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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Public Enemy #1: Tantrums….

Meltdowns….. tantrums….. outbursts….. They go by many names….. par for the course for the terrible twos and “threenagers”….

Whatever you choose to call them, they drive parents absolutely bonkers, whether at home or out in public at the grocery store.

For Luke, these meltdowns were much more intense than the average child. They often lasted 40 minutes to an hour, for any garden variety of reasons. Transitioning was THE biggest trigger. Bath time in particular was a challenge for this reason. He’d resist going in and would cry and fight me until I eventually got him in the tub. Then, strangely enough, when it came time for him to get out, he’d cry and scream even more that he wanted to stay in. It was emotionally draining, and I didn’t know what in the world I was doing wrong.

Obviously there were some things that I did do wrong. I myself can carry my emotions on my sleeve (just ask my husband.) That said, my own reactions to the impending “meltdown” did nothing to help the situation. I met Luke with anxiety anytime I asked him to transition to something else. Kids with ADHD tend to be emotional barometers even when they seem tuned out. He fed off my energy immediately, making his tantrum far worse. After the 40 minute mark of a meltdown, I’d completely lose my cool and begin screaming myself. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

It wasn’t until recently when I read more about executive functioning that I began to understand a huge part of what was causing his huge meltdowns. Children with a deficit in executive functioning tend to have problems with transitions and impulsive behavior. It’s nearly impossible for them to place themselves 20 minutes into the future and realize that everything will be ok if they stop what they’re doing and move on. They also have trouble regulating their emotions. Thanks to help from his social skills group, school counselors, teachers, and an adjusted parenting plan with positive reinforcement, Luke has come miles becoming the “boss of his feelings.”

What do I recommend? 

  1. It’s important to remember that a meltdown is not a sign of your child being spoiled, bad, or in “need of a spanking.” They need our help and guidance as parents to learn the appropriate reactions. As soon as we look at our children in this way, the more calm and equipped we are in dealing with the meltdown.
  2. At home, if you ever find yourself in a position where you lose your cool, lock yourself in a room or bathroom, separate from your child, and give yourself 5-10 minutes to cool down. Nine times out of 10, my kiddo calmed down faster if I just removed myself from the situation.
  3. If your kiddo is triggered by transitions like mine was, 5 minute warnings before a change in activities is a huge help. Luke is now 8, and we still give him a warning before moving on to the next event in the day. We also take the time in the morning to tell him what big events are happening in the day.
  4. Number 2 can carry over to school if a teacher asks for your input. We ended up with a fantastic teacher who would give prompts, had a visual schedule, and would also make sure Luke was alerted to changes in the school day as soon as he got to school.
  5. I can’t speak highly enough about the books The Explosive Child and The Zones of Regulation curriculum. These have been invaluable resources for me.
  6. DO NOT WAIT TO GET HELP FROM CHILDHOOD BEHAVIORAL PROFESSIONALS. This is so incredibly important. The younger a child is, the easier it is to help them. We’d been told by so many people and family members that he’d “just grow out of it.” This is nonsense. Yes, children mature, but you have to make sure they don’t develop maladaptive behavior in the process. We started Luke in a “boy’s group” with two trained psychologists in kindergarten and added occupational therapy in 1st grade. I think our lives would’ve been much easier had we gotten help sooner.

Do you have an “explosive” child? Drop a comment below to share your strategies and stories of your child’s toddler years!

Disclaimer: I’m not a trained psychologist. I’m merely passing along strategies and resources that helped our family.