It is often, when I first meet with parents to discuss sensory processing and the sensory needs of their children, the parents will often respond with “Oh, he’s just being a boy.” It is a common belief that young boys who are very active and aggressive are just “being boys”; however, boys (or girls) who seem to have a lot of energy may be acting this way in order to fulfill their sensory needs. These sensory needs allow them to function to their best abilities. Specifically, children who move all over the place, touch everything in sight or bump into objects may be seeking movement (vestibular and proprioceptive input) to regulate their own body. Those who participate in these activities require more sensory input than a typical child in order to self-regulate.
Below are some signs in which your child may benefit from occupational therapy to help with regulation and sensory processing:
- Constant Movement – This is a sign of low muscle tone and vestibular seeking behaviors. Muscle tone refers to the amount of stretch your muscles have at rest. Children who have low muscle tone have muscles that are not as tight as people with normal muscle tone. As a result, these children may often be constantly moving around and may have a difficult time sitting still as it is easier to run and move than to sit (which requires continuous contraction of many muscle groups).
- Using Extra Force or Displaying Aggressive Behaviors – Some children may apply too much force when playing with other children and may accidentally exhibit some aggressive behaviors, such as pushing or touching others too hard during a game of tag or pushing the child in front of them while standing in line. They may also use excessive and unnecessary force while performing certain tasks, such as slamming a door instead of simply closing it. This is a sign that your child may require more sensory input to feel when they are touching things.
- Bumping and Crashing – Children who bump into doors or crash into furniture on purpose may also be seeking sensory input to their body in order to self-regulate. They may like the feeling that the force gives to their muscles and joints, which is why they may do these things on purpose. Children who bump and crash frequently have a higher pain tolerance. Although they may not feel hurt when doing these things, they can still get injuries, such as cuts and bruises, which can create a safety concern.
- Touching People and Objects – Children who touch everything in sight, including people and other materials in their environment, are often seeking tactile (or touch) input to their bodies. These children should be given appropriate means to receive touch input to calm their system.
- Difficulty Listening– If your child does not follow directions or hear you when you call their name, it may mean that your child has difficulty with auditory processing. This means that your child may have a difficult time filtering out irrelevant information in their environment and may seem to tune you out. Occupational therapy can help a child develop the ability to listen to the “right” things and tune out background noise that may otherwise hinder their function.
- Speaking Loudly or Making Noises – Using an unnecessarily loud voice or making noises constantly is a sign that your child may have a difficult time processing auditory, proprioceptive and vestibular information. When children want to increase their sensory input, they may use their voice or mouth to make noises as these noises provide extra input to their jaw, mouth and vocal cords.
These issues can mean more than “just being a kid” when these issues are hindering your child’s ability to participate fully in school, playing with other peers, performing household chores or forming relationships with family members. The goal of occupational therapy will be to strategically provide safe and structured sensory input during times of need in order to help your child play and work to the best of their abilities.