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Recognizing Signs of Sensory Sensitivity

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Integrating our sensory systems is a vital element of learning, growing and receiving a quality education. While we are not Occupational Therapists, we have a list of ten things that we have seen in our experience that indicate when a child may benefit from an evaluation with an OT.

(1) Crashing
Crashing can mean; running and falling on purpose, jumping off of elevated surfaces, running into other people’s bodies, riding bikes into walls on purpose, literally crashing toys into one another etc. These kids enjoy the strong sensory input that crashing provides.

(2) Tripping/Falling 
They seem to trip over their own feet, and look clumsy when engaging in physical activity. While they might be physically strong, their coordination and balance is slightly off. These children often have legs covered in bruises from falling, but may not mention that it hurts, because they have a high threshold for pain.

(3) Yelling
You tell them to lower their voice, they say, “OK!” and then continue to yell. It seems they have no idea that they are still yelling.

(4) Hard time sitting still 
This is particularly evident in the classroom, where kids are required to sit for long periods of time, often on a rug. Children with sensory sensitivities may be lying down due to a lack of core strength, or moving a lot because sitting still is really uncomfortable. They also may have a shortened attention span since every piece of sensory information is vying for their attention.

(5) Holding ears 
Even though they might be the person yelling, they don’t like loud sounds. The child might say you’re yelling even if you haven’t increased the volume of your voice. They might really love the sound of a fire engine but meltdown at the sound of a coffee grinder.

(6) Being too rough with others
General roughhousing can indicate sensory integration problems. Sensory seekers are looking for strong input, and also may not be aware of how their body moves in space. These kids may also underestimate their strength.

(7) Huge reactions
Meltdowns about small things are a sign of disordered sensory processing. The meltdowns may not make any sense to you, and may be about things that can not be fixed. For example, we once had a child cry because his pizza slice was cut in half. When offered a new piece of pizza he refused, because he wanted the exact piece of pizza whole again. Even if we wanted to “give in” to the meltdown, we couldn’t magic the pizza back together.

(8) Hitting
When a child is on sensory overload, their first reaction to frustration might be physical. Words are very difficult to form in these moments.

(9) Oral fixation 
Does the child chew on everything? Is their shirt wet with spit, especially around the collar or cuffs? If everything makes its way into the child’s mouth, they have an oral fixation.

(10) Not knowing when to stop 
Whenever anything fun happens, your child seems to ruin it for themselves. While all the other kids calm down at the end of an exciting moment, this child can’t quite recognize that it’s time to stop. These moments often end in meltdowns.

If your child shows most of these symptoms, you might really benefit from connecting with a Pediatric Occupational Therapist. OT helps children with life skills related to how their body works. Occupational Therapy can be really beneficial to a child’s home and school lives.

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