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Bright light, loud noise, ahhhh!!! Why does my child get overwhelmed by the environment?

“Too loud” “Too bright” “I don’t like the feeling” “That bothers me!”
“Don’t be so sensitive” “What’s wrong with you?” “I can’t believe that bothers you!

Living with Hypersensitivity

What does it feel like?

Sensory regulation can affect a person’s daily living and behaviors. Sensory dysregulation can affect a person’s attention span.

Sensory regulation is part of the physical needs. Think about this: how do you feel when you are hungry or when you need to go to the bathroom? Do you feel uncomfortable, angry, or anxious? Are you able to focus on a task?

That is how a child may feel when they are not able to regulate sensory input.

Once a child’s sensory needs are met, they will be able to stay on task in school and at home.

What is hypersensitivity?

Hypersensitivity means a person is overly sensitive to physical, emotional, and sensory stimuli from their environment. A person who is highly sensitive, or has a low tolerance or low threshold may feel things more intensely than others. They may also be easily overwhelmed by sensory stimuli, such as bright lights, loud noise, strong smells or certain textures.

Sensory processing not only includes 5 senses, but also includes our balance (vestibulation) and body awareness (proprioception). People with hypersensitivity may be sensitive to balance and movement.

Sometimes, a person may not be able to find out what triggers or overwhelms them, especially with children. Children often throw tantrums, and exhibit avoidance or even aggressive behaviors when they get overwhelmed from the environment/surroundings. If the stimulation continues or if the child is unable to self-regulate, then a meltdown can happen.

What will I see in my child?

  1. Dislikes haircuts or nail trimming

  2. Dislikes clothing tags

  3. Prone to motion sickness

  4. Sensitive to loud noise or bright light

  5. Discomfort, yelling, screaming, running away in a noisy environment

  6. Picky eater

  7. Sensitivity to certain textures, smells or tastes

How can I help my child with hypersensitivity?

It’s typical to see hypersensitivity on children with ASD, ADHD, and SPD

If your child is showing behaviors, such as crying, screaming, rocking back and forth or covering the ears, your child is telling you that they are feeling overwhelmed with sensory input and they need a break.

  1. Find out what triggers the child: noise, light, smell. or movement

  2. Remove the child from the stimulation/environment

  3. Consult an Occupational Therapist to formally assess your child’s sensory regulation and sensory needs

Sensory processing issues can be lifetime and can be helped through proper therapy. Occupational therapy can help with sensory processing and sensory regulation.

People with hypersensitivity may experience anxiety or be overwhelmed. If you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed by sensory stimuli, reach out to occupational therapist or mental health professionals.

I am proud to be an occupational therapist. Ella Wu, OTD, OTR/L Doctor of Occupational Therapy
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