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Help with Sensory Overload

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Some babies are born more sensitive to sensory stimuli and overload. How can you help with what are often called "sensory integration" difficulties? You are the best judge of your baby's sensitivities. Notice how he responds to sounds, touches, tastes, smells, and sights. If he cries when stimulation is too intense, be a good gatekeeper. For example, your baby may be fine if you have just a few visitors in the room. But a crowd of noisy relatives may set off yowls of protest. Avoid these situations if you can.

As you learn how to help your baby manage sensory stimulation, you show him a special loving kindness that will increase his growing, positive, loving attachment to you.

Touch: Some children find touch very difficult to take. As you put your baby down for a diapering, or pick him up, he may cry irritably. Some little ones cannot take the feel of any textures or fabrics except for soft cotton. Choose clothing that helps his skin feel more comfortable. When you launder his clothes, add a second rinse to remove any detergent residue.

Babies sensitive to touch often need firmer pats and caresses than other infants. They may not be able to accept light touches as well. Thus, when you are burping her or giving her a back rub, use firmer strokes and pats. When you hold her, press your cheek against hers as you put her to your shoulder, rather than holding her slightly apart from your face.

Most toddlers love to mess enthusiastically with water, sand, and finger paints. But those with tactile sensitivities may refuse to try finger paints. Try putting some pudding on your child's high chair tray. He may be willing to put a finger, and eventually maybe even his whole palm, into the pudding because then he can lick his fingers and enjoy this tasty dessert.

Sound: If your baby finds loud noises painful, play music softly; avoid loud, overly rhythmic, or booming selections. Sing soothing lullabies over and over in a low voice.

Taste: Some babies refuse to try new foods with gritty textures. Serve smoother foods for a while. Gradually introduce more lumpy textures with foods she already likes, such as applesauce.

Sight: If your baby gets irritable when there is too much visual stimulation, reduce clutter in his room. Keep all toys in cabinets or on higher shelves until he is ready to play. Too many colors, or too many toys all cluttered about at once, may overload his neural circuits.

About the Author

Alice Sterling Honig, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of child development at Syracuse University. She is the author of Secure Relationships: Nurturing Infant-Toddler Attachments in Early Care Settings.

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