with sensory processing challenges 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. Itchy sweaters or stiff jeans can cause a reaction anywhere from annoyance to outright refusal.

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. Learn what to do if your child refuses to wear certain clothing.

2. Social gatherings

Some kids with sensory processing challenges don’t like being touched. Situations with lots of casual bumping and hand-shaking can be very difficult for them.

Other kids are eager to touch people and objects — even when it may not be appropriate. For example, a child who’s overly “touchy” might think it’s OK to touch someone’s clothes or hair rather than just comment on how it looks. Take time to prepare your child for social gatherings.

3. Eating at restaurants

A noisy restaurant can be overwhelming for kids with sensory processing challenges. Young children may hide under the table or get up and move to escape the noise.

Some kids might have aversions to foods that are “crunchy” (cereal, carrots), “slimy” (melon, spaghetti), or “smelly” (fish, cheese). They might also have strong preferences for certain food temperatures. For instance, they may turn away drinks served with ice. Keeping track of your child’s behavior can help you avoid tough situations at home and in public.

4. Shopping

A crowded store can be tough for kids with sensory processing challenges. Bright fluorescent lights can be irritating for kids who are highly sensitive to light.

Brushing elbows with strangers in a packed store can really bother kids who dislike being touched. It could even trigger a meltdown. As they get older, they might dread going to the store or just avoid going to public places altogether.

5. On the playground

Kids with trouble processing sensory information often have difficulties on the playground. They might strongly dislike the cold metal rungs of play structures. They might worry about bumping into equipment or other kids.

Some kids 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.

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