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.
In addition to being highly sensitive to sensory input, a child may sometimes be under-responsive to sensory input (for example, they are unaware of being hot or cold or of having a wet diaper), or they may seek sensory stimulation (like spinning or crashing into things). It’s important to recognize that sensory stimulation comes in many forms and is not always harmful. For example, "stimming" is when a child performs a repetitive behavior (such as rocking, tapping, tongue-clicking, or repeating words or sounds) and is a way to self-regulate. It can look strange or distressing—or be taxing on others’ patience—but it is a valuable tool children have to regulate their bodies.
Adoptive families that have a child with sensory processing challenges can help their child thrive with the right approach and resources. Current and prospective adoptive parents can use the following resources to learn how to better support their child's sensory needs:
For more information, visit at https://www.childwelfare.gov.
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