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Navigating Sensory Overload: A Guide for Children with Sensory Processing Difficulties

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Child with sensory processing difficulties

For some children, the world can be an overwhelming place. The hum of a refrigerator, the buzz of a crowd, or the flicker of fluorescent lights can be more than just annoying - they can be downright distressing. These children may be dealing with sensory processing difficulties, a condition that affects how they perceive and respond to sensory information. This comprehensive guide aims to delve deeper into understanding these difficulties and provide coping strategies for these children and their families.

A Deeper Understanding of Sensory Processing Difficulties

Sensory processing difficulties refer to the challenges some people face when processing sensory information like touch, sound, and movement. These individuals may have a different sensory threshold compared to their peers, leading to unique sensory experiences.

Children with sensory processing difficulties may be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to sensory stimuli. Hypersensitivity, or sensory avoiding, is when children find sensory stimuli too intense or overwhelming. They might recoil from touch, cover their ears in response to loud noises, or get easily distracted by background sensory information.

On the other hand, hyposensitivity, or sensory seeking, is when children require more intense sensory input to register the same sensations as others. They might enjoy spinning or swinging, seek out loud music, or prefer strong flavors and textures.

It's important to note that sensory processing difficulties exist on a spectrum, and each child's experience is unique. Some children might show both hypersensitive and hyposensitive behaviors, depending on the type of sensory input or their current sensory state.

Sensory Overload: An In-depth Look at When Noise Becomes Overwhelming

One common manifestation of sensory processing difficulties is sensory overload. This occurs when a person is exposed to more sensory input than they can comfortably process. It's like trying to listen to a radio station when all the stations are playing at once - the sensory information becomes overwhelming and impossible to decipher.

For children with sensory processing difficulties, everyday environments can be a minefield of sensory overload. A busy classroom with its chatter, movement, and visual stimuli can be overwhelming. A noisy cafeteria can be a cacophony of clattering trays, scraping chairs, and loud conversations.

When children experience sensory overload, they might respond by covering their ears, shutting their eyes, or even having a meltdown. Some children might try to escape the situation, leading to them hiding under tables or running out of rooms.

The Crucial Role of Occupational Therapy in Managing Sensory Processing Difficulties

Occupational therapy plays a vital role in helping children with sensory processing difficulties navigate their sensory world. Occupational therapists are trained to understand the sensory system and can provide valuable insights and strategies to help children and their families manage sensory processing difficulties.

Occupational therapists can assess a child's sensory needs and develop a personalized sensory diet - a set of activities tailored to help a child stay focused and organized throughout the day. This might involve specific movements, like jumping or swinging, tactile activities like playing with putty, or oral activities like chewing crunchy foods.

In addition to creating a sensory diet, occupational therapists can also provide sensory integration therapy. This form of therapy uses specific activities in a structured, repetitive way to help the brain respond more effectively to sensory input. Over time, this can help children respond more appropriately to sensory stimuli and reduce incidents of sensory overload.


Navigating sensory overload can be a challenging journey for children with sensory processing difficulties and their families. However, with a deeper understanding of these difficulties, the right strategies, and the support of professionals like occupational therapists, these children can learn to manage sensory input and thrive in their daily lives.


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