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Navigating Sensory Overload with Your Child and Are Looking for Help?


Family is restroom building sensory resilience.

An Introductory Guide for Parents of Exceptionally Wired Children Navigating Sensory Overload


Believe me...they are not overexaggerating, being too "sensitive," or just making a big deal out of nothing! And telling them to get over it or suck it up is causing trauma and pain. Ouch!


From personal experience raising our five adopted Exceptionally Wired children, we know that sensory overload is not something to blow off. I remember our youngest screaming with tears when Mom was gently brushing her hair. We couldn't let any of the different foods touch the plate our oldest son would refuse to eat. With the others, certain smells produce a gag reflex or require that all the tags be removed from their clothes and their socks feel just right.


I guess I didn't realize how much I was sensitive to various things until experiencing it with them and finding out my own Exceptional Wiring (neurodivergence) at a later age. What is downright awful is when, as adults, we minimize, shame, and hurt our children who have legitimate neurodevelopmental sensory overload.


Navigating the sensory world of our Exceptionally Wired children is not easy. They are neurodivergent, trauma-impacted, or facing mental health challenges. But it is the most amazing journey you'll ever be on. This blog post introduces practical, effective strategies from my brand-new Navigating Sensory Overload Playbook. I wrote it with you in mind and wanted to share some highlights with you.


Understanding Sensory Overload


What is Sensory Overload?

Sensory overload occurs when the brain receives more input from the senses than it can process. Our Exceptionally Wired children find everyday places overwhelming. This is because they are very sensitive to sensory stimuli, which can be tremendously painful and debilitating. These places include school, shopping centers, and social and family gatherings (think about the sensory levels at Christmas!).

Common triggers include loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, and certain textures. Recognizing these triggers is the first step toward helping your child manage sensory overload.


Impact on Toddlers to Teens

The effects of sensory overload can vary by age. Younger children might express their discomfort by crying, throwing tantrums, or trying to escape. Older children and teens might become withdrawn, anxious, or fidgety and avoid all social interactions. These reactions are not intentional misbehavior. They are responses to overwhelming stimuli. Understanding this is crucial for providing the right support.


 


The Navigating Sensory Overload Playbook

 

Recognizing the Signs and Triggers


Signs of Sensory Overload

Recognizing the signs of sensory overload is essential. Common indicators include:


  • Physical Signs: Covering ears, eyes, or nose; flinching at touch; repetitive motions like rocking or spinning.

  • Emotional Signs: Sudden crying, outbursts of anger, increased anxiety, or mood swings.

  • Behavioral Signs: Avoiding some places, fleeing, or becoming very withdrawn or aggressive (fight/flight/freeze).

  • Communication Signs: Verbal expressions of discomfort, such as "It's too loud!" or reluctance to engage in activities.


Common Triggers

Identifying what triggers sensory overload in your child can help mitigate and teach them important regulation strategies. Typical triggers include:


  • Auditory Stimuli: Loud noises, overlapping conversations, or sudden sounds.

  • Visual Stimuli: Bright lights, flashing lights, or visually busy environments.

  • Tactile Stimuli: Uncomfortable clothing textures, light touch, or crowded spaces.

  • Olfactory Stimuli: Strong smells from foods, perfumes, or cleaning products.

  • Gustatory Stimuli: Certain tastes and textures of food that are unpleasant or overwhelming.


 
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Implementing Resilient Building (Calming) Techniques


Creating a Sensory-Friendly Environment

Making adjustments to reduce sensory stress and promote comfort can help a lot. It can make a big difference. Here are some strategies:


  • Auditory Adjustments: Use noise-canceling headphones, create quiet zones, and minimize background noise.

  • Visual Adjustments: Use soft, dimmable lights and reduce clutter. Also, allow breaks from intense visual activities.

  • Tactile Adjustments: Provide clothing with comfy textures. Offer weighted blankets. And create spaces with soft furniture.

  • Olfactory Adjustments: Use unscented products and be mindful of strong smells in the environment.

  • Gustatory Adjustments: Introduce new foods gradually and respect your child's sensory preferences.


Effective Calming Techniques

Implementing specific calming techniques can help soothe sensory overload effectively. Here are some proven methods:


  • Deep Pressure Activities: Use weighted blankets, compression clothing, and firm hugs to provide a calming effect.

  • Movement Breaks: Engage in activities like jumping on a trampoline, stretching, and swinging to help regulate the vestibular system.

  • Quiet Time Activities: Create a quiet space with soft pillows, blankets, and low lighting for your child to retreat to when overwhelmed.

  • Visual Supports: Use picture schedules, social stories, and visual timers to help your child understand and anticipate daily routines.

  • Mindfulness and Breathing Exercises: Practice deep breathing and guided imagery to help your child manage stress and anxiety.



Fostering Emotional Regulation and Supportive Environments


Building Strong Relationships

Strong relationships are key to promoting emotional well-being. Children can handle challenges better by forming secure attachments with caregivers, teachers, and peers. They can also regulate their emotions well. Encourage open communication. Encourage empathy and active listening. They create a supportive network that nurtures emotional resilience.


Community Support

Community support plays a vital role in the Thriving Resilience Model (TRM). Collaborating with educators, psychologists, and other parents can provide a comprehensive support system for your child. This sense of belonging and community is crucial for their emotional and social development.


Case Study: Ethan’s Journey to Thriving Resilience

Meet Ethan

Ethan, a 7-year-old diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), has unique strengths and interests. His exceptional memory and love for building with LEGO sets highlight his cognitive abilities and creativity. However, Ethan struggled with loud noises, leading to meltdowns in noisy environments.


Implementing TRM Strategies

With the help of their parent & family coach, Ethan’s parents implemented several strategies from the TRM to support him. They created a sensory-friendly corner at home with noise-canceling headphones, a weighted blanket, and calming visual aids.

At school, they collaborated with teachers to allow Ethan to use a quiet room during lunch. Over time, Ethan learned to recognize the signs of sensory overload and use the provided strategies to manage his reactions.


Outcome

With tailored supports, Ethan’s meltdowns decreased significantly, and he became more comfortable and engaged in both home and school environments. His story illustrates how understanding, patience, and creativity can unlock the potential within every child.


Thriving Resilience: Beyond Managing Challenges


Empowering Your Child with Thriving Resilience

Thriving resilience is about more than managing challenges. It’s about celebrating your child's unique qualities and nurturing their abilities. Encourage their passions. Give them chances to explore and grow their interests. This holistic approach helps children excel and find joy in their unique abilities.


Our Children Need Us More than We Can Imagine

We need to understand and empathize with our Exceptionally Wired children. We also need practical strategies for dealing with their sensory overload. We can help our children thrive by recognizing the signs and triggers. We can use calming techniques and foster supportive environments.

Remember, your efforts make a significant difference in your child's journey towards comfort and confidence. Together, we can create a world where every child can flourish and reach their fullest potential.

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or need further support. Your dedication to understanding and supporting your Exceptionally Wired child is truly commendable.


 

The Navigating Sensory Overload Playbook


Curious about ways to successfully implement this playbook through coaching?


You can book a Free 30 Minute Strategy Session with me to discover and design a strategy to support your Excepionally Wired Toddler to Teen. It’s 30 minutes well spent.




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