Posts

sensory overload

A Child’s Response to Sensory Overload

Nails on a chalkboard. The teacups at a carnival. The feeling of a mosquito on your back that you just can’t quite reach. As adults, we are all familiar with different types of sensory stimuli which can negatively affect our attention, mood, or state of arousal. Children with sensory defensiveness experience similar reactions described above, which can often lead to sensory overload. The main difference is that sensory overload, which largely occurs in children with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder, is caused by an aversive reaction to everyday, non-threatening input which negatively affects performance in activities of daily living and social participation.

Functional examples leading to sensory overload include the following:

  • Background chatter or noises at restaurants or in school, loud and vibrant birthday parties, hairSensory Overload dryers or background noise from an air conditioning unit (auditory stimuli)
  • Fluorescent lighting, colorful or cluttered environments, flashing street lights, making eye contact (visual stimuli)
  • Application of hand cream, face wash, soap, or toothpaste. Clothing items with tags on the back, socks that are too tight, pants with buttons or tight waist bands (tactile stimuli),
  • Climbing up stairs or playground equipment, escalators in the grocery store, swings on the playground (vestibular stimuli)
  • Foods with different textures or temperatures, foods that are overly spicy, sweet, or salty (oral or olfactory stimuli).

The result of experiencing sensory overload can vary among children and can include both visceral and emotional responses. In children over responsiveness may manifest as physical illness, including vomiting, yelling, crying, running away, or general avoidance to events.

Sensory defensiveness is treatable! Existing literature indicates the nervous system is changeable due to neural plasticity. Occupational therapy is recognized as one of the leading professions capable of treating children with Sensory Processing Disorder.  The goal of OT treatment is to produce an adaptive and organized response to the aversive sensory input. During the evaluation, the OT will conduct an interview with the caregiver and may administer checklists to identify presenting problems. They may also inquire about the impact on the child’s occupational performance and daily functioning in an attempt to discern which specific sensory systems are inhibiting functional performance at home, in school, and in the community[1]. Through intervention and treatment, these aversive responses will evolve to become more mature and integrated so that the child is better able to participate in their chosen occupations.

If you notice your child exhibiting any of the symptoms above, it is important to immediately remove the stimulus that is causing the sensory overload. This may include decreasing their exposure to vibrant lights or overpowering smells, helping them avoid light touch, and providing deep proprioceptive input to their muscles and joints through bear hugs or pillow squishes which can often assist their sensory system in returning back to homeostasis. Continue to monitor your child to ensure they don’t become drowsy or ill from being too overstimulated.

New Call-to-action

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

[1] Case-Smith, J., & O’Brien, J. (2010). Sensory Integration. In Occupational Therapy for Children (6th ed., pp. 346-356). Maryland Heights, MO: Mosby Elsevier.

Auditory Strategies on the 4th of July

BOOM! Auditory Strategies to Make this Independence Day Fun for your Auditorily Sensitive Child

In our previous Independence Day themed blog, we discussed sensory strategies to address visual concerns around the holiday. Remember that the Fourth of July provides as much auditory stimulation as it does visual.

Remember, sensory over-responsivity, or sensory defensiveness, occurs when a child (or adult) is presented withAuditory Strategies for the 4th of July sensory stimuli is not processed within the brain efficiently. This can cause sensory stimuli to feel painful or threatening, leading to a heightened “fight or flight” response.

Auditory over-responsivity is a heightened response to auditory stimuli, leading to an avoidance or fear of certain sounds. Children who experience hypersensitivities to sound will often cover their ears or cry.

Independence Day, in particular, is a day filled with more auditory stimuli than most other days. When preparing your family plans this July, keep these suggestions in mind for your child with auditory sensitivities.

How to Help Your Child with Auditory Sensitivities this 4th of July:

  • When arriving to the venue, find a designated “quiet area” to retreat to, should you need it. Introduce your child to this space prior to the beginning of the festivities and make sure that he/she is aware that it can be accessed at any time!
  • Keep noise canceling headphones or ear plugs at hand. Trial these prior to Independence Day to ensure that your child is comfortable wearing them.
  • Provide plenty of calming input, via deep pressure and heavy work, to your child prior to and throughout the day. The deep pressure will provide “grounding” input to their body, allowing them to better integrate sensory input in other forms.


New Call-to-action


NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

visual strategies

FLASH! Visual Strategies to Make this Independence Day Fun for your Visually Sensitive Child

Independence Day is a holiday filled with picnics, parades, and fireworks. While many celebrate this day by coming together with friends and family in a hubbub of joy, anticipating a day filled with food and laughter, families with special needs children find the holiday to be a challenge.

Sensory Over-Responsivity (Sensory Defensiveness):

Sensory over-responsivity, or sensory defensiveness, occurs when a child (or adult) is presented
fireworks2Portrait with sensory stimuli that cannot be processed in a timely manner. This means that the brain and its sensory receptors is having difficulty in translating sensory stimuli into functional responses. This can cause sensory stimuli to feel painful or threatening, leading to a heightened “fight or flight” response.

Visual Over-Responsivity:

Visual over-responsivity, specifically, is characterized by hypersensitivity to visual stimuli, whether it be light, color or frequency of movement. Children with visual hypersensitivities may present with difficulty in visually attending to some stimuli, hyper-attentiveness to some stimuli, an increase of “coping strategies” when placed in a busy environment (i.e., chewing, moving their bodies, or hiding), or avoidance of light, natural or artificial.

The Fourth of July provides visual stimuli within each of these realms. Here are a few strategies to utilize this summer:

  • Prepare your child for the day by providing the child with information regarding what to expect. Have a conversation of what colors they will see and how bright it can be.
  • Create a game of “eye-spy” within the days activities: talk about what you may see throughout the day and have your child focus their gaze to search for specific items (i.e., how many flags are in the parade? How many blue fireworks do you see?).
  • Have sunglasses or dark lenses handy– they can be worn during the day or during the fireworks show.
  • Provide deep pressure and heavy work input to the body prior to and during visually stimulating activities.


New Call-to-action


NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!