I wanted to dive into something so many kids struggle with that we see all the time, which is sensory processing disorder, or dealing with sensory and social situations. That really just breaks my heart. I have four kids of my own and when they struggle in those situations, I always want to help. Let’s dig in to the neurological reasons young kids get uncomfortable with their environment and how to help.
There’s an amazing study that I’m going to reference that deals with human brain development, specifically in kids. It’s a Harvard study that digs into when development happens in kiddos. Oftentimes when we think about sensory struggles in kids, we may think it starts around age two or three years old. When they’re so little, they’re not doing much, or you don’t really notice it. External symptoms in babies may be a little bit of colic, struggling to go to the bathroom or not eating, nursing or latching well. We actually find that most sensory challenges start earlier – they actually start 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?
Why is that important? At birth we can see a significant amount of stress in a difficult delivery, such as a longer active labor or vaginal birth that turns into an emergency C-section or when there’s use of a vacuum or forceps. These all cause more physical stress that gets put on the area in the upper neck or neurological system. That’s important because that happens right when those sensory pathways are starting to activate, so that injury or trauma in that region can really impact that sensory system. A lot of times as parents, we don’t see it until much later on in life, even though it starts right during the birth process.
Secondly, when it impacts this area it can lead to symptoms such as constipation, fussiness or overall discomfort. What that is deep down neurologically is fight or flight. Babies are more stressed out and in protection mode from that physical form of stress early on. What happens is persistent stress wires the brain to do things a bit differently.
We like to use the term “nerves that fire together wire together”. So a baby that’s more stressed out as an infant is going to grow into a stressed out toddler.
Now, the symptoms of that are much more sensory and behavioral related than they are with a baby. You can see that in a baby’s neurological signaling. If you look at a normal signal, it’s very, branchy, open and creative – there are a lot of different pathways.
If you have a sensory child at home, like I did to start with my oldest, you know a lot of times if you say no or make them do something, it’s either yes or no. There’s not a lot of options. That’s similar to the neurology that they’re really going through in their body where the brain doesn’t make a lot of those neuroconnections and stays on a one way street because it wants to stay in that protection mode.
This is what is happening for kiddos that struggle with loud noises, tasting foods, being uncomfortable with how their jeans fit or feel, or collars annoying them. They may have trouble in social situations or loud noises irritate them. This is all because of what is going on in the brain, the nervous system doesn’t want to make those connections to be able to adapt.
Early Intervention Is Key
So the first part of this is diving into how this develops and the second part is how can we help? How does a Pediatric Chiropractor help? How does an OT or PT help?
The key with sensory struggles is to get help early.
In this Harvard study, it addresses how the brain’s ability to change its response is so much better before the age of seven. That’s really because of one word – neuroplasticity. When we’re younger than seven, our bodies have a chance to grow, change, and really work through things quickly to change those pathways. After seven, it can happen and there’s still an ability to change, but it just takes longer because the body starts to get stuck in its old ways. Like the saying goes, old dogs can’t learn new tricks. When you get into your mid thirties, forties and fifties, there’s not a lot changing your routine. The beautiful thing is when you’re younger, it’s easier to do that.
That’s why we like to help kids at such a young age, right when they start to struggle with this. If you start to notice those symptoms at 2, 3, 4 years old, we want to talk to you and get them in to see a PX Doc. We know everyone’s sensory struggles are a little bit unique. Some kiddos are seeking, some are more sensitive to everything and want to really pull back.
We want to help you with whatever your situation is because we know this is not something that’s just external, it’s a deep struggle within the nervous system.
Please check our directory for a PX Doc near you. They will start with how to help. They can look at when the stress started, how it looks persistently in the body and how to get after it sooner rather than later. We want to help your child grow, be more comfortable with their environment, thrive and feel great overall.