Common challenges for kids with sensory processing issues

Children with sensory processing issues can be oversensitive or under-sensitive to the world around them: sounds, touch, tastes, smells and sights.

The condition is more common than most realise, affecting around 1 in 20 children. Because it varies in severity and symptoms, what one child finds challenging might not worry another.

If you suspect your child has sensory processing issues, it’s important to chat with your doctor. Firstchance can also provide your family with personalised support services and advice.

Here are some common challenges for kids, and how to provide your child with support.

Anxiety about wearing certain clothing

Some children are extremely sensitive to the way textures feel against their skin. They might pull at hemlines, wriggle in loose clothing or downright refuse to wear tight-fitting shoes. It can make dressing for school difficult—for both parents and children. Try cutting off tags, buying seamless socks, or avoiding clothes and materials that trigger anxious behaviours.

Being unsure about physical boundaries

When your sense of touch is heightened, everything around you becomes more inviting. You may notice your child touches every item on the grocery store shelf, or strokes another child’s hair or clothes. While some children with sensory processing issues avoid touching or being touched, others are fascinated by textures. Before going to social gatherings, like a birthday party, it can be helpful to talk with your child about who will be there and what to expect, and discuss rules and boundaries.

Struggling to eat certain foods

This goes beyond being a picky eater. Children with sensory processing issues may become defensive and upset about the way foods look, smell, feel and taste. They might complain that food is too mushy (spaghetti or potato), crunchy (apples or biscuits), or smelly (fish or egg). If your child only eats 10 types of food or less, this could be a red flag that something is amiss.

Being overwhelmed by crowds, noise and lights

A crowded, busy room can be sensory overload for some children. For example, a bustling shopping centre could cause them to have a meltdown, display repetitive behaviour, make loud noises, or take their shoes off. In a playground, they might avoid situations where they’ll bump into others or where they have to touch surfaces they don’t like—such as the cold rungs of a ladder. They might refuse to play outside, or hide under tables when a room gets busy. Taking note of your child’s triggers will help both of you prepare for new and potentially unsettling situations.

Not realising when they’ve been hurt

Being under-sensitive to touch can lend some children an extremely high pain tolerance. This can be tremendously dangerous for children, causing them to take risks. You might notice your child climbs higher than other children, or plays too rough, oblivious to any injuries they receive along the way. It can be scary and bewildering for parents. Be careful about putting safety measures in place, such as talking with them about limits and gentle play, and ensuring your child is always supervised.

Got questions? We’re here to help. You can reach us on (02) 4910 3130.