Common Sensory Triggers for Kids

19 Common Sensory Triggers

Let’s talk about common sensory triggers and their connection to your child’s potential sensory overload. You can make your home a safe place for your child. But the difficulty often arises as soon as you decide to step out of your home.

The outside world may not be built around your child’s sensory needs and sensory overloads are inevitable. Being aware of common sensory triggers can help you prevent and manage those sensory overloads.

Common Sensory Triggers for Meltdowns

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Common Sensory Triggers

  • Bright or flickering lights
  • Food textures
  • Sounds
  • Fabrics
  • Crowds
  • Smells
  • Temperature changes
  • Long events
  • Touch/Hugs
  • Hair washing/touching/cutting
  • Bathing
  • Water on face/in ears
  • Teeth brushing
  • Transitions
  • Change
  • Fatigue
  • Socializing/people talking
  • Movements
  • Waiting

As you can see, so many things and events can become a sensory trigger for your child. Let’s dive a bit deeper into sensory triggers and what it all looks like.

What is a sensory trigger?

Sensory triggers are stimulants that appear in the environment and are sensed by one of our five primary senses. These can be loud sounds, bright or inconsistent lights and colors, foreign textures, certain smells, and some tastes. And these triggers will vary by child.

Surprisingly, sensory overload is not the only issue faced by these children. They may also experience hyposensitivity which is lacking in the perception of sensory input. While the former children avoid sensory input, children with hyposensitivity try to maximize it. They want more of it. See the difference between sensory seeking and sensory sensitive.

How Do You Identify Sensory Triggers?

  • Review the list of common triggers
  • Write down the ones your child is either avoiding or seeking
  • Note their reaction to those specific triggers

Different children will show sensitivity towards different triggers. Some have more trouble processing visual input while others struggle with sounds or smells. And these triggers will change from situation to situation. They can also change with age.

If your child is expressive, identifying these triggers is a breeze. For those children who don’t voice their feelings, caregivers can take cues from the body language and behavior.

These stimuli become especially eliciting when they arise without planning and out of routine. While this relation with the routine makes transitions difficult, it does one thing – it allows for a more pronounced pattern allowing us to identify the triggers more accurately.

Does he/she feel uncomfortable with the lights? Do you see a reaction toward incoming sound? Is there a pungent – or not-so-pungent – smell in the vicinity? Is the child pinching his nose as a response to this smell? Does he look comfortable or does he want to get out of the room? 

Being mindfully present with the child’s behavior is the only way you can understand the triggers causing issues. It’s not always easy but it is necessary to fully grasp what’s affecting your child.

Examples of Sensory Triggers

As we can see anything unfamiliar or foreign to the child can solicit sensory overload. Other than the strange material experienced by the children, you should have an inventory of all the stimuli they want to avoid after a few months of observation.

But if you are starting your observation now, here are a few stimuli that may need your attention.

1 – Bright Lights – If these lights are colored, the damage may be more apparent and prompt. But even neutral colors can disturb a child if it comes with excess brightness. Think of very bright white neon lights at the doctor’s office. Those are the worst!

2 – Fabric & textures – Some may not like the smoothness of steel or other metals. Plastic can also be a problem for some. Most sensitive children complain of stiffness of new clothes or clothes tags (this is a common issue!).

3 – Crowds – For a child who has to attend school, crowds are unavoidable. But the mere presence of lots of people overwhelms the senses of these children leading to sensory meltdowns. Lots of movement, noise, and smells – it can be an overwhelming experience.

4 – Noises – When you think of fire alarms, they can be an annoying sound for all. But for a sensitive child, even the slightest sound like a ticking clock can trigger a sensory meltdown. Sudden sounds can also trigger the child who will have to shift his attention from whatever he is doing to the urgent noise he has encountered. This sudden shift can trigger sensory overload.  

5 – Transitions and Changes – Transitions are difficult even for adults but their impact on children magnifies especially when they are dealing with SPD or other attention disorders. Unexpected guests, an unwarranted doctor’s appointment, changes in childcare routine, or the mere absence of a close friend at school can cause trouble for these kids.

What can you do to help your child with sensory issues?

If you find that your child has issues with many of these sensory triggers, therapy is the best first step. Arranging your life around your child’s sensory needs will follow. Remember that it’s a life-long process. Things will go south at times. But you have to learn to be resilient and keep going for your child. With time, you will have the required skills – and patience – to protect and further your child’s interests.

If you have dealt with sensory meltdowns of your child – or student, you would know that the situation can get scary quickly. It’s even scarier for the child experiencing the meltdown but you can help.

Understand that this meltdown is out of your child’s control and the triggers lie in the external environment. You can smooth things for him by managing this environment according to his sensory needs. Know the triggers and minimize their presence in his environment. This proactive approach should decrease the difficulty felt by the child.

Please note: that this is not intended to be medical advice. If you have any concerns about your child’s development, please consult with a doctor or occupational therapist. Always supervise your child during play.

Other resources you may enjoy:

26 Signs & Symptoms of Sensory Issues
20 Self-Regulating Activities
Glow in the Dark Sensory Bath

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