Supporting Loud Sounds: Coping with Auditory Sensitivities

By: Jolie Rosenthal, Occupational Therapy Student (OTS), University of New Hampshire

As summer progresses, so does the frequency of your child experiencing loud fireworks, roaring hand-dryers in the public bathrooms at the beach and pool, and the variety of sounds of other children playing outside.  All of these sounds can be considerably triggering for a child with auditory sensitivities. Loud noises can provoke anxiety, rage, and irritability for children with auditory sensitivities. As difficult as it is for the child to deal with, it may cause extensive stress for parents as well. There are various coping mechanisms, tips, and techniques that can be implemented to help mitigate the undesirable effects of auditory triggers on children.

Noise cancelling headphones or earbuds (One you probably know)

  • Noise cancelling headphones can be kept in the car or your handbag for easy access in any situation in which the environment will be auditorily overwhelming for children like firework events and outdoor concerts.
  • Regular earbuds can be used to play soothing white noise and relaxation inducing audio frequencies which may distract from or cover up the loud auditory stimuli and comfort the child.

Give warnings and prepare

  • Children can be warned before certain sounds occur like those produced from vacuums, toilets, and hand dryers.
  • Inform your child that there is going to be a loud noise and to cover their ears; show them how they should cover their ears, and count down slowly before turning on the vacuum, hand dryer, or flushing the toilet to give your child time to prepare.
  • Before entering loud environments like a concert or fireworks event, do some ”heavy work” movement activities with your child which can calm the child and decrease feelings of sensory overload. Heavy work involves activities in which one is exerting oneself and receiving feedback from the body. Examples include: going on monkey bars, using a bicycle, digging in the sandbox, and practicing yoga (GriffinOT, 2021).
  • Putting on compression clothing before entering a triggering environment can increase the child’s comfort as well.

Coping with the noise – What are my tools?

Oftentimes, loud noises make children upset and they may need a way to release their emotions. Taking a break and removing your child from the auditory triggers can be helpful, but is not always able to be done. In relaxed calm settings, pre teach your child how to use some “tools” for their calming toolbox when they become overwhelmed by sounds.  Then when you are in the situation they will have an idea of how to use some of these simple calming tools:

  • Children can chew safe rubber chewing jewelry like necklaces and bracelets.
  • Stress balls can help children channel emotions.
  • Take three to five deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth and hold for a few seconds. This is one of the best ways to calm down.
  • Engaging in a hands-on activity is another way to distract our mental brains from the fact that we don’t like the sounds.  Simple toys and activities like a coloring page with markers, playdough in a ziplock to squeeze, or drawing in a sketch book can help calm our minds (S. Smith, personal communication, July 19, 2021).

Give your child the control

  • Let your child flush the toilet, turn on the hand dryers, and start the vacuum so they can take the time they need to get ready for the noise. Plan and build in extra time in louder environments sometimes so that you don’t feel rushed in these situations.
  • Encourage communication between you and your child so they can recognize triggering stimuli and notify you before the situation escalates.
  • Let your child be in control of carrying their own noise headphones, chewing jewelry, and other materials that may be soothing to them.

References

Griffin OT. (2020, August 30). The mystery of heavy work. GriffinOT. https://www.griffinot.com/the-mystery-of-heavy-work/

The Many Smells of Spring – Supporting an Active Sniffer

It is that time of year again when spring is in the air…literally.  Often during these spring months, the odors are throughout the air, as trees are budding and flowers begin to bloom.  While these smells can be desired by some, they are not always appreciated by all.  

The human body can detect over 10,000 different odors.  With this many smells, it can be confusing how we often classify odors quickly to either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, depending on our desire and tolerance for a smell.  Unfortunately, when it comes to odors, there are only two ways to completely extinguish an odor:

  1. Remove the source of the odor  
  2. Remove the person affected by the odor

There can be situations when your child may need to tolerate an odor, and these two options are not possible.  Below is some insight into your child’s behaviour and ideas how to support.

What Your Child Feels

When a child is caught off guard by a non desired smell, irregardless of it’s source – food or environment – it can be very startling to them.  Your child’s brain shifts into danger mode, using back brain thinking (i.e. fight or flight).  When this occurs, your focus needs to be supporting your child through the moment.  This is not the time to address odor acceptance with your child.

Establish an Odor Routine

The goal is to keep a child inquisitive about an odor, instead of reacting to the odor.  To do this, you must establish a odor routine.  This routine must be practiced multiple times and become familiar with the child for it to be effective.

