You’ve probably seen it before, the kid at the playground who falls down and barely scrapes a knee but who proceeds to cry at the top of their lungs like they’ve just broken a limb. That would be my kid. Just this past weekend Caden tripped and fell on some pavement. He immediately began to cry at the top of his lungs. I was seriously concerned he had actually fractured his arm based on the way he was reacting to pain. A gentleman in the store actually asked if he had been stung by a bee. You see he had no obvious signs of injury, no scrape, no swelling, nothing. Just a kid screaming and crying in pain. You might see a child behaving in this manner and think they must be a wussy. But please don’t call my kid a cry-baby. What you are witnessing is sensory overload.
My Kid Is NOT a Cry-Baby!
I didn’t understand my son’s reaction at first either. I figured he was being dramatic or over-reacting to a bit of pain. But after chatting with Dayna of Lemon Lime Adventures who has a wealth of knowledge and experience with the sensory needs of children, I have learned that when my son has a reaction like that it is most likely due to sensory overload and not just pain.
What you didn’t see in that story above was the beginning. When Caden tripped and fell we were finishing up a family excursion at a local farm. We had just spent time walking in a corn maze, going on a hayride, picking apples and then pumpkins all on an unusually warm Autumn day. In the time span of an hour or so, Caden’s senses had absorbed so much!
Sensory overload occurs when one or more of the body’s senses experience over-stimulation from the environment. Click on the links to learn more about each of the seven senses and how they process information.
- Running, Walking and probably tripping at least once in the corn maze, riding in a wagon & on Daddy’s shoulders (Vestibular & Proprioceptive)
- All the sights and smells on the farm (Visual & Olfactory)
- The taste & crunch of an apple (Oral)
- The noises of animals, tractors and people all around (Auditory)
- And lets not forget the feel of dirt, hay, corn stalks, apples & pumpkins (Tactile)
The result when he tripped and fell was the last straw. He had a total meltdown! I had failed to see all the sensory input his little body had absorbed and missed any signals he had given indicating that he was nearing his sensory threshold.
Missed Sensory Signals
- Asks the be carried– This sensory signal may indicate that a child who is sensory sensitive is not feeling safe, or may be tired if they are challenged by physical activity.
- Startled by loud or sudden noises- This can signal auditory processing difficulties, or a child on the verge of fight or flight due to sensory overload.
- Holds hands together, fidgets with fingers– This is a signal that a child might be nervous about a new situation. It may be an attempt to regulate the senses and avoid sensory overload.
- Over-reacts to mild pain– This sensory signal indicates that your child may be very sensitive to tactile input and have overactive pain receptors. This type of reaction could also indicate that your child has issues with self-regulation or sensory modulation.
All children display different sensory signals, at different times according to the situation and the child. If you would like more information on understanding your child’s sensory signals and ideas for helping your child cope, I highly recommend the book Understanding Your Child’s Sensory Signals by Angie Voss, OTR. This book as helped me recognize certain behaviors as sensory signals and is full of tips on how to handle sensory behavior in children.
How We Respond to Sensory Signals
- Leave on a positive note– More often than not, when we are away from home and Caden starts to exhibit his tell-tale sensory signals that is our cue to leave. We would much rather leave on a positive note and not in the middle of a meltdown. This makes it easier for us to return without too much anxiety and have another positive experience.
- Provide a sensory break– Sometimes whether we are home or away, when Caden starts to get revved up, we take a break. We stop whatever we are doing that is causing the sensory overload, put away any distractions or leave the area. Sometimes a break is as simple as getting a snack and drink or using the bathroom. Other times we head outside, take out a quiet toy or relax on the couch and watch TV.
- Provide a sensory tool– Sensory tools are also another way we keep Caden’s senses in check. Some frequently used sensory tools in our home include play dough, squishy balls, noise reducing earmuffs, mini trampoline and yoga ball.
The Sensory Fix™ Toolkit from Project Sensory is a backpack filled to the brim with over 15 tools to help your child organize their sensory systems today. The kit comes with a 1 year membership to Project Sensory’s exclusive printables club (which is not available to anyone else at the moment). The kit also includes a Simple Companion Guide that visually shows how each item in the kit can support their child’s sensory needs, and a behavior chart that matches everyday kid behaviors to tools in the kit. As part of the Printables Club, members will receive a monthly newsletter with exclusive printables only available to them, one video, and a sensory tip they can use NOW. In addition, all printables added during the duration of their membership will be free to them (excluding any ebooks).
If you were to purchase the kit in stores or online separately, it would cost over $200, we are offering it at a 35% discount, including free printables for a year, and donating 1 Sensory Fix™ Kit to classrooms in need for every 20 kits purchased.
This post is part of the Decoding Everyday Kid Behaviors Series hosted by Lemon Lime Adventures as a way to bring awareness to Sensory Processing needs and celebrate the launch of Project Sensory. Project Sensory’s mission is to provide parents, educators, and caregivers with the resources, support and tools they need to help their children succeed at home and school. It is our goal to spread awareness of the importance of the sensory needs of ALL children. In fact, a percentage of every purchase of a Sensory Fix™ will help us put sensory tools into classrooms across America.
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