Sensory issues are often first recognized during the toddler years, when parents notice that a child has an unusual aversion to noise, light, shoes that are deemed too tight and clothes that are irritating. They may also notice clumsiness and trouble climbing stairs, and difficulty with fine motor skills like wielding a pencil and fastening buttons. More baffling — and alarming — to parents are children who exhibit extreme behaviors, such as:
- Screaming if their faces get wet
- Throwing tantrums when you try to get them dressed
- Having an unusually high or low pain threshold
- Crashing into walls and even people
- Putting inedible things, including rocks and paint, into their mouths
These and other atypical behaviors may reflect sensory issues — difficulty integrating information from the senses. Children with sensory issues may be overwhelmed by too much sensory input (i.e., hyper-sensitivity), or receive too little (i.e., hypo-sensitivity), which causes them to bump into and rub against things, in order to feel more. Sensory problems are now considered a symptom of autism because the majority of children and adults on the spectrum also have sensory issues.
When the brain struggles to deal with sensory input like sound, light and smell, kids can become overwhelmed and may have a tendency to flee to a more calming environment, become aggressive, or experience a severe meltdown.
In the majority of cases, sensory issues become significantly milder and less interfering as kids get older. Skills learned in occupational therapy and environmental accommodations can help limit the impact of sensory issues as kids get older.