  • The routine must be practiced with the child in a controlled situation.
  • A child should be regulated, calm and feel safe before trying this exercise.  
  • Discuss with your child how a NEW odor does not always mean a BAD odor. 
  • Use phrases like ‘I smell something new’ when an odor is detected, as opposed to ‘Do you smell that?!?’.
  • Encourage your child to use all of their senses to describe the odor, not just their nose.
  • Discuss a plan with your child about how they can handle undesired odors.  This could include holding their nose, breathing through their mouth, taking a whiff of a desired smell or leaving the situation.  
  • Set expectations for your child when you anticipate interactions with strong odors.  Remind them to stay curious to the odor and review your plan.

Travel Tips for Tactile Sensitivities

Spring break is coming! For many of us, spring means enjoying the sun over our heads and the sand under our toes. Many sensitive children, however, find trips to the beach or other exotic locations unbearable. This month, we’re going to focus on some common tactile triggers you might encounter on vacation. 

No matter what your child’s particular triggers are, remember that preparation is key. Have her help you problem solve, plan, and pack as much as possible. Try new clothing or toiletries at home and make sure she has a chance to give input on each item. Above all, be honest about what to expect in your new environment and give her as much control over her own comfort as possible.

Keep reading for some common tactile triggers and a few tips for tackling each. Also, be sure to check out our previous article for some more general tips on traveling with sensory needs.

#1 – Sunscreen, lotion, and other toiletries

  • Make sure to test every new product at home before you leave.
  • Pack enough for your entire trip–you might not be able to find certain items elsewhere.
  • Experiment with different types of applications–sunscreen sticks, shampoo bars, etc.
  • Minimize the need for sunscreen by using sun shirts, hats, and protective clothing.

#2 – Unfamiliar or uncomfortable bedding

  • Bring pillows, blankets, sleeping bags, or stuffed animals from home.
  • Make bedding smell and feel familiar by bringing your own laundry detergent.
  • Bring a favorite blanket to act as a barrier/comfortabel layer under the sheets.

#3 – Sand and unusual textures or temperatures

  • Experiment with different types of shoes–open vs. closed sandals, water shoes, etc.
  • Minimize exposure by wearing pants or gloves while playing on the beach.
  • Try playing on different parts of the beach–loose, dry sand vs. wet, packed sand.
  • Bring ice packs, hand warmers, etc. to help regulate temperature.

#4 – Insect repellant and bug bites

  • Minimize exposure by wearing long sleeves and pants when possible.
  • Experiment with different types of applications–wipes, wristbands, clips, sprays, etc.
  • Use bug zappers or burn citronella candles or sticks when outside.
  • Experiment with alternative repellants, such as essential oils.
  • Pack hydrocortisone cream or ointment to soothe bites and stings.
  • Be aware of your location–bugs are more prevalent by the water or in wooded areas.

#5 – Being crowded or bumped in public places

  • Call ahead and see if your destination has accommodations for sensory sensitivities.
  • Practice waiting in line at the grocery store or other crowded location.
  • Practice deep breathing and anti-anxiety techniques. 
  • Talk it out–remind your child that people who might bump into her are doing it accidentally and are not trying to be rude or hurtful.

Kids Storytime with Samantha and Friends

Check out this really cool new YouTube channel: Kids Storytime with Samantha and Friends! What makes this channel so great is its unique approach to storytelling and engagement: Samantha, a charismatic and cute-as-a-button 9-year-old reads shares her passion for reading and learning by reading to kids of all ages!

We all know the benefits of reading and being read to: increased vocabulary, improved listening and language skills, and social emotional connection and development. Not only does having a peer read to your children improve their comprehension and social connection, but it can also provide some added motivation to work on their own reading.

Make sure to check it out if you’re looking for a run way to spruce up storytime.  (And the bloopers at the end are not to be missed. So cute!)

Happy listening!

A note from Jennifer (Samatha’s mom):

Kids Storytime with Samantha and Friends was created during the beginning of COVID-19. I saw a need to make literacy captivating for children who might not find reading a joyful experience. 

My 9-year-old daughter loves to read and was often found as little as 3 years old pretending to record herself reading books. She now is involved in an amazing theater group and performing dance troupe. These two opportunities have expanded her talents when recording and acting. She honestly just loves to make people smile and laugh.

My husband is a professional photographer, but has work experience in the audio visual realm. He truly loves to make things look easy, but only produces the best result. He loves to really put all the smallest details into each book recording.

My background includes: special education and at-risk preschool teacher, developmental therapist, tutor, respite worker, and the best job of all: being a mom. 

