Sensory Enemy #1: Sound!

DISCLAIMER: this post is an offering of my opinions and what worked for our family. I’m not a childcare or medical professional.

I’ve decided to start off with auditory sensitivity as my first post in this series because this was the most obvious area of dysfunction for my child.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR YOUR CHILD TO HAVE DIFFICULTY PROCESSING SOUND?

Very simply, your child’s nervous system cannot integrate sound information into the brain appropriately, and therefore your child reacts inappropriately as a result. Sound sensitivity manifested itself in two ways with Luke.

1) Sudden, loud noise

This one affects kids even if they don’t struggle with sensory processing. A loud ambulance will go by, or you’ll turn on a coffee grinder and that will scare your child. Often times this can be chalked up to kids being so young, and they will often outgrow it. Luke’s reaction always went above and beyond normal startling or just a five minute cry over the sudden noise. When he was a toddler, I had to be super careful making coffee in the morning. My husband and I are fans of fresh ground coffee beans, so using the coffee grinder is a regular thing for us. There would be times where he wouldn’t calm down for a half an hour. We eventually got the hang of it, and I learned to tell him to cover his ears before turning on the coffee grinder.

2) Multi-input noises

This one came as a surprise to me. I thought we were coping with Luke’s sound sensitivity pretty well. However, if he was in a consistently loud environment where many noises would be happening (people talking, music coming over the loudspeakers, etc), he would eventually explode and have to be removed from the noisy situation. I thought I was disciplining him, but I soon realized that removing him from the situation was a relief to him.

His Kindergarten classroom was a loud and overstimulating one. He was sent to the counselor’s office his very first day of school for being an absolute disaster in class. He was super excited to tell me he got to play Angry Birds with her, but I knew we were in for a tough year. On the surface, it would seem that he was just a “bad kid who needed to be spanked,” as I hear so many people say when they see a child having a meltdown. The problem is so much more complicated than that. Luke was constantly on edge, trying to keep it all together, tuning out as much as he could. Eventually, he couldn’t take it anymore and he would explode. These issues would continue to plague him throughout his time at elementary school.

So what can you do??

As I’ve said in previous posts, your first stop will be your pediatrician, who will refer you to a pediatric occupational therapist for evaluation.

For his sound sensitivity, she recommended he use noise cancelling headphones for when the classroom environment got too loud or if we would be attending sporting events with loud noise. I can’t say enough how helpful these were.

In the classroom, we were lucky to have some very open-minded teachers who were willing to help, but eventually we were able to get him accommodations via a Section 504. In that documentation, Luke’s teachers are required to let him use headphones for schoolwork, testing, and if he was feeling the classroom get too loud.

Conclusion:

I can’t stress enough how much easier it is to help your child if you intervene early. You absolutely should not wait if you suspect your child is struggling with sensory issues. Mal adaptive behavior and self-esteem issues will arise as a result of a child not responding appropriately to the world around them.

Does your child struggle with loud noises and noisy environments? Drop a comment below and let’s chat about it!

Also, if you’re parenting a child with sensory problems, you’re likely experiencing out of this world meltdowns. If you’d like some useful tips and some suggestions for parenting explosive children, check out my previous blog post here!

 

 

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Sensory Processing Disorder: A Hidden Challenge for your child….

I have to start this post with the following disclaimers: I am not a trained pediatrician, occupational therapist, or physical therapist. My thoughts shared here are my personal experience with my wonderful son Luke and may not work for everyone. My purpose in sharing is to bring awareness to an issue that child professionals are still working to understand.

Sensory Processing Disorder, in laymen’s terms, is the inability of a child’s nervous system to receive and process information from the senses in an appropriate way. This may mean your child has a meltdown when a very loud firetruck goes by or you turn on the coffee grinder in your kitchen. Children can either be hyper or hypo sensitive to input from the world around them, which leads to behavior that either avoids or seeks certain stimulus. In cases of hypersensitivity to input, a child can often overreact inappropriately to what may seem harmless to us as adults. It’s important to note that as of this post, the DSM-5 doesn’t designate sensory processing disorder as a standalone diagnosis. It usually indicates that your child has ADHD or autism spectrum disorder (otherwise known as “being on the spectrum”).

When we think of “senses,” the usual suspects come to mind: auditory, tactile, and visual. These are self explanatory. However, two others exist that are less obvious: proprioception and vestibular. The former, proprioception, is your awareness of your body in space. The latter, vestibular, is your sense of balance. Obviously, these deserve thorough explanations that I will write about in later posts.

Usually, if you suspect your child may have challenges with any of these senses, your first place to start is your pediatrician. The most obvious challenge for Luke was his hypersensitivity to sound. After discussing this with his pediatrician, we were referred to an occupational therapist who will then evaluate your child. Included in this evaluation is a parent survey with questions about your child’s behavior. Some OT’s will even ask your child’s teacher to fill out a survey too, which I find to be helpful because we all know our children act differently at home and at school.

We saw two OT’s, one of whom we stayed with because she established such a great rapport with him. The other had a bigger office complete with a “sensory gym,” but we weren’t guaranteed to see the same therapist every time. Seeing Luke in that sensory gym was a very enlightening experience….

Included in the sensory gym was a swing that rotated 350 degrees and a ball pit that was almost straight out of McDonald’s in the 90s. When the OT brought me back to observe Luke in the gym, he was running back and forth between crashing in the ball pit and then running over to the swing to spin himself around and around and around. We found out that this sensory seeking behavior was the result of his hyposensitivity to proprioceptive and vestibular input.

A few books I’d recommend reading if you think you’re child may have difficulty with sensory integration:

The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder (The Out-of-Sync Child Series)

Raising a Sensory Smart Child– Teaching your child self-advocacy in a world that doesn’t understand is key. This book has some great strategies to help you in your parenting journey.

The Sensory Child Gets Organized– This is helpful for kids in elementary school who have trouble getting organized for one reason or another. That is one of our constant struggles in our house so this book was a God send!

There’s so much to say, but we have to start with a basic overview of a very complex problem. More information is coming down the line in the following weeks. Drop a comment below if you have any questions or have any stories to share!

~ Ashley C