Do you recall the icky, soggy feeling you get when you get caught in a rain storm and your clothes are soaked through? Or maybe the tooth-jarring the feeling that you get when you hear fingernails scrape across a board? Well, if these type of scenarios make you uncomfortable then they put you in a situation where you have experienced hypersensitive sensory dislike or aversion.
Of course, you are most likely able to take care of your problem by talking about your feelings with others and recovering quickly. However, things are not so easy with some other people. Some children suffer from sensory processing disorder (or SPD, a condition that was previously known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction), a condition where the messages transmitted by the senses are not properly regulated. The results of this are as easy to guess as they can be heart breaking. Given their difficulties with processing and using language, Kids on the autistic spectrum may not be able to accurately voice out their experiences, and this quickly boils down to frustration. There are ways by which you could help your child struggling with autism communicate her pain and release her emotions while sharing their feelings and empathizing. Some of these ways are share below:
Try To Find the Source of Discomfort
It is common to find kids with hypersensitivity over-reacting to the intensity of loud noises or to clothing tags. Since they cannot filter these sensations they can become overloaded by them and this overload can be manifested in a number of ways such as shutdown, anxiety, tantrums, or depression. Getting to the root cause of a discomfort is not always difficult. It can be sometimes glaring that your child is suffering discomfort from a particular thing-the hard part is getting them to admit it or express it in words so that you can be certain. To help the process, encourage the child to describe the feelings in more descriptive words.
Take the following case for example: a mother could not get her son to take a shower. Every time she tried to get him in the shower, he would scream, “No! I don’t like the shower.” The mother thought maybe the temperature of the water was to blame and made the showers run cooler to no avail. It was not until one day when the mother heard the boy screaming, “Stop the fire hose!” that she got insight that it was the force of the shower that the boy found irritating. Further investigation revealed that he also considered the sound of the rushing shower deafening. After the parents installed a rainfall shower head, nobody could get the boy out of the shower because he was enjoying his showers too much!
Model Descriptive Words
Clearly there is a language barrier between you and your child. The example above shows that common words and expressions used like “Eww”, “I don’t like it”, and “Yucky” do not accurately point out the sensory features that the child finds irritating. Using more descriptive words presents a great step towards a breakthrough. You could use some of the words suggested here below to incorporate more descriptive language in the exchange:
Taste: flaky, fatty, tough, fresh, spicy, foamy
Touch/feel: slimy, sticky, prickly, rubbery, greasy, pasty
Sight: Crooked, glossy, straight, flickering, curved, crowded
Smell: Rotten, sour, sweet, tart, salty, bitter
Sound: bang, boom, buzz, chirp, click, chug
Feelings: anxious, afraid, fearful, dizzy, fearful, frightened, frustrated, annoyed, curious, and interested
Here are some examples of how you can model these descriptor words in day-to-day life:
- Shh…listen to the gentle crackle of the cereal in your milk. The crackling sounds peaceful.
- Ugh! That motorcycle engine’s harsh roar is so annoying and disturbing!
- I rather have the doughy cookies. I prefer them to those that are crusty, crumbly, or crispy. I like to chew my cookie without hearing it crunch.
Simple, but effective.
Tips for Dealing with Kids with More Language Skills
When your child has a relatively broader vocabulary it is easier to get insight into their sensory preferences and dislikes. Often there is a need to look at the various degrees of reactions to different senses. In other words, how much is too much for your child? For example, coldness ranges from cool, through cold, to freezing. Wetness ranges from damp, through wet, to soaking. An understanding of these spectrums will help you compare other similar ranges. You would be better disposed to asking your child, “Should I make your juice ‘icy’ with ice cubes or ‘cool’ just out of the fridge?”
Similes play a very crucial role. Your child will be better at understanding statements like, “loud as a cruise ship horn,” or “like the power of a fire hose”. For example, you could ask your child if they feel a certain piece of cloth is “soft like powder” or “rough like sandpaper”.
Using language in this way could even help in coming up with solutions to problems. For example someone who can’t eat strawberries because they are “prickly” on her tongue will gladly eat them in other forms like smoothies or jelly.
Dealing with Kids with Limited Language Skills
If your kid has limited language skills, then you have to find out other ways of getting to know their preferences. It is worth noting that your child may like something other people dislike, and dislike other things that other people like. For example, you run across that a child who has a preference for spicy food containing garlics, onions and turmeric, whereas his parents prefer bland foods. Assuming their child would be an extension of its parents would clearly not have worked in this case. Another example involves a child who was averse to sticky things like wet sand, hazelnut spread, peanut butter, and marshmallow paste. His mother quickly assumed he would not like other types of paste like peanut butter. But in reality he was fine with polenta, pesto sauce, and toothpaste. It turned out he was not okay with the quality of “sticky” but was okay with the quality of “paste”.
For those who struggle with it, hypersensitive sensory processing disorder can be upsetting. Communicating in more descriptive language can allow your autistic child form their own opinion of personal growth and safety, while forging a stronger bond between both of you.
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