With my love for getting children of all abilities exposed to literacy, I came up with an idea to start our YouTube channel. We have supported local authors as well as mainstream authors. It has been truly a blessing to see the families that I served and continue to serve feel fulfilled by the stories. 

We continue to seek more books for our channel and ways to make each video a bit of its own creation. Finally, please don’t forget our bloopers, because who doesn’t need a good laugh these days. 

Hope the book videos bring you joy as they have brought to so many children and their families. 

–Jennifer (Samantha’s mom!)

Nurturing yourself so you can nurture your child

Finding Your Calm

Here at Twenty-One Senses, we follow the Attachment, Regulation, and Competency (ARC) framework. Over the next few months, we’ll take a high-level look at each of these concepts and discuss ways you can use the framework in your everyday parenting life and finding your calm. Check out arcframework.org for more information.

In short, the framework asserts that in order for children to learn or process information, they must first feel Attachment, which comes from feeling confident in that:

  1. They are in a safe physical environment.
  2. They are safe with the person teaching them.

As parents and caregivers, our job is to create this sense of safety for our children. Attachment is the process of strengthening and supporting caregivers so that they might be a consistent source of calm, safety, and support. You can’t be a source or calm, however, if you’re overloaded or stressed.

This month, we encourage you to spend some time thinking about your own sensory triggers and experiment with ways your senses can help you when finding your calm. Have a favorite coping tip? Let us know in the comments!

Step #1 – Know Your Triggers

Try to notice what kinds of sensory input make you feel stressed or deregulated, and be mindful of how your triggers can compound. A loud TV might not usually bother you, but it just might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back if you’re already feeling exhausted or overwhelmed by the mess in the kitchen. Some common sensory triggers include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Auditory – Yelling or talking over each other; loud electronics
  • Visual – Messy or disorganized house; bright or poor lighting
  • Tactile – Constant touching or snuggling; feeling too hot or cold
  • Vestibular – Being bumped into or hung on; constantly stepping around messes
  • Olfactory – Poor or reduced ventilation; bathroom or diaper smells
  • Gustatory – Food fatigue or boredom; cravings
  • Proprioception – Not getting enough exercise or physical contact
  • Interoception – Not noticing when you’re hungry or exhausted

Step #2 – Know Your Fix

We all know self-care is important, but it’s not always as simple as pouring a glass of wine or taking a hot bath. If you are truly experiencing sensory deregulation, you might need to turn back to your senses to help find your calm. Maybe you’re crawling out of your skin due to being constantly touched, grabbed, or bumped into by your children, but wrapping up in a weighted blanket feels soothing. Maybe you can’t stand the sound of your children screaming or playing loud video games, but focusing on a podcast or calming music keeps you from losing it. Listen to your body and experiment with ways sensory input can help you stay regulated.

Finally, learn how to communicate when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Have a phrase (“My brain is scrambled”) or some nonverbal signal that lets others know you’re hitting your limit. Get the family in the habit of rating their stress or anxiety on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, check-in with each other throughout the day.

Need some more tips on dealing with deregulation? Check out our previous articles on managing anxiety and building good transition habits.

Sensory struggles during the winter months

Sensory Struggles in Winter

Winter is here! For many of us, winter is a time of outdoor play, indoor coziness, and creating memories with family and friends. However, winter can bring a whole new set of challenges and for families with sensory needs.

This month, we’re taking a look at some common sensory struggles in winter and offer a few suggestions for keeping your child regulated, engaged, and safe during the cold months. Have another tip? Let us know in the comments!

Challenge #1 – Outdoor Winter Activities

Winter games like sledding, ice skating, and playing in the snow are generally great for seekers, particularly: tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive. However, children with sensitivities and discrimination issues often struggle with these activities.

Proprioceptive and tactile avoiders may be unable to tolerate cold wind on their faces, fast movement, or being close to other children. Visual avoiders may become overwhelmed by the glare of snow and ice. Finally, those with vestibular, proprioception and visual discrimination disorders may have difficulty walking on snow or ice and keeping a safe distance from other children. 

Tips and Tricks:

  • Ease your child into new activities. Hold his hand and practice walking on ice and snow, slowly pull him around the yard in a sled, and help him pack snowballs.
  • Practice new or scary activities at home. Skate on the kitchen floor in your socks, have a snowball fight with socks or stuffed animals, or race to put on your snow gear.
  • Break down overwhelming or scary activities into small, manageable steps. (“First we sit on the sled, second we push, and third we lean back and ride.”)
  • Experiment with outdoor games and activities that don’t require being in close proximity to others, such as geocaching, Pokemon Go, or simply making snow angels.
  • Be mindful of seeking behavior in activities like sledding, skiing, and ice skating. If your child is being unsafe, try to figure out the sensation he’s craving and help him find other ways to achieve it.
  • Wear sunglasses or baseball hats to reduce glare from ice and snow.

