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October 07, 2022 5 min read

People often ask me how do I make Awakind clothing so comfortable. The simple answer is, with great difficulty! Let me explain…you see my inspiration has come from my own experience with sensory sensitivity.

What is sensory sensitivity, sensory difficulty or sensory processing disorder? SPD Australia defines sensory processing as acomplex neurological process that influences the functional skills in most individuals. They explain that people with  Sensory Processing Difficulties (SPD) misinterpret everyday sensory information, such as touch, sound and movement. They may feel overwhelmed by sensory information, may seek out sensory experiences or may avoid certain experiences.

This concept was first introduced to me many years ago when my children were young. Initially I thought I just had a fussy child and overlooked the challenges of food textures, specific noises and clothing preferences, however when the feeling of sand on my child’s foot set off an explosive meltdown, or trying to put on a new pair of shoes resulted in hours of distress, we were lucky enough to have an OT who introduced us to the concept of sensory processing disorder. As with my own experience, SPD is an easy challenge to overlook, because all kids develop at different rates, and it’s all too common for children with sensory sensitivities to be mis-labeled ‘fussy’ or ‘difficult’. Unfortunately this often results in the child being punished for their behaviour instead of being supported and guided through the challenge, which is why it is so critical to build awareness of this issue.

The month of October is National Sensory Processing Awareness Month, a month where parents, educators, therapists and caregivers come together to spread the word about Sensory Processing Issues and advocate for children and adults who may be affected. As I am not a professional in this space, I interviewed Deb, our resident OT collaborator and expert in this space and ask her some basic questions for any parents who might be at the start of their sensory journey;

 

1. Deb, can you explain a little more about sensory processing issues?

We all make sense of the world through our five senses.  The information that our senses provide enable us to make choices and decisions, based on the input that our brains have received from them. Sometimes though, the way our brains organise and respond to information from one or more of our senses does not work in the way it is meant to and this can cause sensory processing issues.

Sensory processing issues can occur withany of the senses:

  • Touch
  • Taste
  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Olfactory (smell)
  • Muscle/Body Awareness (proprioception)
  • Spatial Orientation (Vestibular)

2. As a parent, how do you know if your kid has sensory issues?

It is important to keep an open mind as to whether potential sensory issues are just part of a normal pattern of your kid growing up and experimenting with their world or whether they may be indicative of sensory challenges that your child may face. However there are a couple of signs and symptoms that could indicate your kid has sensory issues;

The two main things to look out for are:

  1.  The trigger - the sensory input that’s overwhelming your child eg a loud noise, a certain texture, a crowd of people
  2.  The type of sensory processing challenge your child has eg, sensory avoidance or sensory seeking (see below)

Sensory Avoidance

If your child is displaying signs of sensory avoidance, they may react to a wide range of triggers. These can include loud sounds, uncomfortable clothing, crowded spaces, or certain food smells or textures, among others. Whatever the trigger, the reaction can sometimes be extreme and feels different to a temper tantrum. It’s important to know that your child cannot help the way they are reacting.

Here are some examples of sensory issues and sensory avoidance:

  • Extreme response to or fear of sudden, high-pitched, loud, or metallic noises which seem inoffensive to others
  • Background noises that others don’t seem to hear may be extremely distracting to them
  • Fearful of surprise touch, avoids hugs and cuddling even with familiar adults
  • Doesn’t enjoy a game of tag and/or is overly fearful of swings and playground equipment
  • Extremely fearful of climbing or falling, even when there is no real danger i.e. doesn’t like his or her feet to be off the ground
  • Hates messy play / painting / getting hands dirty
  • Has poor balance, may fall often

Sensory Seeking

Sensory seekers are kids who need lots of sensory input, and are very much the opposite to the above. They often need to be constantly on the move and seek out a wide variety of experiences that provide them with lots of sensory input.

Here are some examples of sensory issues and seeks out sensory input:

  • A constant need to touch people or textures, even when it’s inappropriate to do so
  • No concept of personal space
  • Clumsy and uncoordinated movements
  • An extremely high tolerance for or indifference to pain
  • Often harms other children and/or pets when playing, i.e. doesn’t understand his or her own strength
  • May be very fidgety and unable to sit still, enjoys movement-based play like spinning, jumping, etc.
  • Seems to be a “thrill seeker” and loves going fast eg on fairground rides

 3. What is the cause of sensory processing issues? Can I do anything to prevent it?

There is currently no known cause of sensory processing issues, research is being done on genetics, birth complications and other environmental factors, but so far there is no conclusive evidence as to how they are caused.

Sensory processing issues often occur with kids who have autism or ADHD.  This is not always the case and if you suspect that your child may have any of these issues, go and see a professional.  The sooner you can find out what is happening with your child, the sooner you can help them.

There are several tests that a professional can do to diagnose sensory processing issues. In general, it will be evident from your child's behaviours.

4. What can I do to help my child with their sensory issues?

As a parent, it is important to watch your child and take notes of potential triggers and the behaviour that evolves from these triggers.  At Understood.org there is a great article on Observing Your Child and Taking Notes which is very helpful. 

In my article onIdentifying Kids with Sensory Issues in class, I have outlined the Top 5 signs that might indicate a child is struggling with sensory issues. 

Dealing with unexpected meltdowns can be tough on you and your family, here are some resources I share with my clients to help positively cope when this happens:

For anyone who is looking for more information, support or resources in this space, I would encourage you to reach out to Deb Hopper, an experienced Occupational Therapist who is passionate about this space www.lifeskills4kids.com.au. In addition you should always contact a medical professional, specifically your GP or paediatrician if you are concerned about your child.


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