Managing Hypersensitivities in Children with ADHD

Terry Matlen, ACSW Health Guide
  • In my earlier Share Post titled ADHD and Hypersensitivities, I described the difficulties both children and adults often have with sensory overload in the areas of sound, touch, sight, etc. Little is written about this common ADHD related problem and most with ADHD are unaware just how common it is. This often leads to frustration for children, their parents, teachers and peers.


    Many children become highly distracted and irritable over such things as tightly fitting clothes, various food textures and flavors, certain sounds and much more. But what can be done to help them when faced with an onslaught of stimuli?

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    For the child who is:


    Hypersensitive to sounds


    • Use white noise machines or music via headphones to block out sounds when studying or if fears creep up during thunder storms or other unpleasant sounds and noises.
    • For the younger child, work on de-sensitizing him if certain sounds are overwhelming. For example, for the child who is horrified of thunder storms, ambulance sirens, etc., purchase CDs of these sounds and play them at very soft levels during activities the child enjoys. Gradually increase the volume until the child is used to and accepts the sounds.
    • Have the child create the sound he is afraid of in order for him to feel in control of the situation. Give him pots with wooden spoons to duplicate the sound of a thunderstorm, for example. Purchase a toy siren and let him make a game of being the ambulance driver while riding his bike.


    Hypersensitive to certain clothing


    • Don't fight her! Accept her need to wear certain types of fabrics. Let her shop with you so she can pick out the textures she feels most comfortable with. Suggest wearing soft cotton, tagless t-shirts under her tops. Many children prefer clothes that are either snug fitting or conversely, over-sized. Allow her to figure out what works best for her.
    • Once you find something she's comfortable with, buy duplicate outfits in the same cut, texture and fit. If possible, just vary the color.
    • Many children hate wearing winter coats even during the coldest of days. Don't force him to wear the coat, but do insist he bring it when he leaves the house. Chances are, the natural reaction to feeling cold will be to don the coat. However, many children with ADHD are unusually tolerant of even the most frigid of temperatures, so if going coat-less isn't an option, offer layers of comfortable, heavy tops that he is happy to wear.


    Hypersensitive to visual stimuli


    • Some children find that wearing sunglasses outdoors helps cut down on visual overstimulation, even on overcast days.
    • Wearing a cap pulled down just over the eyes can help cut back on visual distractions.
    • At malls, amusement parks and other places packed with people, take many short breaks away from the action to help calm your child down.
    • When visually overwhelmed, suggest to your child to walk with her head down (make sure you hold his hand or have him check to make sure he's not in any danger!)


  • Hypersensitive to foods and other oral stimuli

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    • Don't force new foods or foods he dislikes. If nutrition is a concern, opt for other healthy choices and snacks and supplement with vitamins.
    • Offer foods in different textures or shapes than is normally served. For example, meatloaf can be crumbled into chunks or served in muffin or mini loaf shapes; vegetables can be pureed and added to soups; fruits can be grated or cubed into desserts.
    • Oral sensitivity often makes teeth brushing and dental visits difficult. Choose a small child sized toothbrush with toothpaste that is more palatable and less tangy. Dental visits can be less traumatic if you find a caring staff willing to de-sensitive your child by letting her visit numerous times before doing actual dental work. Some will let the child hold the instruments, slowing working up to having her teeth touched by a dental tool, then moving up to a partial cleaning. Reward your child each step of the way. Bringing headphones to block out dental noises while listening to music often helps immensely.


    Hypersensitivity to smells


    • Use perfume-free laundry detergents and soaps.
    • Find scents your child likes and use them in his room if cooking odors are overwhelming.
    • Nose plugs!
    • Teach younger children to breath through their mouths when necessary.


    General Tips to Prevent Sensory Meltdowns


    • Always have on hand head phones with soft music or environmental/nature sounds. You can download many different gentle nature sounds from the internet for the iPod and there are many nature sound CDs available.
    • Bring a bag of activities like coloring books, video games, books, etc. Doing repetitive activities often help, such as making friendship bracelets, knitting, Solitaire, etc.
    • Allow your child to remove himself from the action; teach him to "see it coming" before having a meltdown. When arriving at a new destination, search out a safe place to self calm.
    • Teach deep breathing exercises
    • Bring fidgets to help calm her down.


    Treatment and Prevention


    It's also important to work with your child proactively. Make sure he is well rested and getting plenty of exercise. Many do well with wearing weighted vests, which they find calming to their central nervous system.


    Try to avoid situations where you know your child will become overwhelmed. If grocery shopping puts him over the top, leave him home instead. When planning vacations, consider a beach resort if Disney is too much, sensory-wise.


    Many benefit from OT (Occupational Therapy) where sensory integration is offered.


    Carrying heavy articles (a backpack full of books) can be calming; just make sure there aren't "too" many books, which could injure his back!Pushing furniture around, or a wheelbarrow, etc., often helps to calm children down.





    The Out of Synch Child


    The Sensory-Sensitive Child


Published On: August 07, 2008