Challenge #2 – Winter Clothing and Dry Skin

Even children without sensory issues can struggle with winter clothing. For tactile avoiders, however, getting into winter gear can feel completely overwhelming: sweaters are itchy, boots are heavy, coats are bulky and restrictive. They may find dry, irritated skin to be extremely painful but, along with olfactory avoiders, be unable to tolerate certain lotions or skin care products. On the other hand, those with tactile discrimination disorder and interoception discrimination disorder may not notice cracked or bleeding skin.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Avoid clothing made out of bulky or scratchy materials like wool. Stick to soft, comfortable layers of fleece, cotton, or flannel, and remember to remove the tags!
  • Have your child try on and approve every piece of outdoor gear―coats, hats, gloves, you name it. If you can, buy extras of smaller items in case something gets lost.
  • Find alternatives to uncomfortable items. Experiment with earmuffs instead of hats, hand warmers instead of gloves, or snowboarding pants instead of snow bibs.
  • Apply moisturizer frequently, especially after bathing. If your avoider can’t stand lotion, experiment with body bars, coconut oil, shea butter, or aloe vera gel.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day. Add fruit slices, flavor packets, or seltzer to combat flavor fatigue.

Challenge #3 – Sensitivity to Cold and Heat

Not everyone experiences the sensations of winter in the same way. Tactile avoiders may feel unbearably cold while playing outside or uncomfortably hot in certain types of clothing. On the other hand, tactile seekers may love to play outside on very cold days, hold snow in their bare hands, or take extremely hot showers. Finally, those with tactile discrimination disorder and interoception discrimination disorder may be unable to feel extreme temperatures at all, making them susceptible to frostbite or overheating.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Check in with your child frequently, especially during outdoor play, to make sure he’s not become overheated or becoming too cold.
  • Ease your child into the colder temperatures. Use indoor sensory bins to help him get used to the texture and cold of ice and snow.
  • Be mindful of seeking behavior around extreme cold. Put time limits on outdoor play and make sure gloves, hats, and coats are being worn.
  • Combat feeling cold by taking warm baths, heating up towels or clothes in the dryer prior to dressing, and making hot chocolate after playing outside.

Challenge #4 – New Foods and Smells

For most of us, winter means tweaking our diets to include more hot and multi-textured meals like stews, soups, and crockpot dishes. Many fruits and vegetables are out of season and will have a significantly different taste or texture than they do in the spring and summer. All of these changes can be extremely upsetting to gustatory avoiders and tactile avoiders. In addition to struggling with new foods, olfactory avoiders may be bothered by cleaning, cooking, and other household smells they might not notice when the windows are open.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Introduce new foods slowly and methodically. See our previous article for a step-by-step guide.
  • Have your child help plan and prepare meals. This will get him familiar with new smells, textures, and ingredients without having to taste them.
  • Know your child’s favorite foods and have a way to make them inside. For example, you might buy a George Foreman grill or grill pan to make burgers or hot dogs.
  • Be conscious of cleaning, cooking, and other strong or unpleasant household smells. Open the windows when possible and keep the house well-ventilated.

Challenge #5 – Staying Active

We all have different reactions to being cooped up inside on a cold winter day. Vestibular seekers and proprioceptive seekers may become manic and start bouncing off the walls, while vestibular avoiders and proprioceptive avoiders may become withdrawn and almost completely sedentary. No matter whether your child is seeking or avoiding, engaging in regular physical activity is critical for relieving anxiety, improving concentration, and transitioning between activities.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Schedule times throughout the day to do jumping jacks, stretch, or run in place. This can be especially helpful when transitioning into a new activity.
  • Have a designated area of the house where “rough” play is okay. Include things like pillow forts, obstacle courses, and crash pads, trampolines, etc.
  • Play family games that involve lots of movement, such as Twister, I Can Do That!, and The Floor Is Lava!
  • Have your child help with chores that involve executive functioning and proprioceptive input, such as snow shoveling and carrying groceries or laundry.
  • Experiment with different seating options that increase movement and concentration, such as yoga balls, foam rollers, and balance beams.

Combat boredom by bringing tents, pool toys, and other outdoor equipment inside. Experiment with alternatives to outdoor games, like the Hover Soccer Ball.

