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Sensory Overload in Children and Calming Strategies

As occupational therapists, one of the most common issues we treat are children who present with meltdowns or difficulty with behaviors at school or at home. Anytime a parent explains what difficulties the child is having, we immediately attempt to identify if there is an underlying sensory component causing the child to meltdown and become dysregulated. It is important to identify the difference between a standard meltdown and a sensory related meltdown.
Typically, the majority of meltdowns are automatically characterized as behavior when there usually is an underlying sensory component to the child’s meltdown. Children naturally want to please others and do not like to get in trouble. Therefore, it is important to look for reasons a child may have a sensory meltdown. Below is a list of the most common reasons why a child may have a sensory meltdown:.
• Sensory overload
• Dysregulation and the inability to maintain self-regulation
• “Fight or flight” response to sensory overload, yet mistaken for a standard, behavior driven meltdown
• The inability to cope with a new or challenging situation
• Inability to communicate wants and needs
• Difficulty with transitions
• Lack of sleep or over tired
• Lack of proper nutrition or too much of the wrong food
• Change in routine
How to Help?

Once a child becomes upset, they will go into fight or flight mode. Therefore, you must attempt to find the best way to calm the child. Every child is different, so what will work for one child may not work for the next child. However, here is a list of calming strategies that will typically help when a child becomes escalated.
• Remove the child from the adverse stimuli and decrease sensory stimuli to a minimum.
• Provide a sensory retreat for the child, such as a play tent loaded with pillows with other calming sensory tools

• Soft music
• Vibration,
• Chewy/oral sensory tool
• Noise cancelling headphones
• Weighted blanket
• Calming fidget toy

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