Sensory-Craving vs. Easily Overloaded Children

For some children, it’s much harder to learn to regulate their moods. In this article, we will cover children who crave sensory and children who are easily overloaded. They are at opposite ends of the spectrum and present their own unique challenges. It is important to recognize if your child falls into one of these categories so that you can best care for their needs. 

Let’s first start with a child who is “sensory‐craving”. This is when the child seeks out sensation and runs after new sensory experiences. This child may like to bang into everything, want to touch/grab everything, and likes the physical action of enhancing their access to sensation. They want to be involved in everything because they crave touch, sound, and sight. Often children with this pattern may be relatively impervious or unreactive to pain so that when they fall they don’t react very much – they get up and toddle around ready to bang into the next object or person. Some children are born with this pattern and some children develop it as they learn to crawl and walk.

You can offer alternatives to help this child find constructive ways of interacting. We might have a big bean bag they could bang into. We might have toys that are soft and squishy that they can throw with us. Sensory-craving children may not like a lot of gross motor activity but if we do it in a regulated way with a lot of back‐and‐forth interaction, the child can experience the rhythm. For instance, as this child gets older, we might play games where we go fast, then slow, then super‐slow, then very, very slow. We may make loud noises, then soft noises, then super soft noises. We are teaching the child to regulate through interaction with noise and movement, by modulating the intensity all the time. When we do this with this sensory‐seeking child the child becomes well regulated but assertive. We will have a person who is a bit of a risk-taker, but a risk-taking person who is assertive, often very popular with peers, and often as an adult seeks out a career that has to do with asserting oneself. Our sensory‐craving child can be very assertive, very dynamic, and very charismatic if we help that child regulate early on.  

The other type of child we will be discussing is a child who is overly sensitive and overly reactive to sensation. This child gets overloaded easily. For instance, with too much noise, touch, or people rough-playing with him, they become incredibly overwhelmed. When this child gets overloaded, they could tend to push, bite, scream or throw a major tantrum. They might shut down easily in certain environments or even cover their eyes and ears when feeling overstimulated (around loud noises or bright lights). 

For this type of child, we use the same principles, but we do a lot more soothing and regulating. We give the child alternative ways other than pushing or shoving to express their overload. Our goal is to help them express themself once they begin feeling overloaded. Once they can talk, we help them use their words to communicate what they are feeling. Before they can talk, we help them show their emotions by raising their hand or pointing to where the overload is coming from. This teaching occurs through a lot of back‐and‐forth interaction to help a child become a good emotional signaler. 

In both cases, the sensory-craving child and the child who is easily overloaded, the goal is to help the child become regulated and soothed through their interactions with us. That means a lot of back‐and‐forth communication. It means a continuous flow of emotional signaling. Trying to figure out what to do as a parent in these situations can be difficult. We at The Floortime Center specialize in helping children overcome their sensory regulation issues and teach parents what to do at home to best help their child.