Calming Sensory Storms

By Dr. Matt Hill, DC, CPPFC, CCWP
Calming Sensory Storms | PX Docs

Hey parents, I wanted to dive into something many kiddos struggle with: sensory processing disorder and dealing with sensory and social situations. It breaks my heart to see kids go through this, and as a parent of four children myself, I always want to help them when they struggle in these situations. There is a neurological reason why young kids may feel uncomfortable in their environment, and I want to provide you with some strategies to assist them. 

There’s an incredible Harvard study on human brain development in children that I’d like to reference. Often, we think that sensory struggles begin around the age of two or three when children become more active, but the truth is that most sensory challenges start much earlier, right around birth and delivery. Sensory pathways, such as vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, develop rapidly within the first month of life.  

Often when we think about sensory struggles in kids, we don’t think it starts until around age 2 or 3. When they’re so tiny, you may not notice it. External symptoms in babies may include colic, constipation, not eating, nursing, or latching well. We find that most sensory challenges start earlier – right around birth and delivery. 

Sensory pathways – vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, ramp up right out of the gates at zero to one month.  

How Can Stress Start at Birth?

A difficult delivery, such as prolonged labor, a vaginal birth that transitions into an emergency c-section, or the use of a vacuum or forceps, can impose significant physical stress on the upper neck or neurological system. This stress coincides with the activation of sensory pathways, and any injury or trauma in that region can profoundly impact the sensory system. As parents, we often don’t notice these effects until much later in life, even though they originate during the birth process. 

Such impacts on the nervous system can lead to symptoms like constipation, fussiness, or overall discomfort, which are essentially the neurological manifestations of the fight or flight response. Babies become more stressed and adopt a protective mode due to the physical stress they experience early on. 

We like to use the term “nerves that fire together wire together.” Consequently, a baby who experiences higher levels of stress will likely grow into a stressed-out toddler. 

The symptoms of sensory challenges become more evident during the toddler stage and are primarily sensory and behavioral in nature. If you have a sensory child at home, you may notice that their responses are often binary – either a strong “yes” or “no” – with limited options. This parallels their neurology, as the brain fails to establish diverse neural connections and remains confined to a one-way street, seeking to maintain a protective mode. 

This is what happens to kiddos who struggle with loud noises, food preferences, clothing discomfort, or irritability in social situations. Their brains and nervous systems resist making the necessary connections to adapt to different stimuli.

Early Intervention Is Key

So how can we help? Early intervention is crucial in addressing these challenges. According to the Harvard study, the brain’s ability to change its response is significantly better before the age of seven due to neuroplasticity – the brain’s capacity to grow, change, and adapt quickly during early childhood. Although change is still possible after seven, it becomes more time-consuming as the body tends to stick to its established patterns. As they say, it’s harder for old dogs to learn new tricks. Therefore, it’s the best case scenario to help children as early as possible, as soon as you notice symptoms emerging around the ages of 2, 3, or 4.

This is when it’s time to reach out to a PX Doc who is trained in Neurologically-Focused Chiropractic. We aim to support your child’s unique sensory struggles, whether they are sensory seekers or more sensitive and withdrawn. 

We understand these challenges go beyond mere external factors; it is a deep struggle within the nervous system.  

Please check our directory for a PX Doc near you who can guide you on how to help.  They will assess when the stress started, identify persistent effects in the body and offer strategies to address them promptly. Our goal is to help your child grow, feel comfortable in their environment, thrive, and experience overall well-being.  

Dr. Matt Hill is a pediatric and family chiropractor who practices at PWC Chiropractic in Crystal Lake, IL. In addition to full-time practice, Dr. Matt is the Lead Clinical Guide at PXDocs. Dr. Matt's specialty in neurological-focused chiropractic for children started 13 years ago with his son Micah. Micah was diagnosed with a brain injury that happened in utero during development. After talking with many medical professionals and being left without hope that anything could help his condition, Micah started Neurologically focused Chiropractic Care, showing remarkable changes. He went from a baby with low motor tone, immobile and struggling to communicate, to walking, interacting, and using actions and communication tools to tell us what he needs. Despite his diagnosis and struggles, he is now the happiest teenager - growing and learning despite his developmental challenges! When not in practice or teaching, Dr. Matt is with his family, which has grown to include four boys! Micah, who is now 13; Eli, who is 10, 7-year-old Zachary, and racing after them all 4-year-old Josh.

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