Aunt Juniper: MAKING SENSE OF SENSORY SENSITIVITY

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Dear Aunt Juniper,

My darling daughter seems to be totally freaking out about wearing different clothes. She will only wear one pair of shoes, not boots or wellies, and she only likes short sleeved t shirts and dresses – as she says the arms are too itchy, even on the softest cardigans.

When she was tiny she would cry at any type of messy play and even now hates having dirty hands (aged 3 ½). She also has a meltdown nearly every time I strap her into her car seat as she says the straps are too tight and uncomfortable. I’m not sure I can cope with another meltdown on the way to preschool or in the supermarket car park.

I’m really worried this is more than just a phase! I have googled some of these issues and one term that seems to be used is sensory processing difficulty…I’m baffled as to what this means and worried there is something seriously wrong.

Please help!

From, Battle-Weary

Dear Battle-Weary,

Firstly, as a parent can say that I totally understand the meltdown moments, just as you need to be somewhere or are in a busy car park trying to avoid being knocked over by inconsiderate drivers! I have over 10 years of experience as a children’s Occupational Therapist, working with children and young adults with sensory processing difficulties. And even I have sometimes found it hard to know if my two young children are being ‘awkward’ or have problems!

To start with, let me tell you in simple terms what sensory processing is. It’s how we make sense of the world around us and how we behave in it. Turning messages received from the senses into an appropriate motor or behavioural response.

The neurological system is complex, and it is thought that in some people those sensations and signals can get confused, resulting in lots of different things – including a high sensitivity to touch and other tactile responses. Children are affected differently depending on the area of the disorder. Maybe they are very sensitive to certain noises or smells, or maybe they avoid loud places such as supermarkets for no apparent reason, or perhaps cry when confronted with them. Perhaps they avoid activities that challenge their senses, such as swinging or going on a slide or fast roundabout.

It sounds to me like your child MAY, and I emphasise MAY, be struggling with their tactile system. But this is very hard to diagnose without meeting them or talking directly to you. It is also difficult to know sometimes, without seeing the bigger picture, whether or not it’s an assertiveness thing (i.e. your darling child wanting independence) or a real sensory issue.

My advice is to talk to your child’s key-worker at nursery or pre-school to see if they seen the same behaviours. If they do, and you are all concerned, then have a chat with your health visitor about seeing an OT. Most authorities will have a portage team (under 5’s) with a multidisciplinary team of OTs, physios, psychologists etc to help. If you draw a blank with this then go to your GP and ask for a referral to an OT. They may talk about running a sensory profile to help determine whether or not your child has a sensory processing disorder. If they do then they will help with activities to develop that area of their system, and with strategies for managing some of the behaviours you are dealing with. Most importantly they will help to reassure you that things can change. As children grow and develop, their sensory systems change and grow too. We all know how one day your child will love a certain food and then the next day deny all knowledge of ever liking it! OR one day love pink and the next hate it!!! They are fickle characters that are learning to be proper people and everything that comes with it.

In the meantime my friendly advice would be to find the clothes she will wear and buy more than one of them. Perhaps put tights or thick long socks with wellies if she finds them irritating. I have used small pieces of soft sheepskin type material under belt straps to avoid hard nylon straps cutting in on car seats and buggy straps. Wash new clothes before you ask her to wear them.

Choose you battles; think about what is important and what isn’t. Car seats are important as they are for safety, wet feet in the rain will not dissolve!

Good luck, I hope this has been a little bit helpful.

Lots of Love,

Aunt Juniper* xx

 

*On this occasion, Aunt Juniper was Liz Weedon, a Mum of two girls, 8 and 6 and Occupational Therapist for 14 years, specialising in Paediatrics for 12 years.

She has a special interest in mainstream children with coordination and developmental disorders and children with complex needs. Liz currently works for a charity with young adults with Autism and learning difficulties devising individual curriculums to develop independent living skills. When not at work she likes to keep busy with her small menagerie of animals, ride her bike, taxi her children to various clubs and drink gin!!

 

FROM THE MUMMY’S GIN FUND FACEBOOK COLLECTIVE:

‘Yup – we’re here too. I think it’s really common at this age and I was getting worried about sensory issues but hearing the same from lots of friends. Just need to take a deep breath I think and it’ll pass. We have it with sleeves getting tucked up in coats/cardis, socks or tights that are too long in the foot so the heel rides up and knicker elastic being scratchy! Also sensitive to wind now! It used to be food textures but that has now improved. X’

‘Check her clothes and shoes inside and out for seams and labels that can be tucked away or cut out or softened somehow. X’

‪’Thank god it’s not just us then! Though obviously, I wish none of us had to go through it. It’s unbearable and I have very little patience at the moment as I’m not sleeping very well. Have shouted at her twice today about it – and feel terrible as she’s already struggling with being left at preschool.’

