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Top 5 Biggest Sensory Issues: And How to Help

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Top 5 biggest sensory issues…how do we only choose 5? Sensory processing issues are displayed in so many different ways, a list of 5 doesn’t even scratch the surface. 

We have 8 different sensory systems that we receive and interpret information from daily, meaning there are almost endless combinations of how sensory processing can affect us. 

Today though, we are going to talk about 5 issues that seem to come up over and over. Let’s get started. 

#1. Dressing

Tags, seams, coats, and jeans. These things may not seem like a big issue to you but for your sensory kid, they might be. 

Tactile input is what we feel. Some people who struggle with sensory processing disorder are more hypersensitive to touch (tactile). 

This means that the tag you never notice could be constantly causing your child irritation and distress. The seam in their sock continues to rub on their toes all day. The jeans feel too stiff, and the waistband is too tight. These are all signs that your child may be experiencing tactile sensitivity. 

We want our sensory system to filter out what information isn’t important such as the seam on the toe of a sock. But for those that are hypersensitive, their system may be continuing to alert them of that seam, all day long! As you can imagine this would make wearing clothes very bothersome.

Tactile input comes to us in many forms and the input we get from our clothing is no different, because of this, difficulties with how clothes feel can be a real issue for some. 

Strategies for dressing

When you are hypersensitive to tactile input the goal is the help the system desensitize. Providing proprioceptive input is also calming and helps prepare and settle the sensory system prior to a challenge (such as wearing socks).

  • Skin brushing
  • Tactile play
  • Rice bins
  • Water play
  • Dress up and costumes 
  • Deep pressure (proprioceptive input) such as squishes, joint compressions, or weighted or compression clothing
  • Heavy work- engaging the muscles by pushing, pulling, carrying, lifting

#2. Haircuts

Haircuts can fall along the same lines as dressing in regards to being hypersensitive to tactile input. The tactile input from haircuts comes from the pulling/tugging/touching of the hair that happens during cutting, hair falling on your face, the texture/fabric of the cape, as well as the blow dryer. 

Haircuts also include different auditory experiences that might be overwhelming for some. Blowdryers and clippers have sounds that a child who is sensitive to auditory (sound) input may be upset by. 

Strategies for haircuts

Tactile desensitization strategies that we talked about above are also helpful here. Heavy work and proprioceptive input can also help provide a sense of calm during a stressful situation. Using the right tools or different tools may also make the experience easier. 

  • Perform a sensory diet prior to the haircut
  • Use a weighted blanket or lap pad
  • Tactile play such as sensory bins
  • Let your child stand or move around
  • Ditch the cape all together

Work to gradually desensitize to the activity can also be helpful: 

  • Visit the salon multiple times before attempting a haircut
  • Have your child watch others get their hair cut
  • Have them (safely) assist in the haircutting process (with themself, others, or dolls)

To have them help during their haircut try giving your child a ‘job’. Provide them with tools to alleviate some of the irritants from the haircut. For example, if they don’t like the hair falling on their face, let them hold the blowdryer and use it to blow off any hair tickling their face. Sometimes giving them this bit of control over the situation can be very helpful. 

Other tools

  • Calming Clippers
  • Hair shield (available with the Calming Clippers set) or visor
  • Noise-canceling headphones or preferred music to help with the sounds

#3. Picky eaters

Food has a variety of sensory inputs which means that issues with eating can show in many ways. 

When we eat we receive input from the taste, smell, texture, appearance (visual), and temperature of food.

Someone who struggles with tactile input may have difficulties with certain textures. Another person who craves more proprioceptive input may only like eating crunchy or chewy food and avoid softer foods altogether. A smell-sensitive child may not even be able to try a food due to how it smells. These are just a few examples of how sensory issues can affect us with food. 

Strategies for picky eaters

Working to increase the variety of foods a child eats is not easy, it takes time and multiple exposures to a food before a child may be comfortable even touching it. 

Learning and understanding your child’s likes and dislikes in terms of the sensory experience of food will help you better understand why they eat and avoid certain foods. This is important to be able to better assist them and provide the correct input to ease their food experience. 

  • Food play
  • Food chaining
  • Exposure-kids need to see a food multiple times for it to become familiar and for them to feel comfortable trying it
  • Fun, no-pressure environment. I don’t encourage forcing or tricking a child to eat food. We want food to be a positive experience. A fun, playful approach, no pressure approach seems to be the best when presenting and trying new foods. 
  • Consistent mealtime routine
  • Help in the kitchen: have your child prepare their own food or help with prep. Have a make your own pizza night, taco bar, etc. with a variety of toppings available for them to choose from.
  • Smell and discuss foods, their textures, and how they look with your child
  • Create menus with your child
  • Increase tactile input to the mouth with an electric toothbrush or washcloth on the face and lips
  • Heavy work for improving overall regulation

To learn more check out this blog discussing picky eating more in-depth. 

#4. Clumsy 

You may see some children who lack body awareness, get into other people’s bubbles, walk into walls and fall down or trip often. 

Proprioception is our body awareness, knowing where your body is in space without using your vision. The information we receive from our muscles, joints, ligaments, etc. communicates with our brain where we are and how we are moving. Those that struggle with proprioceptive input may have impaired body awareness and coordination making them appear clumsy.

Some children may seek more proprioceptive input and due to this, it fulfills them to crash, fall, or bump into things. Others may have low registration to the input they receive and have difficulties knowing how to move their bodies causing them to trip, stand too close or lean onto other people or objects. 

Strategies for clumsy kids

Add more active heavy work and proprioceptive input into their day.

  • Animal walks: Crab, bear, frog hop
  • Carrying, pushing, pulling heavier items
  • Helping in the yard: pulling the hose, digging a hole, carrying a watering can
  • If appropriate, resistive or weight lifting exercises
  • Wall pushes
  • Yoga poses

Add more passive proprioceptive input into their day. 

  • Roll up in a blanket
  • Joint compressions
  • Weighted blanket or clothing
  • Compression clothing
  • Squishes or massage

Add more balance/coordination activities into their day. 

  • Standing on one foot (tree pose in yoga)
  • Hopping on one foot
  • Balance beam
  • Tight rope walking (heel to toe walking)
  • Bird dog pose (on hands and knees, lifting opposite hand and foot)

#5. Chewing

Chewing is a way that many children help to regulate themselves. Though it can become an issue when they are chewing on and ruining their clothing, their own hand, or other objects that could be dangerous. We want to help provide the proper input to meet their seeking need in a safe and effective manner. 

Chewing provides tactile and proprioceptive input. Often children use it as a way to self-soothe and regulate. The goal is to help provide them with the input they need and seek but in a more successful and organized manner. 

Strategies for chewing

  • Chewable neckless, bracelets, etc. 
  • Vibration to the mouth
  • Electric toothbrush
  • Chewy or crunchy foods
  • Cold foods
  • Strongly flavored foods
  • Sucking through a straw
  • Blowing through a straw (make a game of it, to see who can blow their cotton ball off the edge of the table first)
  • Massage to face and lips with hands or a washcloth

Use other sensory strategies to help with overall regulation

  • General sensory diet
  • Deep pressure and increased proprioceptive input

As we mentioned above, there are so many different ways that sensory processing issues can arise. These are just 5 common problems people run into. What are the biggest issues that you and your sensory kid struggle with? Let us know in the comments below!

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