Bright lights, crowded rooms, family meals, late nights, cheerful music. The holidays are full of wonderful sights, smells and sounds. But for some children, holiday gatherings can be difficult for their sensory systems to navigate.
Everyone has sensory needs. As we mature, we become aware and begin to adapt to our needs. We may realize that we are able to stay more alert during a meeting by having a snack, sipping water or tapping our foot. We know that when we begin to feel overwhelmed by a crowded room or noisy environment, we may need to take a walk or take some deep breaths. Music may help to calm or stimulate us to be more productive during our day.
The way in which we interpret and add meaning to the various sensations that we experience is called Sensory Processing. This includes not only our senses of touch, sight, smell, taste and hearing, but also our body's reactions to gravity and movement. Sensory Processing Disorders can occur when sensory signals don't get to where they need to go in the brain. This can be likened to a "traffic jam" that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. When this happens, children may over-react to certain sensations or may seem not to notice those sensations at all. Other children may even seem to seek out certain sensory experiences.
These symptoms can mimic or mask other difficulties or disabilities. For example, some children with sensory processing differences may appear to have similar symptoms to children diagnosed with ADHD or Autism. The addition of simple sensory activities for these children can reduce or help manage those symptoms. However, many children with Autism and ADHD may also have sensory processing differences so it is important to contact your child’s school and work with a professional such as an Occupational Therapist in order to properly determine your child's needs.
Some children may be sensitive or over-react to sensory experiences. These children:
Some children may react less to sensory experiences. They may either not seem to notice various sensations, or may seem to crave certain experiences. These children: