This thing happens to me all the time as a pediatric OT… I’m talking to parents during a consult, a play-date, or even in line at the grocery store, and the parent casually mentions, often in passing, an odd thing that their child does. Maybe their child walks around on their toes all the time, gags at some foods, or hates being messy? Sometimes they aren’t even that concerned about this odd “thing”. Often times, I know this “thing” their child is doing is a sensory processing behavior or red flag. Sensory processing can be very complicated and the truth is many parents have never heard about it. Some realize their child may have some sensory processing difficulties that cause sometimes odd, confusing, or frustrating behaviors. In these situations, I usually feel a bit stuck because sensory isn’t exactly a quick topic, especially for parents who’ve never even heard about it. If you’ve found your way here, my bet is that you know at least a little something about sensory, but if not, that is okay, too. Either way, I have an exciting solution to that problem, before I get to that, let’s talk about some red flags.
Today, I wanted to write about a few of the most overlooked sensory behaviors or red flags, so that parents can begin seeing why their child does seemingly odd or unusual things. Understanding why your child is waving a sensory red flag will help you help them! But before you even do that, you need to know what the heck this sensory thing is all about anyways? Because I know, that as I sit and write this, many of you are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated. It’s a reaction that I’ve seen too many times to count, and, to be honest, it gets my anxiety going up because I want to help you! I know the solution to that frustration and overwhelming feeling.
This post is part of how I’m trying to ease that anxiety, but in a much bigger way for a limited time I am by offering a seat in the NEW FREE Workshop I’m co-hosting: How to Create a Successful, No-Stress Sensory Diet for Kids with 4 Simple Steps
You will learn how to figure our what your child’s sensory needs are, and better yet, how to address them. You won’t want to miss this rare opportunity. Grab your seat before its gone!
There are loads of possible sensory behaviors your child may be exhibiting, but I’m going to share 10 with you that I think are the most over-looked. Meaning parents just don’t realize that sensory is the cause of the behavior. These are the behaviors I tend to hear about the most from other parents.
Before we dive into these behaviors, I want to make it VERY clear that just because your child may have one or several of these red flags, it doesn’t mean that they have sensory problems, autism, or any other diagnosis. We ALL have sensory processing needs and differences. Seeing your child’s behavior through the sensory lens will allow you to understand them and support their needs, which means less confusion and frustration for everybody!
10 Sensory Red Flags
1.Avoids Movement – If your child gets scared at climbing playground equipment, roughhousing, or riding a swing, they are likely avoiding vestibular and possibly proprioceptive input. Those are our sixth and seventh senses that give us our sense of balance and body awareness.
2. Gagging at the sight, taste, and smell of foods – Although not always sensory, gagging immediately when confronted with foods is often because the oral system is being overwhelmed.
3. Frequently walking on toes – Children often do this because they are sensitive to the sensations they are feeling on their feet and prefer as little of their foot to be touching the surface as possible. Sometime children toe-walk because they like the pressure it puts on their ankle, which is more proprioceptive feedback. Or, it can also be the result of a vestibular system that isn’t processing properly, read more about that here.
4. Clumsy – There are a variety of reasons that a child may seem to fall or bump into objects more than other children, and one of the most overlooked reasons is because the child’s proprioception and possibly vestibular systems aren’t working too well.
5. Hides at parties or avoids them – If your child hates going to parties or other public places, it is possible that they may be overstimulated by the noise, lights, and/or people accidentally touching them. For kids that have this response due to a sensory processing difficulty, a party can be downright torture as the sounds, sights, and unexpected touches can just be painful to them, literally.
6. Prefers tight clothing – Sometimes kids will want to layer clothes or wear really tight fitting clothing to give themselves more proprioceptive input. It may seem strange, but the sensation they receive is calming to them and may even help them focus better.
7. Wild child– There are a variety of reasons that kids seem to bounce off the walls at times, but kids that always seem to be jumping, climbing, running, pushing, and roughhousing are typically seeking out proprioceptive input, and sometimes vestibular as well. Unfortunately, these kids are often described as “bad” or wild, but really, they are just trying to get their needs met. Click here to read more about sensory strategies for wild kids.
8. Likes bright, fast paced TV shows – I know a lot of kids like these types of shows, but if your child only wants to watch fast, bright shows, than it may be an indication that they want more visual stimulation. If that is the case, your child may also like looking at lights and brightly colored or high contrast books.
9. Bites toys or people when unprovoked – If your child seems to bite others or their toys often, usually for no reason, they are probably looking for some deep, intense proprioceptive input.
10. Doesn’t seem to notice when being talked to or needs directions repeated – Yes, sometimes kids ignore, and sometimes this is normal, but if it is a frequent recurring issue than it is a sign that your child’s auditory or hearing system is not processing information well.
Is your child waving a red flag?
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All of these behaviors are like a red flag that your child is waving to tell you something about their sensory processing. It is a clue into what they need from a sensory standpoint (click here to read about understanding your sensory kid). That need may be help avoiding something like bright lights or seeking something like chewing on toys. To start figuring out what types of sensory activities might be helpful for your child, head over to my ultimate list of sensory diet activities. And for a short time, you can grab a seat in the free sensory workshop I’m co-hosting, which be packed with info you can start using now!
One last resource I want to share with you is my favorite sensory store, Fun and Function. Created by a mom and OT, you will be able to find lots of toys, supports, and tools for tons of sensory needs.
How About That Free Checklist?
You won’t want to miss this, I combined all of the red flags listed here and 11 more from part two of this post, aptly named: 11 Sensory Red Flags. You’ll want to check that post out, too, for all the details on those red flags, but make sure you snag your free sensory red flag checklist below!