Recognizing the Signs of Sensory Overload in Children

Sensory input is coming at us constantly. Whether we are in a quiet room by ourselves or at a busy birthday party, sensory experiences are shaping how we perceive the world around us. Sensory overload can happen to all of us, but for children with sensory processing issues, it can be overwhelming. They may not have the tools and coping skills to handle all the sensory information their bodies are processing.

What is sensory overload?

Sensory overload occurs when the body is unable to process, organize, and respond to all the incoming sensory input. Although this can happen to anyone, it is more common in those who have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or sensory issues.

Technology and our fast paced society has led to us being bombarded with more and more sensory stimuli. It is no wonder that our brains and nervous systems are sometimes overloaded.

Picture this:

It’s public swim time at the local indoor pool. There are the sounds of kids screaming, babies crying, parents calling out to get their child’s attention, music coming over the speakers, the whir of the pumps, the constant flow of the waterslide, the drip of the waterfall, and splashing water.

You see bright overhead lights, a row of red and yellow life jackets hanging on the wall, people everywhere, pool toys and flotation devices covering the surface of the water, diving boards, a swinging rope, spinning ceiling fans, and there’s even a woman practicing kickboxing on a yoga mat on the pool deck.

There is the feel of the pressure of water around you, water suddenly being splashed into your face as someone kicks nearby, the warmth of the hot tub and sauna contrasted with the cold of the salt water children’s wading pool.

You pick up on a mixture of smells as the chlorine of the adult pool and the salt water of the children’s pool mix with everyone’s shampoos and body washes and perfumes. There’s the taste of salt or chlorine as you come up sputtering. There’s the feeling of the movement through the water or the burn of the waterslide on your back and the feel of the air on your face as you quickly soar through the air off the high diving board before plunging into the water below.

This doesn’t even take into consideration the crowded change rooms or lobby. It’s easy to see how anyone could experience sensory overload on a trip to the swimming pool!

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