Every child is on the sensory continuum. The question is, where on it does s/he fall, and in what category(ies) of sensory?
A child who, in the hour before physical activity in a gymnasium, for example, begins to act out by yelling, bullying peers, becoming hyperactive and otherwise make trouble, may be trying to avoid a sensory overload he experiences during gym class. Ever notice how darn loud those spaces get with the yelling, whistles blowing, sneakers squeaking, balls bouncing, buzzers buzzing? Then there’s the over-heatedness, sweating and the shower afterwards. This child may act out to avoid all of these things that over stimulate him – that aren’t conducive to his physical and sensory constitution. Overstimulation, if you feel it as intensely as some people, can cause extreme anxiety. Over exertion can be a serious health risk, even for children. Our boy may be relieved and secretly happy that he is excluded from this class and made to sit quietly in detention. At least there’s nothing bothering him there. This child is on the more intense end of the sensory continuum, and his sensory sensitivities are factored by his general physical constitution, his skin, and his hearing.
Another child might display no such issues with this level and type of physical activity, liquids on his skin, or hearing, but is hyper sensetive to inorganic clothing materials, chemical additives in food products, and scents. In this example, signs to look for in a pre-verbal child are irritability, crying, impulsivity, scratching, allergies, stiffness in or folding over of her torso, pulling at clothes, confusion, dizziness, and meltdowns. Verbal children may also display these behaviors and may also complain of headaches, strong smells, of being in pain, itchy, and may take off or refuse to wear clothes. For “Sarah”, the child in a recent blog post I wrote on validation – her sensory sensitivities involved gross motor input needs that manifested as body-slamming or trike-slamming into people and things.
I want to stress here the importance of acting to protect your child’s health and well being by ruling out the potential for any possible or actual reactions to chemical products including perfumes, cleaners, disinfectants, and food items, et al from the child’s eating, living and playing areas, and by getting them seen by your pediatrician right away if you are concerned about seeing any of the above symptoms. I am not a doctor nor am I diagnosing; all information presented here is educational only and you are encouraged to continue to inform yourself. Highly sensitive children are like canaries in a coal mine and all products, including food products should be researched for toxins or potential toxic effects when used singly and especially together.
I’ve observed many, many instances of sensory overload, sensory sensitivities, sensory differences all along a continuum of intensities, degrees, factors, and presentations in the children I observe and work with.
The very best antidotes for sensory difficulties come from our connections to Nature. Remember how good it feels to be in the woods, in a meadow, near water? It’s the experience of healing on different levels. Our mind is calm in the ideal quiet of a natural setting. Our breath is deeper, our stress lower. Our body is revitalized by the air, the water, the plants, and the land. We feel cleaned up by Mamma Nature. She is here for us to nurture us, and to provide us with clean, whole foods and solutions to replace the fake stuff that drag us down emotionally, nutritionally, physically. Indeed, many sensory symptoms may be the reactions to what is in our children’s bodies that is not from the earth. There are some replacements you can try if you choose, and you can chart how they begin to help your child if this is his situation.
A few ideas: A vinegar and water solution to disinfect and clean. Hydrogen peroxide to get rid of mold. Dr. Bronner’s or similar liquid soaps for hair, body and clothes washing. No perfumes, dyes, lotions, or synthetics. Soft cotton, tagless clothing. Yoga, martial arts, and nature-based activities like gardening, wooded bike trails and animal identification hikes instead of aggressive, strenuous activities. Less screen time; much more time out of doors. Periods of quiet throughout the day. No high fructose corn syrup. Easy crock pot meals of veggies and meats, poached fish, and stir fry’s in coconut oil instead of processed breads, meats, spreads, and bad cooking fats. Baby carrots, walnuts and grapes for snacks instead of crackers, pretzels and cookies to create balanced blood sugar, mood, and behaviors.
It’s always so interesting to see how many facets of a child’s health and well being overlap. In this post we see how sensory, nature, nutrition, environment, and attachment/relationships all factor into a child’s ability for self-regulation. If you’d like to view the Venn diagram showing all 9 lenses through which we view a child’s holistic health and well being, please sign up for it on the home page.