Posts Tagged ‘sensory dysfunction’

Changing seasons can be tough for a child with sensory issues

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

change of seasonsChange. Change. Change. For kids with special needs, change is one of the hardest aspects of their lives.

Just when your child has mastered adjusting to a new school experience, she is then faced with having to get used to the change in season. The difference in going from wearing summer clothes to fall clothes may not seem like a problem to you – but for a child with sensory issues, this can be a HUGE hurdle.

There are different kinds of sensory issues, also known as sensory processing disorder (SPD) or sensory dysfunction. Whether SPD is considered its own diagnosis, or a symptom of a larger diagnosis is still being debated by experts. However, if your child suffers from sensory issues, understanding their world and figuring out how to help them is key.

In this post, I am going to focus on the sense of touch.

For a child who hates the feel of certain kinds of fabric or tags on their clothes, changing from a summer to a fall/winter wardrobe can be traumatic. A short sleeve t-shirt does not feel the same as a long sleeve t-shirt. A collarless shirt is much more comfortable than a collared shirt that touches the neck. A blouse with ridges where the buttons meet the fabric may cause distress. The switch from shorts, where legs are not dealing with the light touch of a pant leg, to that of long pants, can be a huge feat to master.

Fabrics can have a huge effect on a child with sensitivity to touch. The “feel” of every material is different. For example, a soft flannel without buttons or zippers is usually much more acceptable than a wool blend or polyester.

And, then there are shoes…putting on closed toe shoes after a summer of toes free to wiggle inside open sandals can be like trying to cage a lion.

Some tips that may help

  • If your child can’t adapt to the sudden change from a short sleeve shirt to a long sleeve shirt, try dressing him in a short sleeve shirt, but give him a soft sweater or sweatshirt to put on it if he gets cold.
  • For girls, instead of going straight from shorts to long pants, try a middle approach first – Capri pants (below the knee), skirts, or even skirt/short combinations known as “skorts” that end just below the knee may be a good middle ground before you graduate to long pants.
  • It is tougher for boys who usually have to go straight from shorts to pants. In this case, if soft cotton sweat pants are allowed in school, this may be your safest transition pant. (“Sweats” would work well for girls, too.) Once he gets used to having his legs completely covered, he may be more able to tolerate pants that are stiff or hold their shape, such as jeans or khakis. Keep in mind that some clothing companies make flannel lined jeans and khaki pants – they are soft inside, so the stiff fabric and the seams will not irritate your child’s skin.
  • Parents should keep in mind which fabrics work or don’t work for their child. My daughter used to tell me which fabric gave her “pinches and itches.” It does not help to push a fabric on your child if her skin can’t tolerate it. Let her pick the fabrics that feel good to her – you’ll both be happier.
  • As far as shoes are concerned, for girls, “ballet flats” which are more open than sneakers or lace-up shoes can be a good transition shoe. They are not as rigid as typical shoes which will be more comfortable. For boys, short spurts of wearing shoes or sneakers may help your child slowly get used to the weight and feeling of a closed toe.

Other ideas

Your child can’t help the way she feels. The more you understand her issues, the more you can help her.

 

Sensory difficulties in children

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Itchy shirt. Icky foods. Hair brushing is a nightmare. Shoes won’t stay on. Sounds make him cringe.
child dislikes food

Picky child or sensory dysfunction?

Our five senses: taste, smell, hearing, touch and sight help us navigate so much of our world. But for some children (and even adults), their senses are especially heightened and can interfere with daily life in a negative way.

•    Taste and smell
Parents often complain that their child can’t tolerate the taste or smell of many foods. Feeding their child becomes a nightmare. When my daughter was little, she would only eat approximately 10 foods (if that). She did not like the taste or smell of most foods and could not stay in the same room when I was cooking broccoli or another offending food.  She preferred sweets to salty treats, and a vegetable would not pass her lips (she would rather die fighting!).  Even if cajoled or bribed (yes – I bribed her) to eat a new food, she would often gag on it because the taste, smell or texture was too awful for her. As she grew up she would relate that she wanted to eat more foods, and was not happy that she had such a limited range of foods she found acceptable to eat. But, alas, it was not something she could control.

•    Sound
child coveringn earsAnother common sensory complaint is that of a hearing sensitivity. Certain sounds or noises are painful to hear. I am not talking about a rock concert or music being cranked on the highest volume. The bothersome sounds could be the barking of a dog, the crinkling of tin foil, the din of the voices in a cafeteria, the sound of a blender, hair dryer or vacuum cleaner. Typical sounds are abnormally loud to a child with a sound sensitivity and may cause him to cover his ears (at best) or disengage socially (at worst).

•    Touch
Other children are extra sensitive to touch. For example, they hate the feeling of certain clothes against their skin. They dislike getting dressed or undressed, and may have a vast wardrobe but will only wear three outfits! Clothes that are scratchy, have tags or are not soft enough for their skin will be tossed aside.  They may resist going into a bath (or getting out of the bath) due to the uncomfortable sensory changes on their skin. Similarly, applying sunscreen becomes a feat in and of itself.

•    Sight
Lastly, some children are extra sensitive visually. For example, bright lights, flashing lights and the change from indoor light to sunlight can make them close their eyes or head in the opposite direction.

Any one of the above sensory issues can wreak havoc on your child’s life – and yours. Some children have difficulties with more than one sense, too. There is debate as to whether sensory dysfunction is a diagnosis in and of itself, or if it is a symptom of a larger diagnosis (such as ADHD, autism, or another disorder). The important thing to remember is that for whatever reason, and whatever you want to call it, these sensory issues are real challenges in your child’s life.

In many cases, these sensitivities may be reduced through occupational therapy (read this post on OT) and through other kinds of treatments. If your child is extra sensitive, speak with his pediatrician and ask if OT or another kind of treatment may be helpful.

Stay tuned for future blog posts on treatment options and helpful hints for the above sensory issues.

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” in the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date (just keep scrolling down). We welcome your comments and input. If you have questions, please send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.