Developmental Trauma and Sensory Processing Challenges
Sensory experience helps shape neural connections and readies areas of the brain that regulate emotions. During the earliest years of life, a child needs a safe, predictable, and loving environment and caregivers for their brain to develop in a healthy way. However, trauma affects children’s behavioral, social, and emotional functioning. Exposure to repeated stresses, such as chronic maltreatment, can alter the way an infant or toddler’s brain develops. Children who are adopted are more likely to have had at least one adverse childhood experience that may have affected their brain development.
Parenting a child with sensory processing challenges requires patience and tools to help manage and accommodate their needs. Children with sensory processing challenges may find things such as textures, clothing tags, strong smells, overhead lights, or loud or high-pitched sounds to be triggering. This doesn’t mean that there must be no noise or they can never touch something with a certain texture. It means certain things can quickly deplete a child’s tolerance and might cause a child to become overwhelmed.
Every child has a threshold of tolerance—even those who don’t have sensory processing challenges. Tolerance is dynamic. Many small things can add up over days, or there can be a single inciting incident. It’s important to be aware of a child’s triggers and ensure they have both the time to decompress and the tools to regulate. These tools can include things like comfort items, earplugs or headphones, or fidgeting toys. They also include teaching your child how to self-regulate and how to recognize and communicate when they feel they are reaching their threshold.