‘I was one of those children: very easy going usually but leggings, tops with necks too high, etc., were a no no. I was known to refuse to walk on slightly rocky surfaces but walk for miles on surfaces I thought were OK. Everything else I was easy going and happy as Larry! Think I’m pretty normal now…’ 

‘My nearly 8 year old was terrible with this sort of thing, particularly with clothes and although she’s still fussy on certain things, she’s MUCH better. Some of her things included meltdowns over having to have her socks perfectly positioned on her feet with no wrinkles, no labels on any items and shoes to be so snugly fitting they are probably damaging her growing feet. It can be very annoying, but these days we tease her about it and she can laugh at herself too. She’s a bit of a perfectionist in everything but is now able to see reason, although we still argue about shoes when she’s insisting that they are too big (when we both know the blooming shop person measured her feet and fitted them properly!) Good luck, take a deep breath and store them all up for things to laugh at her about when she’s older! X’

‘I was a nanny of 17 years previously and can say that what you have described is perfectly normal and common behaviour, albeit very frustrating for the parent/carer!!! All children and adults have quirks, it’s what makes us unique! Hopefully it will pass and down to impending arrival. Good luck.’

‘Just wanted to add a link to a book ‪http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sensational-Kids…/dp/039916782X I’m finding it very helpful and positive about sensory processing issues.’

‘I am very much living with this at the moment. We are now seeing an OT via Kaleidoscope thanks to some suggestions on MGF. Interestingly, the OT said that sensory processing is very in vogue at the moment and lots of people are diagnosing that kids have this when it may not be. My daughter hates getting dressed, won’t wear socks, has 2 pairs of pants that she rotates wearing. It all started with shoe issues however we think there is an underlying anxiety issue.’

‘If it’s only a recent thing, maybe roll with it and if it’s not improving then seek advice?’

‘What you are describing sounds most definitely like normal behaviour! Don’t Google!!!! Just go with your gut instinct!!! Enjoy!’ 

‘My daughter was referred to Deborah Ubee Trust in Greenwich for them to help access. ‪http://www.thedeborahubeetrust.org.uk/node/16.’ 

‘My son keeps insisting on having his trousers rolled up… Even if I put him in shorts they’re not “high enough!” I hadn’t given it much thought tbh but sounds a bit like the same sleeves thing. Prima-donnas reminding us how much they need us especially with number 2 coming!!’

www.amazon.co.uk/Raising-Your…/dp/0060923288. Get this book, you’ll need it..’ 

‘It’s all about the sleeves in our house. If they get stuck rolled up, it’s GAME OVER.’

‘So glad it’s not just mine…’ 

‘Alas, toddlers are like mini teenagers – much over reaction goes on and they will push every available button to see if you cave in! It is a phase for most – you just need to have a will of iron whenever they are being OTT or more importantly chose your moments when to let them wear something utterly ridiculous. It sounds awful but we had the same with a coat – chosen with much input from offspring, who then came up with every excuse not to wear until the day she wore a lightweight jacket when it was snowing outside. We made sure we left early and sure enough, within 50 metres she wanted to go to change her coat. Also had a thing about labels in underwear so she cut them all out. The other one refused to wear socks for ages (you can imagine what starting school was like….). They are both more reasonable now but the youngest (now 8) still removes her socks the moment she gets past the front door!’

‘Deep breath and carry on…..it is unfortunately just one of those things.’

‘Sensory disorders tend to manifest themselves in other more complex issues rather than a like or dislike to tactile things! Also remember there are things as adults that we don’t like! I hate jeans, they’re too scrunchy!!!’ 

’My little boy has just turned 3 and will not wear coats, jackets, body warmers, or wellies !!!! I dread these rainy days.’

‪’She could be a highly sensitive child.’

‘Having had three kids I think this is just a normal part of growing up and them trying to push boundaries and control things. It’s a learning experience for them and us but they do get over it at least for a little while until they hit the tween years!’

 

Note: These are suggestions from members of Mummy’s Gin Fund based on experience and should not be treated as official advice. Any action taken is at your own risk. Always seek professional advice if you have any questions or concerns about any aspect of your life.

Always consult NHS 111, your GP, health visitor or A&E for professional medical advice.

 

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Founder of MGF, Helen is a mum of four who spends way too much time on the interweb and not enough time in bed. She loves wearing her dressing gown, car boot sales and watching TV programmes featuring food. Her specialist subjects include 'how to overfill your car boot' and 'how to avoid dusting'. Follow her at Twitter: @Ginfund, Facebook: @MGFund, Instagram: @mummysginfund and online: www.mummysginfund.co.uk.

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