Food textures. The feel of certain types of clothing. Changes in routine. You may recognize these as examples of things that can trigger sensory overload for kids with sensory processing issues.
However, kids who only have ADHD may experience sensory overload, too. Researchers are still looking into the exact reasons this happens. But they’ve found there are certain types of sensory information, like clothing and food textures, that are more likely to cause it.
Here are some common reasons kids with ADHD may experience sensory overload.
Many kids with ADHD have trouble paying attention to what’s going on in their environment. And when a child isn’t tuned in to what’s going on around him, sensory information can sneak up on him.
Consider this scenario: You’re rushing to get out the door in the morning. Your child is wandering around the house without a shirt or his shoes on. You yank a shirt over his head and tell him he has two minutes to put his shoes on and get out to the car.
Once you’re in the car and on the way, he has a meltdown because his clothes “don’t feel right.”
Because he wasn’t paying attention, he didn’t even notice the items you gave him. But the shirt you grabbed was the one with the itchy tag and he accidentally put his shoes on the wrong feet.
By the time he became aware of what happened, it was too late. His uncomfortable clothing had already created a sensory overload situation.
Trouble With Flexible Thinking
Some kids with ADHD have trouble with a type of flexible thinking called set shifting. When it comes to solving problems, set shifting allows kids to see their mistakes and change the way they approach a situation. It also allows your child to move on from a thought or an activity to do something new.
You may think he’s ready to move on when he tunes in to you again. However, he may have sensory overload from everything that’s finally registering with him.
Trouble With Self-Monitoring and Self-Regulation
For example, maybe your child has a hard time sitting still during meals and rushes to leave the table without eating much at all. Half an hour later, he’s so hungry that he can’t think straight and you have a “hangry” kid on your hands.
Or maybe while playing with his toys, your child isn’t mindful of his need to use the bathroom. Before you know it, he’s crying that his stomach hurts or he’s melting down over the feel of wet clothes from having had an accident.
How to Help Your Child With Sensory Overload
Most kids experience sensory overload at one time or another. That includes kids without learning or thinking differences. But if your child’s ADHD is managed well and he’s having sensory issues that are getting in the way of everyday life, it’s good to seek further help.
It may mean he has a co-occurring condition that’s causing the sensory concerns.
You can start by speaking to your pediatrician or school about having your child see an occupational therapist. You can also:
Explore sensory strategies to try at home.
Discover ways to manage meltdowns.
Read what one father wishes people knew about parenting a child with sensory issues.