Challenge #6 – Changes in Routine

Like any significant disruption, the changes in routine brought on by winter break can be difficult for children with special needs. Without external timekeeping cues such as what class they’re in or where the sun is in the sky, children with interoception discrimination disorder often have difficulty knowing when to eat, when to sleep, and when they need to use the restroom. 

Tips and Tricks:

  • Prepare your child for any changes in routine. What exactly will be changing? What will stay the same? Are there new cues can he look for to know what to do next?
  • Set timers or alarms throughout the day to remind your child when it’s time to eat, use the restroom, or shift to another activity.
  • See our article for building good transition habits for more tips on establishing routines, creating rituals, and managing expectations.

Save the Date: GivingTuesday is December 1st!

GivingTuesday is right around the corner!

Now more than ever, our communities need us to come together and give back to those who matter to us—not just with our money, but with our time, talents, hearts, and creativity. GivingTuesday is just that: a day of global giving to support and continue the missions of the people and organizations who do the most good in their communities.

Head over to our GivingTuesday page to learn more about how your gift can help Twenty-One Senses make a big difference to special needs and at-risk families. Can’t give money right now? No problem! Our Get Involved page lists several other ways you can help further the cause. Finally, be sure to check out the official Giving Tuesday website for more creative ways to get involved and support the organizations you love.

Happy giving, everyone!

Cheers to One Year!

It’s our anniversary!

The entire Twenty-One Senses team is thrilled to be celebrating one year of supporting families with sensory issues. We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time and, although there’s plenty of work left to do, we’re taking take a night off to celebrate with everyone who’s been with us on this incredible journey.

Join us this Saturday, November 14th at 8:00 PM CT for our first Virtual Trivia Night. The event is free for all, but please make sure to RSVP so we can send you a Zoom link prior to the start. Register here.

Can’t make it to the party? You can still participate in the silent auction or make a donation.

Also be sure to check out for our first ever Virtual 5k. Walk, bike, or run anytime until November 28th and help support special needs families. 

As always, thank you for your continued support. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Helpful Resources and Products for SPD

At Twenty-One Senses, our mission is also our passion. As parents and caregivers of children with sensory processing issues, we are dedicated to providing resources and support for families like ours.

As SPD Awareness Month comes to a close, our team would like to take a moment to share just some of the resources and products we’ve found to be particularly helpful over the years. Keep in mind that sensory supports don’t necessarily need to cost money. Get creative and experiment until you find something that works for your family—pushing a laundry basket full of books or groceries around the kitchen is great stimulation for the muscles/joints, and a nook full of pillows can work just as well as a crash pad. The possibilities are endless!

Books and online resources:

A few helpful products:

October is SPD Awareness Month!

What is SPD?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a neurological disorder in which sensory information—such as light, sound, or touch—is either undetected or incorrectly processed by the brain. This often results in either extreme sensitivity or extreme underreaction to normal sensory input, especially in children. Individuals with SPD may also have problems performing certain motor tasks, appear withdrawn and anxious, or exhibit unusually aggressive or thrill-seeking behavior. 

Check out our What Is SPD? page for more information, including specific tips on how to support children with seeking/avoiding behaviors and sensory discrimination challenges.

Did You Know?

Do you have to have autism, ADHD, or some other diagnosis in order to have SPD?

No, sensory processing issues can be—and often are—diagnosis agnostic. However, recent studies have shown as many as 40% of children with ADHD and 75% of children with autism spectrum disorders have significant sensory processing issues.

What causes SPD?

The cause of SPD is currently unknown. Some research suggests there may be a genetic or inherited component. Prenatal/birth complications and environmental triggers have also been named as potential factors.

How do I know if my child struggles with sensory processing?

No two children are alike, and the exact symptoms of SPD can vary widely depending on each child’s surroundings, emotional state, and particular sensitivity. That being said, many children with SPD will show one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch, or smell
  • Poor gross or fine motor skills/coordination
  • Exceptionally high or low pain tolerance
  • Refusal to eat certain foods/gagging while eating
  • Tendency to become distracted or “spaced out”
  • Late or impaired language development
  • Difficulty recognizing others’ physical space/boundaries
  • Difficulty learning new things or following verbal instructions
  • Constant fidgeting, climbing, wrestling, or other “problem” behavior
  • Tendency to become frightened or overwhelmed in busy, crowded environments

If you think your child is struggling with sensory processing issues, contact your pediatrician or teacher for an evaluation. The STAR Institute also has a great symptoms checklist and a plethora of resources to help you learn about SPD and available treatments.