Have you ever experienced or know someone with a child screaming in public while covering their ears or eyes? For some seemingly unknown reason, they might have a loud and sometimes violent reaction episode without anyone apparent trigger. It is common to mistake this as a child throwing a tantrum.
However, there is a difference between a tantrum and someone going through sensory meltdown. Tantrums have a purpose and is intended to produce an outcome for the person from those around the child; often the parent, guardian, or teacher. Whereas, sensory meltdown is beyond the child’s control due to their reaction to stimuli or other environmental factors. For example, a child throwing a tantrum will stop crying after getting what they want, such as an ice cream cone or their phone. On the other hand, a child with sensory meltdown will not stop by you “giving in” to the child.
In the case of a meltdown, the child is not making demands for anything specific.
Meltdowns can occur due to excessive stimuli, also known as ‘hypersensitivity’. This happens when they have an extreme sensitivity to the 5 senses. These sensory experiences include sight, touch, hearing, taste, and smell. A child with hypersensitivity may react differently depending on their cognitive function disorders. Even hugging can be uncomfortable for them. It is important to know the child’s preferences so as to avoid sensory overload. Here are the 5 common sensitivities they may react to:
- Loud noises
- Bright or flashing lights
- Fast or rapid movement
- Strong odours
- Unfamiliar fabric or clothing
Sensory Integration is the process of the brain organizing and interpreting information and forms the way we learn & behave. There are ways to reduce sensitivity such as using earplugs or listening to calm music to avoid the noise or removing the child completely from the environment. Each of the child’s senses should be assessed to discover the best ways to cope in order for them to build up tolerance to their specific triggers.
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