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My parents often come to me to diagnose sensory integration processes and report that their child behaves differently at home than in kindergarten or school. They are often surprised that this is happening and do not understand why. Sometimes it is even hard for them to believe that their child, who is bursting with energy at home in kindergarten, is tense, withdrawn and static, or on the contrary - a child at home can be calm and cooperative, and in kindergarten - nervous, agitated or even aggressive.

Of course, the reasons for this behavior may be different, but in many children the reason for the different behavior is sensory integration disorders, usually hypersensitivity to stimuli. A child who is hypersensitive to sensory stimuli, especially tactile, auditory or visual stimuli, may react in two ways: passively or actively. A child with a passive type of reaction in the event of an excess of stimuli, e.g. in kindergarten, will seemingly ordinary, but will be alert all the time and focused on recognizing the stimulus. In kindergarten, it will be calm, not causing problems, rather withdrawn and keeping to the side of the groups. Such children will "accept" all stimuli because they cannot "protect" against them. Therefore, after a whole day of stay, they will be overstimulated, which will usually cause reactions disproportionate to the situation.

Difficult behaviors in the case of these children will appear with a delay, i.e. when they are picked up from kindergarten or at home. You have certainly encountered a situation where a child in the locker room starts screaming, crying or even hitting a parent - often the cause of such behavior is stimulation, and the toddler tries to cope with the excess of stimuli accumulated throughout the day. Such children also often have a problem with falling asleep or calming down after a whole day. At home after kindergarten, they can be more irritable, tearful or agitated. In turn, children who are hypersensitive to stimuli with an active type of reaction react to the "threatening" stimulus immediately - actively avoiding it or actively defending themselves against it. In a situation where the stimulus is too strong, they can actively avoid it, e.g. in the case of auditory hypersensitivity - by blocking the ears, hiding under the table or shouting to drown out unpleasant sounds, hypersensitive to smells will clog the nose, etc.

There is also a group of children who unpleasant stimuli will react with an attack or even aggression, e.g. pushing away a colleague who has come too close - in the case of tactile hypersensitivity. These children in kindergarten are usually "conspicuous" because of their unpredictable, excessive reactions, it happens that they beat or bite other children, thus trying to defend themselves against what is unpleasant for them. They often behave much calmer at home, so parents are usually surprised by complaints about inappropriate behavior. We should remember that children who are sensory-hypersensitive at home are exposed to a much smaller amount of unpleasant sensations. At home, a child has a more sensory-friendly environment - it is usually quieter, calmer, especially if the child is an only child. On the other hand, a stay in a kindergarten or school is associated with noise, the measurement of colors and smells, unpredictable touch - children run, jostle, bump, etc. No wonder that in such different places children behave differently. It is important to understand the cause of difficult behavior, because it will make it easier for us to understand the child.


Anna Chacińska

special educator, specialist in sensory integration