Spiderman is not the only person who possesses Sensory Superpowers. Many children struggle with having enhanced senses that can bubble up and lead to sensory overload! Things like clothing, bright lights, bustling environments, loud noises, smells, textures and tastes can be quite overwhelming and distressing for those with sensory sensitivities.
Often known as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), this is typically an area of specialty for an Occupational Therapist (OT), who can diagnose, and help children adopt strategies to organise and process their sensory inputs.
What we never saw from Spiderman (nor Peter Parker) was the anxiety that often comes with having sensory superpowers!
Sensory anxiety is unique. As opposed to an anxiety-provoking worry, sensory anxiety occurs when a child’s sensory superpower is triggered, and sends the brain into fight or flight mode. Imagine a child with a hearing sensitivity, who is at school all day in busy classrooms, playgrounds, and school halls. The child uses all their might to stay calm and not react (fight), nor leave the classroom (flight). Gradually…. Drip Drip Drip…. their sensory anxiety bottle is filling and the child is getting close to meltdown.
Over time, this same child can then develop anxiety around going to school due to the fear of sensory overload they have come to experience at school…. What better way to avoid this…. avoid school!!! However, this is a trap, because avoiding school just reinforces the idea that school is scary and unmanageable.
Below are some tips that may be helpful for kids experiencing sensory overload:
1. Consult an OT - to establish whether your child has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), or what their sensory superpower might be (i.e. tactile, auditory, visual, movement, oral etc).
2. Plan for overwhelming environments - such as headphones for noisy environments, movement breaks, sensory toys for touching etc; and simply talking with your child (and/or teachers) to implement strategies to manage potentially overwhelming situations.
3. Schedule some regroup time in the day - Ensure your child’s day includes time to regroup and let their sensory anxiety bottle settle back down. Mindfulness, jumping on trampolines, weighted blankets, quiet time, relaxation music, and cosy cuddles…… just to name a few.
If your child is struggling with sensory anxiety, it may be time to seek some additional support with a psychologist so that your child, family members, and teachers learn
strategies to help with Sensory Superpowers!