#45 - What Are Signs of Sensory Issues?

Oct 22, 2023
#45 - What Are Signs of Sensory Issues?

Hello my friend! It feels like it’s been forever since I’ve been on here chatting with you. In truth, it’s really only been 3 weeks, but it’s been about 5 weeks since I’ve done a solo episode with you. And I’ve missed it. 


If you’re on the email list, or follow me on social media, you know that J.R. and I took a little vacation to Denmark, and we had the best time disconnecting from social media and work and connecting with each other. 


Travel is definitely our shared hobby, and I love experiencing new places - whether it be an hour away in Florida, or all the way to Europe. Do you have a favorite place that you’ve ever traveled to? If you do, jump over to instagram and DM me @DrSamGoldman. I’m always looking for new places and I would love to hear your faves. My favorite place we’ve been so far is Adelboden, Switzerland. We went in May and it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. 


But, as of this week I am officially back to work, and so ready to jump in with you. And in this episode of the podcast, episode #45, our focus is on discussing some of the signs of sensory issues.


When you’re first starting out on your sensory journey, one of the questions that always pops up is - Sam, how do I know if my child does have sensory issues?


So I wanted to walk you through that today. 


The very first thing we need to talk about here is - what qualifies as sensory “issues.”


Because the truth is, if you asked any single person in the world, they would have a sensory quirk. And I’ll tell you some of mine - because I do have some strong sensory quirks. For example, I absolutely cannot stand the sound and feel of saran wrap. Even just the thought of it, and talking about it right now gives me literally goosebumps on my arms. I also feel similarly about having buttons on my dresses or shirts. For some reason, the visual look and feel of buttons is overwhelming to my brain. But does that automatically mean it’s an issue?


Let’s break this down. 


When we talk about a sensory issue, we want to look at how these sensory preferences or quirks affect our life on a daily basis. 


So for example, with Saran wrap. It’s not something I need to use everyday. In fact, as a more- eco-conscious household, it’s not something I really need to keep in the house at all. It’s not something I encounter regularly. And the truth is, if I did, I would be able to get past my dislike of it, and use it, I just wouldn’t be thrilled about it. 


The same goes for buttons - I mostly buy clothing without buttons. But when I was a child I attended a school that required uniforms. And you guessed it, they had buttons. And I wore them. It didn’t cause me a lot of distress, it wasn’t a daily fight, I just didn’t love doing it. 


So in this case, these preferences are merely my preferences - they don’t cause an issue for me on a day to day basis. 


On the other hand, let’s talk about an example where it would be considered an issue. Say you had a child who is more sensitive to loud sounds, like the hand dryer in the bathroom, or the flushing of toilets. 


Chances are, at home, you’ve found some techniques that work, whether that be them standing outside when you flush the toilet, or giving them the control to flush it when they’re ready & can cover their ears. 

But…then you try to use a public restroom. Where the hand-dryers are going off constantly, and the flushing is unexpected and uncontrolled. 


And whenever you go in there, it’s a nightmare for you and your child. They’re crying before you even go in, they don’t want to sit on the toilet, they’re covering their ears but it’s still too loud. By the time you're done, both you and them are totally shut down, and they may even be having accidents because they absolutely do not want to go in that bathroom.


That is where it more qualifies as an issue. It’s keeping them from participating in life, and doing a basic need - which is going to the bathroom. And this is something you likely need to do pretty regularly. 


On the other hand, if you don’t really use public bathrooms, or you’ve figured out a solution, maybe it’s not such an issue for you. But for many families it is.

So all of this to say. How do we determine if it’s an issue? As an occupational therapist we usually determine if it’s a sensory issue if it impacts your life and participation on a daily or regular basis.


That leads us to our next question - how do we know if it’s SENSORY issue. We can have tons of issues on a daily basis that aren’t sensory related. 


We usually determine if it’s sensory related by considering if the challenge is associated with one of our 8 senses. As a reminder those senses are our senses of touch, vision, sound, taste, smell, body awareness, head movement, and what is going on inside our body.


