When your toddler sprawls on the floor in an all-out tantrum because of the dress you tried to put on her, the issue may be normal toddler independence, or it could be a sensory problem. Sensory issues often manifest in extreme behavior in the toddler years, leaving moms feeling frazzled and frustrated. Knowing where these problems come from and seeking the right help can help you navigate life with a your child's unique needs. If nothing else, knowing what the problem is may keep you from going bald from pulling out your own hair.
Types of Sensory Concerns
Sensory concerns in toddlers can manifest in two basic ways. According to the Child Mind Institute, some kids are overly sensitive. Your toddler who throws a fit about the tag in her shirt may actually feel physical pain from that sensation. Other kids do not get enough stimulation from their senses. If your toddler regularly spends time smelling things that stink to you, and gets upset when she can't do so, then this might be the reason.
Sensory Processing Disorder
According to the Child Mind Institute, some kids are routinely overwhelmed by normal stimuli in their environment. That noisy, well-lit grocery store is something normal to you, but to your toddler all of the lights, sounds and smells can feel like torture. The Child Mind Institute uses the term Sensory Processing Disorder to label kids who experience this sensory overload. The label of SPD is not universally recognized, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Because of this, toddlers with sensory issues may not be officially labeled with SPD, even if they are exhibiting sensory problems.
Exreme Behavior Vs. Normal Behavior
The difference between a toddler with sensory problems and a typical toddler is the amount the sensitivity and resulting behavior affects life. Many toddlers are sensitive to itchy tags or loud noises, and may even act out when these things are bothering them. If you can calm your child's tantrum with your normal parenting tactics, and move on with life, then these are not concerning symptoms. It is when the behaviors become extreme enough to impact the quality of life of the child, such as when your calm toddler suddenly launches into a uncontrollable fit simply because you went to the mall, that you have a problem.
Help for Sensory Problems
For toddlers with sensory concerns, sensory integration therapy may help. These therapies focus on desensitizing your toddler to the sensory input that can launch a fit. For example, if your child is overly sensitive to touch, the therapy may include a brushing protocol to help decrease this sensitivity. The goal, according to the AAP, is to organize the sensory system. Research is inconclusive as to whether or not these therapies work, so you may benefit from a trial period to determine if it can help your child.