Is your child one of those kids who is always climbing, running, pushing on things, falling, making noise at every opportunity? You’re not alone - I have two of them at home! My kid falling all the time used to stress me out so much. If you’ve ever wondered why your child acts this way, this article is for you.
Is Your Kid Falling, Jumping, Climbing, Crashing? Hyposensitivity Could Be the Culprit.
So What’s Going On?
Well, to be honest, there are several things that might be going on with your kid falling, but one of the most common reasons to see behavior like this is a sensory processing issue. If you have a kid falling all the time, who climbs everything in reach, runs everywhere, touches everything in the room, and especially if your child seems to purposefully seek out risky play, you might have a sensory seeker on your hands.
What Does Sensory-Seeking Mean?
Sensory-seeking is also called hyposensitivity. Hyposensitivity is a difference in how the body’s vestibular system functions.
Your body’s vestibular system controls balance, spatial orientation, and movement. Your sense of balance and where your body is in space come from the way your muscles and your joints send messages to your brain as you move. The receptors in your body tell you how to stay balanced, where the parts of your body are in space, and how much force your muscles need to use to complete a task.
Someone who is sensory-seeking, or hyposensitive, has a vestibular system that isn’t responding to sensory input the way it should. Their threshold for movement is set too high, so they need more input than average to get what seems like an appropriate level to their brain. So, you’ll notice a person who seeks movement, has trouble regulating the force of her muscles, or who engages in thrill-seeking behavior (because it takes more “thrill” than average for her brain to notice it.)
What Are Some Examples of Hyposensitivity?
If you have a child who:
- needs to move all the time
- enjoys physical activities like biking, running, and climbing
- spins, bounces, or rocks their body a lot
- often runs into walls, trips a lot, bangs into furniture that’s always been there
- slams doors without meaning too, draws with a lot of pressure on the crayon, hurts people unintentionally by squeezing/pushing/hugging too hard
...you might have a sensory-seeker.
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Who Has Sensory Processing Issues?
Sensory processing differences are really common. They are sometimes labeled as sensory processing disorder (SPD) or sensory integration disorder or dysfunction (SID). We don’t know exactly how common they are because research is still being done, and the medical communities around the world are divided about how sensory processing issues occur and how to treat them (and whether treatment is needed, and when). But just talk to your friends with ADHD and autism, and you’ll see that a lot of folks struggle with sensory input in one way or another.
We do know that sensory processing issues commonly co-occur with other neurodivergences like autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and some developmental delays. However, there are also a ton of folks who are neurotypical and still struggle with some kind of sensory processing issues, so sensory differences aren’t limited to the neurodivergent population.
A Note About ADHD and Sensory Processing Differences
It’s important to know that children with ADHD and children with sensory processing differences might have the same outward symptoms, but be dealing with different internal mechanisms.
For example, people with sensory issues may have trouble sitting still because their vestibular systems need more input than average, whereas children with ADHD may have trouble sitting still because they are more easily distracted. Children with ADHD may climb too high in a tree because of impulsivity or hyperfocus, whereas children with sensory differences climb too high because their senses of where their bodies are in space are not calibrated correctly.
To make this even more complicated, some kids have ADHD and sensory processing differences. So, some of the safety issues you may be seeing (like your kid falling all the time) stem from their ADHD brains, some stem from their hyposensitivity, and some stem from a combination of both.
What Should You Do?
If you’re seeing sensory-seeking behavior that’s concerning you, and you have the option of accessing an occupational therapist (OT), I would highly recommend it. In my experience, OTs are the professionals best situated to help you and your child understand their brain, and to then develop a personalized plan for resolving the issues that are making life more difficult for your child.
If you can’t access an occupational therapist, there are a lot of great resources online you can look into, but you have to be really careful if you choose to develop your own treatment plan. ADHD and sensory-seeking can look so similar in young children, and treatment for one can sometimes exacerbate the traits of the other, so you work alone at your own risk.
If you’re staying out of public spaces for your health, as my family has, you might need some new STEM family activities to keep you all motivated and engaged. With autistic and ADHD family members, we’ve definitely needed to be creative over here!
There are lots of STEM challenges for kids out there, so we’ve tried out a lot of new-to-us toys, games, and fun activities in the past few months. To help you out, I’ve put together some of my neurodivergent family’s favorite options for having fun and staying creative, the socially-distant way.