Otherwise known as our tactile, visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory, proprioceptive, vestibular, and interoceptive senses. If these senses are known to you, especially the proprioceptive, vestibular, and interoceptive, do not worry, I've got some education coming for you in December.

So what we want to do is look at these senses individually and determine if the challenges might be related to one of those. 


I want to give you an example of this. So maybe a child or adult is having difficulty getting dressed in the morning. We want to really hone in WHY it’s a challenge. Is it because they just don’t want to go to school or work?

Or is it because the clothing they are trying to put on doesn’t feel right for their body? Are they upset by the tags on the clothing? Do the clothes feel too tight, even if they are appropriately sized? Does it feel too scratchy or itchy on their skin?

In these cases, I’m starting to wonder if their touch sense might be a little on the sensitive side. I’m also wondering about the proprioceptive sense, which measures and feels deep pressure - does the pressure of the clothing on their skin feel like too much. 


From here, as an OT, I’m usually going to start diving deeper into that sense. I want to really see how their touch sense is functioning. Is that person only having a challenge with clothing? Or is that same person also having challenges with brushing their hair, getting wet, and getting crumbs on their fingers.


Asking those questions is going to help us figure out whether that person’s touch sense is hyperresponsive (or extra sensitive), hyporesponsive (or under-sensitive), or seeking (also known as craving) sensory input. From there, we have a much better idea of how to respond and help. 


For example - if it’s extra sensitive, my focus is likely going to be on helping them learn to manage when they do receive that input, as well as making modifications, so they don’t have to get tons of input throughout the entire day.


Alrighty I went on a long tangent here - let’s get back to the title of that episode. What are some signs that an adult or child may be having sensory issues. Well, i’ve already mentioned a couple to you, like challenges:

  • With loud or certain sounds
  • Wearing clothing
  • Brushing hair
  • Getting wet
  • Getting dirty


Some other signs could be:


  • Difficulty with posture and sitting upright
  • Being unable to sit still
  • Having a hard time planning out body movements, like jumping jacks or push-ups in physical education classes
  • Squeezing things too hard or too soft
  • Meltdowns with transitions
  • Meltdowns with unexpected changes in routines
  • Extreme sensitivity to smells
  • Not realizing when they are messy or wet
  • Poor balance and coordination
  • Being very spacey


And honestly, so much more. Because 8 senses are A LOT. And to make it even more confusing, there’s not only one type of sensory processing challenge. As I mentioned before, someone can be hyperresponsive, hyporesponsive, or seeking. But, they can also have challenges with telling the difference between sensory input, and they might confuse them. OR they might have difficulty with getting the message to their muscles of HOW to respond and react.


So the best way to really figure out what is going on is to go through each sense and ask targeted questions about the senses. I usually recommend you do this with an occupational therapist, as this is what we are trained in, but I also recommend that you educate yourself before you do.


Occupational therapy evaluations can be extremely overwhelming, because you go in and we talk about all of these senses, but if you’ve never heard of them before or heard about the different types of sensory processing challenges, it can be hard to follow along in the evaluation, and truly understand the education your therapist is giving you.


When you come in already having some knowledge about these, you are going to get SO much more out of your evaluation. So my personal recommendation would be to book an evaluation, because it can take a while to get on the schedule, and then educate yourself as much as possible in the meantime. 


Again, you will be spending precious time and potentially money on therapy, so you want to make sure you really get the most of your time with that therapist.


Or, if you’re already seeing a therapist - educating yourself is going to help you better know what questions to ask, understand the education they're giving you, and carry over their recommendations at home. 


And you know I’m not going to leave you hanging here on where to get great education. Over the next couple weeks I’ll be introducing a NEW mini-course to you. And before you say, I can’t, I have no time - this course is only 35 minutes, and you leave with SO much knowledge. Parents in the membership who have taken this course, have told me it totally transformed the way they look at their child. And, it’s also for adults. So tune in next week, where I’ll be telling you a bit more about it, before our big launch the first week of November! Talk soon!



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