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What is Sensory Defensiveness Disorder?

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What is Sensory Defensiveness Disorder?

Before we get into Sensory Defensiveness, it’s a good idea to review Sensory Integration. As discussed in previous blogs, Sensory Integration involves how the human body receives and processes stimuli from its eight senses. If someone’s central nervous system has trouble processing sensory information, that is referred to as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

A person with difficulty processing sensory input might be over-responsive or under-responsive–overstimulated versus understimulated. There is a low threshold for sensory input when Sensory Defensiveness is present. Here, you see people becoming easily overwhelmed and overstimulated, leading to responses like irritability and avoidance.




Signs of Sensory Defensiveness Disorder

If your child is Sensory Defensive, it can create challenges in almost every aspect of their lives, including behavior, emotions, and social interactions.
Signs of Sensory Defensive Disorder include:
  • Fearful or avoidant of movement
  • Has a noticeable response to being touched unexpectedly (an emotional OR physical reaction)
  • Sensitive to loud noises and responds by covering ears
  • Intensely affected/distracted by clothing tags, fabrics, and textures
  • Picky eating including a strict diet limiting colors, flavors, textures
  • Resistant to everyday grooming like washing, bathing, brushing teeth, clipping nails, brushing hair, etc.
  • Experiences sensitivity to light
  • Very concerned about getting dirty, particularly hands, face, feet
While anyone might display one or two of the above symptoms, take note if your child presents multiple symptoms. If several of these behaviors and reactions sound familiar, it’s worth exploring whether your child has Sensory Defensiveness.

Your sensitivity to your child’s reactions and preferences is paramount because many people write these symptoms off as someone being “overly sensitive.” For the individual with Sensory Defensiveness, their responses are genuine, and their feelings are valid. 


How Can Parents Help With Sensory Defensiveness?

Parents to the rescue! As usual, your consistency, understanding, and support will have a more significant impact on your child than almost any other factor. And you don’t have to be an expert on Sensory Defensiveness to have a positive impact. After all, you’re already an expert on your child!

Luckily, there are several ways you can help your child manage Sensory Defensiveness so they can live life to the fullest and enjoy everyday experiences. An Occupational Therapist can help you develop a “sensory diet” that supports your child’s unique needs as they continue developing and growing.


As the parent of a sensory child, you might already be familiar with the concept of “brushing,” also known as the Wilbarger Therapressure Protocol. While it might sound a little peculiar, using a sensory brush on your child can actually help them with focus, self-awareness, and self-control. Interestingly, experts recommend brushing for the following behaviors in particular: picky eating, slow starters, and those who are overly cautious.
Brush therapy helps with sensory integration and is especially useful for children who are extremely sensitive to touch or experience tactile defensiveness. Before engaging in brushing, be sure and speak with an Occupational Therapist who can ensure you conduct the action accordingly.

Deep Pressure

You’ve probably heard that weighted objects can help sensory children with regulation. If you have a child with Sensory Defensiveness, deep pressure touch therapy can help improve symptoms and support positive improvements.

Therapeutic deep pressure activities include:

  • Using a weighted blanket
  • Bear hugs from a trusted loved one
  • Compression garments like weighted vests
  • Use of a pressure foam roller or therapy ball
  • “Sandwiching” your child between two soft pillows 

Sensory Scout offers a wide array of innovative sensory products that provide deep pressure therapy. Our deep pressure therapy products include weighted blankets, Gravity Lap Pads, and Cozy Cocoons to soothe, calm, and support your child’s unique challenges and needs.


Conclusion: What is Sensory Defensiveness Disorder?

Children with Sensory Defensiveness tend to be over-responsive and easily overwhelmed. They can become avoidant and isolated, missing out on activities, interactions, and experiences. But you can take steps to ease your child’s symptoms and empower them to get the most out of every moment! The Sensory Scout community is here to offer encouragement, inspiration, and helpful tips at every stage of the journey. Keep up the fantastic work!