Sensory Issues: The Sensory Avoidant Child

Last time, we spoke about the sensory seeking child (please see the previous post: Sensory Issues: The Sensory Seeking Child for more information), now we’re going to flip that coin over and talk about the sensory avoidant child. While a child can be sensory seeking and sensory avoiding, it’s good to have an understanding on what the differences are between the two and how to address it.


A sensory avoiding child can have a wide array of behaviors or aversions:

-sensitivity to loud noises and bright lights

-struggles during bath time or with grooming

-being easily startled

-hear things that others either don’t (the sound of electricity, other’s chewing/drinking sounds, clicking of a keyboard or pen, rustling of papers etc.)

-unknowingly ignoring their environment

-not liking to be touched by others even hugs/cuddles. Or are avoidant of others due to fears of being accidently touched or bumped by others

-having sensitivity to certain types of clothing

-not wanting to engage in swinging, spinning or any physical activity that involves quick movements

-being a picky eater

-hates getting their hands dirty

-self regulation struggles: tends to hide or have tantrums seemingly out of nowhere



While sensory seeking children seem to have an abundance of energy and don’t seem to be generally aggravated if their needs are not met. The sensory avoiding child my exhibit some negative behaviors i.e.:

-Shutting down, hiding or shaking when overstimulated

-Covering their ears when it’s too loud or closing their eyes when it’s too bright

-Tantrums are also common with the sensory avoidant child; they don’t know how to respond to the intrusive input and this is their only way to communicate that they are uncomfortable. This may be seen as a child in a grocery store that was fine one minute and is on the floor the next for seemingly no reason. Those who don’t understand the sensory avoidant child may see this as a child who is not getting their way and are misbehaving because of it. The reality is, that’s partially correct; the child is not getting what they need –to get away from whatever is causing them to be overstimulated.


Think about when you hear “mom, mom, …….MOM, MMMOOOOOMMMMM!!!!” every five seconds when your busy cleaning up, trying to cook dinner or if you’re working from home. There’s only so much you can take before you lose it. That is what overstimulation feels like; like you want to crawl out of your skin and scream into the void (I mean, not speaking from experience or anything).


Realistically, it’s not possible to remove your child from every situation that causes them discomfort, nor is it possible to keep your child home to avoid overstimulation. With that being said, here are some things that could help.

-utilize noise cancelling headphones

-weighted vest, toys or blankets for comfort

-providing sensory breaks, finding a quiet space for them to go when overstimulated

-prepare your child for loud/bright and overstimulating environments-letting them know where they’re going and for how long

-use sun glasses or hats to block out light


Just like sensory seeking children, sensory avoiding children can benefit from Occupational Therapy services to learn and develop coping skills as well as helping children and their parents to understand what their child’s triggers are.


Sensory processing issues are often linked to ASD and ADHD, while this is true, sensory processing disorder can be a standalone diagnosis. So, just because your child is exhibiting signs of sensory processing issues it does not mean they have additional diagnoses. With that being said, you should always talk to pediatrician or family doctor if you have any concerns about your child’s development, so they can make referrals for additional services or screenings if needed.


For more information about Sensory processing the book The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz, MA and Lucy Jane Miller, Ph.D, OTR is a good resource on what sensory processing is, symptoms, treatment, coping with sensory processing, how to talk to the school system about sensory processing and advocating for your child as well as other Sensory processing disorder related conditions.