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Sensory Sensitivity in Special Needs Children

by C. Finkbeiner | July 28th, 2015 | Preschool, Special Needs

preschool boy (400x400)I can’t tell you how many times I almost went insane trying to understand my child. And, it wasn’t because it was a hard job caring for a child with special needs, but because I didn’t always know what his needs were. How can I fix a problem if I don’t know what it is? That is the question I would ask my toddler daily. But he didn’t have an answer, or any answer for that matter. I would ask, “What is the matter”, only to get a shrug of the shoulders and continued crying.

This dilemma is multifaceted. First, you have the child, who may or may not know what is wrong, unwilling or unable to communicate the root of the problem. Now, you as the caregiver have to decode what a shrug of the shoulders and a cry means to a 4-year-old, when there is no apparent reason for the child to be moody.

Children with sensory sensitivity (very common in autistic children) do not always know how to describe what is wrong, because they are surrounded by highly stimulating sights, sounds and smells most of the time. When your child becomes overstimulated, try to narrow down the cause of the effect.

“My eyes hurt”. This usually means they have a headache. Perhaps they have been awake for too long, or they have had too much exposure to bright or flashing lights. Rubbing of the eyes can indicate sleepiness, or an environmental allergic reaction. Have your child close their eyes, if possible, and rest.

“My ears hurt”. Again, this could be a general headache, or it can be that they are experiencing tinnitus. Check to see if anything has been lodged into the ear canal, and clean out any excess wax to determine if there is fluid on the eardrum. If so, call your pediatrician. It’s possible too that your child may be complaining about something they had overheard like bad noises, or other troubling sounds that are echoing in their memory. Talk to your child about their fears, if any.

“My body hurts”. When a child refers to their body as a whole, they are usually referring to their torso area. Ask them to point to where they hurt and that will decipher the difference between organ pain and muscle or bone pain. Tummy aches feel much different than chest pain, but the child doesn’t know how to describe the difference yet. Tummy pain is also a red flag that your child may be having anxiety.

“My head hurts”. Unless there is visible bump or bruise on your child’s head, “my head hurts” usually means “I’m tired”. Tired of reading, tired of being awake, tired of watching TV. Children with sensory sensitivity can become overloaded very easily and need breaks to clear their minds before taking on another task. Teach your child the value of a nap, deep breathing and other therapeutic practices that can be done alone for when your child needs to self soothe in the future.

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