Do you know a child who seems extra-sensitive? They could just be an extra sensitive person, or they could have sensory processing issues that can be addressed. (Often, they have both!) 

A sensitive child can have sensitivities in any or all of the following areas: touch, taste, smell, balance, body awareness, vision, and hearing. With sensory processing, it has more to do with how the brain processes the senses rather than the senses themselves. 

Children with sensory processing issues can be either sensory seekers or sensory avoiders. For example, a child may make loud sounds in order to hear the reverberation in her head that she is craving because her brain has not registered certain pitches of sound. Alternatively, a child might find the seams in her socks are intolerable because her brain is receiving too much stimulation. Both of these could be going on within the same child.

An example of a child with auditory sensory issues is Dennis*, who was very loud at inappropriate times, seemed agitated internally, especially in noisy environments, and was annoying to others around him. At times he requested to be in a room by himself; at others, he joined the group but became loud and aggressive. Similarly, his mom reported that he would begin yelling when a blender or vacuum was turned on. The paradox is that he may have been yelling to match the noise he perceived in order to tolerate it: he yelled as a coping mechanism to the overwhelm the loud noise makes him feel. While he was thought to have a problem with his ears, he tested as having good hearing. After proper testing, it turned out Dennis had CAPD (Central Auditory Processing Disorder), which made him unable to filter noises properly. He heard far-away noises as if they were close up, and unless he was looking at her lips, he didn’t hear his mother standing directly in front of him. His brain needed to be retrained to hear appropriately. After completing auditory therapy, he became more grounded, no longer shouting at odd times. Now, when his mother talks to him and he “doesn’t hear,” he jokes, “oh, now I hear you, I was just ignoring you.”  At least now it is his choice and he’s kept his sense of humor.

If you suspect a child you know has sensory issues, I would recommend seeking help from an occupational therapist. If things don’t seem to be addressed after a few months to a year, integrative approaches may be more helpful. 

*Name has been changed

© 2019 Teresa Currivan
Teresa Currivan is a mother, licensed marriage and family therapist and parent coach. She has been a high school therapist and currently leads a gifted parent support group at Big Minds Unschool, a school for 2e learners. Teresa has been published on sites such as Mother.ly, Filter Free Parents, and is a blogger at GHF and Hoagies Gifted Education. She specializes in giftedness, twice-exceptionality,  educational fit, and family dynamics. She lives in the San Francisco, California Bay Area with her husband and son. You can find more articles on her website, https://helpmychildthrive.com/. Follow her on her Facebook at  fb.me/TeresaCurrivanCoaching. She offers free 20-minute consultations for first-timers. Contact her at TeresaCurrivan@gmail.com