Understanding sensory overload

pediatric profiler pictureIn a general population the prevalence of sensory processing disorders is 1 in 20 according to literature by Lucy Miller OT. When you talk about the autism spectrum disorders, this number goes to much higher levels although an actual prevalence rate has not been determined due to the controversy about the reality of the disorder.

While not everyone believes in a sensory processing disorder (also known as a sensory integration disorder), their is belief that there can be significant sensory processing deficits for individuals in the autism spectrum and ADHD. This is important because sensory issues can and do affect how well these children and adolescents tolerate their environments.  The more overwhelmed they feel, the less they will be able to interact with their environment.  Some may run away, some may lash out, and others will just shut down where they are.

I found this video on sensory overload that I think will help others “feel” for just a couple of minutes what it feels like to be in a situation where processing is impaired due to too much information coming in at once.

When I talk about Never Assume, like in my book, I am referencing the need to really find out what is behind the behaviors we notice.  We need to take the time to think about various possible reasons that are triggering a fight or flight response in the child or adolescent.  By truly understanding the source(s) of the behaviors,  we can begin to develop empathy and interventions to improve the quality of life for him.

Next time you find yourself getting upset at a child for inappropriate behavior, please take a moment to consider a why other than “Because he is a brat” or “He is just trying to ruin my day.”  You will be surprised by what you come up with and how that changes your response/reaction.

The Many Faces of Anxiety in Children

Summer may be here but I am still dealing with school drama with my patients and their parents.  Now it is mostly trying to help them heal from the trauma of teachers and administrators who don’t understand what anxiety looks like in children.

Children don’ have to be chronically anxious or depressed

One child had a “functional behavioral analysis” done which showed that he was avoidant of other children, so didn’t want to do group work.  He also was trying to get teacher attention, but this meant that he didn’t always follow the social rules of the classroom, which included raising his hand, and waiting patiently for a response or for help.  They set up a plan where they would ignore his pleas for attention until he raised his hand and quietly waited.  This backfired, however, since his need for attention was related to his anxiety and his learning problems.  He would get more and more upset and disruptive because he didn’t know how to do the task at hand, and knew that if he didn’t get it done the way the teacher wanted, he would lose recess and have to do it again.

This poor student had frequent flier miles to the principal’s office.  There he would have long “discussions” about proper behavior, academic expectations, and be  subjected to suspensions for disruptive behavior.  He would get so upset that at times he became destructive in the principal’s office.  His parents were eventually told that he was no longer welcome at the school.

Anxiety in children is varied.  Many act like this student.  They become irritable, demanding, and at times destructive if they reach their panic level.  Others shut done and sit passively at their desks, refusing to do what is being expected.  Some cry often, want to go to the bathroom frequently or have bladder accidents. Others complain about not feeling well and wanting to go see the nurse.  These students may get so upset that they vomit frequently at  little stresses.  I have even had a few, who when getting exceptionally stressed, will fall asleep out of exhaustion from the emotion.

Children shouldn’t have to develop anxiety disorders, depression, and in many cases post-traumatic stress disorder from their experiences in school and childcare settings, but they do.  I have taught many teachers, parents, and childcare providers how to understand and respond more effectively with the Pediatric Profiler system of interaction.  No it is not easy or fast.  It takes time, dedication, and consistency.  But it does work and isn’t that what we all want?