sensory meltdowns

Sensory Meltdowns in Children: Everything Parents Need to Know

Last Updated on August 26, 2021.

Most parents have experienced their child having a tantrum. They aren’t fun. But have you ever experienced an extreme tantrum where you cannot get through to your kid at all? You may have experienced a sensory meltdown.

What are sensory meltdowns?

A sensory meltdown is a type of extreme tantrum that happens when the sensory system gets overloaded. This can happen with visual, auditory, and tactile sensations in addition to other sensory systems we don’t think about often like proprioception or vestibular. The experience is overwhelming for the child. And they cannot calm themselves down and may not even be able to speak.

How are sensory meltdowns different from temper tantrums?

Temper tantrums are when children seem to lose control of themselves and often act out in anger or frustration. But sensory meltdowns, while not rare, can be very different from regular tantrums. Sensory meltdowns happen when the sensory system is overloaded with sensory information that it cant process; this can lead to intense feelings of distress because the sensory input is so strong and unpredictable.

Sensory Meltdowns in Children
Sensory Meltdowns in Children

What causes sensory meltdowns?

There are many causes of sensory meltdowns. First, sensory systems can get overstimulated by too much sensory input at once, for example when a child is in an environment with loud noise and bright lights. This may be why some children have meltdowns in busy stores or places like the zoo where they experience lots of different sights and sounds at once.

Second, sensory systems can be overstimulated by too much sensory input that is unpredictable and random in nature. This may happen for children who experience sensory processing disorder or autism spectrum disorders because they have difficulty interpreting the world around them and don’t know what to expect from their environment as a result.

RELATED: Help! My Toddler Keeps Hitting Herself.

What are the signs of sensory issues?

Your child might give you clues that they have sensory issues. For example, your kids might:

  • Dislike certain clothing fabrics
  • Experience trouble with food textures
  • Complain that some lights are too bright
  • Dislike loud sounds, like thunder or the sound at a movie theater
  • Don’t like to be physically touched
  • Are clumsy or struggle with balance

Overcoming sensory meltdowns

In order to help your child find relief during these sensory episodes, you should focus on calming sensory experiences and reducing the amount of sensory input they’re experiencing at any given time.

If sensory issues are limited to a specific sensory system, that is the easiest one for parents and teachers to monitor. But if sensory systems overlap (which they often do), it may be difficult to determine which sensory problems your child has or how severe those sensory issues might be without a professional assessment.

RELATED: What to do if your child hits you

The Bottom Line

Sensory meltdowns happen when sensory input is too much for the sensory system to process. These types of tantrums are different from regular temper tantrums and can be triggered by sensory overload in various sensory systems like visual, auditory, or tactile sensations. Dealing with sensory meltdowns can be difficult, but with patience and understanding, you can help your child find a way to cope.

What You Should Do Next…

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