- She cries and screams without apparent reason
- She covers her ears when you talk to her, or when TV is on
- She is afraid of vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, coffee grinder and other loud things
- She often closes her eyes or blinks
- She does not like holding hands, hugging and kissing
- She wouldn’t touch glue, play-dough, sand
- She walks on her toes
- She is irritable
- She is a picky eater
If any of the above describe your child, then she probably is hypersensitive. We perceive our environment through multiple channels. Sounds, lights, touches, tastes and smells follow us everywhere and usually make our life exciting and interesting. Unless we are tired, annoyed and desperately need to be alone, of course.
A hypersensitive person feels those lights, sounds, touches, smells and tastes much stronger than most people. One or more of those channels are strangely amplified and utterly inescapable. Thus, a hypersensitive child often feels tired, annoyed, and in desperate need to be alone. She doesn’t respond to you when you call her? Could be because the frequency of your voice hurts her sensitive ears. She does not want to wear this particular shirt because it makes her itch. She cannot talk yet, and so she cries and screams as this is her only way to explain to you how difficult it is for her to navigate in this unfriendly and exhausting environment.
How can you help your hypersensitive child?
We are all afraid of the unknown and incomprehensible. Your baby does not know why the light is suddenly so bright or the sound is so loud. Allow her to feel some control over her environment and it will reduce her sensitivities and fears! When my hypersensitive son was a toddler, his camp teacher said that he refuses to go to the pool. I knew that he loved swimming and could not understand his sudden resistance. I asked the teacher to let me watch the kids swim, and the problem became immediately obvious. The coach used a whistle, and a very loud one too! So, after hearing it once, my boy screamed and then he refused to enter the pool. When all other kids were splashing, he stayed in his classroom with an assistant and quietly looked through the books. The next toy I bought was a whistle. A mild one for a start. My son was initially afraid of it, but he loves presents. He was also excited about owing something that was specifically his (and not his sister’s).
In a couple of days, after about 2 or 3 my very soft demonstrations, he tried to blow it very carefully. Then gradually he increased the sound. I did not pressure him. He held the whistle, he carried it. Occasionally he blew it. After several weeks he was blowing it so loudly, that it became a problem for everybody else in our family. He also started going to the pool. The idea is very simple, once you know that you control something, it stops being scary (even though it can still be uncomfortable, but to a much lesser degree). So, your job is to help her start this process of gradual desensitization. Show your daughter how to turn on and off that vacuum cleaner. Hold her fingers and help her do it herself. If she cries and resists, turn it on then immediately turn off. Look at her , smile, they say softly “See, it’s off. Nothing to worry about. Do you want me to turn it back on?” If she shakes her head, follow her lead, but remember to offer he again the next day. Meanwhile, get her toys that make loud sounds, so that she can play with different sounds in her environment.
These are my favorite toys for a child with audiological sensitivities:
When you show your children how to use these toys, remember to make only soft sounds! Let them learn to increase the volume themselves, and as they get more comfortable with different kinds of sounds your ears will need some rest pretty soon. But being surrounded by variety of sounds won’t be so stressful for your little one, and her screams and cries will be the one sound that will be dramatically reduced. Also, remember, when you talk to your hypersensitive child, remain soft. Whisper. I can never forget a little boy who didn’t respond to me and refused to look me in the eyes during the evaluation, until I started whispering. Suddenly, he was willing to stay close to me and share his toys with me, he allowed me to touch and hug him. He initiated eye-contact. I still feel bad for hurting his little ears with my voice. Alas, he is sensitive to the frequency, in which most women speak. No wonder, he responded better to his Dad than his Mom. So, I explained to the Mom, that she needs to learn how to lower her voice and speak quietly. Meanwhile, get the toys and let the boy play with all kinds of sounds. Just remember, you remain soft and let the loudness come from your boy! Once he get comfortable, your house will get loud, and then even you can become loud, he would not mind it any more.
Following the same logic of putting your child in control of her stressful environment, these are my favorite toy for a child who blinks or closes her eyes.
As she plays with her flash light and binoculars, as she puts on and off her new sun glasses, she has a chance to control the changes in her visual environment. She also learns to adjust to those changes better.
And buy her these as well:
And as she needs something to stick those eyes into, get her the entire toy:
Of course, the same logic applies to tactile stimulation. Play with the way you touch her and find what she is comfortable with. Sensory balls are always wonderful:
I think, you get the idea about the toys now. Just remember, she must be in control of her environment whenever possible, and if you see that she is afraid of something (sensitive to something) desensitization through gradual exposure is the best help she needs to overcome her sensitivities.
What do I do, when putting her in control is impossible?
Warn her. Give her time to adjust. For example, your hypersensitive child cannot be picked up without crying. Tell her “Mommy is going to pick you up now. Do you want Mommy to pick you up? Ready? One, two, three.” Approach her gradually. Speak softly. Place your hands around her and see how she responds. If she becomes fussy, just say “Oh, you don’t want to be picked up now? OK. Next time then.” Repeat the same approach in a couple of minutes. Every time you want to pick her up, give her a warning. Every time you are about to turn off or turn on the lights warn her “Mommy is going to turn lights on now. You see what I’m doing? Ready? One, two, three, on!” Soon she will know from your intonation that a change is coming. Give her several seconds to accept this idea and get used to it. She won’t scream then when you turn the lights on or vacuum your carpet. Show her how to turn it on and off so that she feels in control too. All these adjustments significantly decrease your child’s daily stress, so that she does not need to be fussy and cranky, and hopefully, both of you will get some good sleep at night without screaming and crying.
It will get easier. Promise.
Last summer, my son and I were sitting on a beautiful Cape Cod beach watching July 4th fireworks. “Wow!” he screamed “Great! Wow!” He was the apotheosis of happiness. And I couldn’t help but remember the July 4th only two years ago, when he was hiding under several blankets in his dark bedroom, as I was sitting next to him trying to pat his back and comfort him. He was terrified by the rockets that our neighbours shot to celebrate. What a difference those two years made! “I love fireworks!” he said when it was over, no sign of irritation or fear.
Just remember, she does not hug you, does not look at your and does not respond to you not because she does not want to. She needs your love and affection just as much as all other children need parental love. But the way she is touched, looked at, spoken to, makes her uncomfortable because she is hypersensitive. So, there are two main tasks now: First, to train her sensory system and reduce her fear using the above toys. Second, to find the least disturbing way to interact with her so that when her mother or daddy pick her up, she feels safe, comfortable and secure.