What Is Hypersensitivity in Children? - Definition, Causes & Types

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Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Information Technology, and Literacy and has a master's in counseling psychology and business administration.

Children who suffer from hypersensitivity have increased sensitivity to sensory information, such as sight, touch, and hearing. Learn more about hypersensitivity in children, its causes, and the different types.

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Definition

Hypersensitivity refers to having an extreme sensitivity to sensory stimulation, i.e. touch, sight, hearing, taste, and smell. Children who are hypersensitive may complain about sensory stimuli that seem minor to others. They also find it almost impossible to regulate their emotional and behavioral responses to high levels of sensory stimulation. For example, a hypersensitive child may lose his temper as a result of being hugged.

Causes

There are several known causes of hypersensitivity in children, including:

  • Sensory processing disorders, including sensory integration disorder
  • Pervasive developmental disorders, including autism
  • Neurological disorders, including peripheral neuropathy
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Structural abnormalities in any one of the sensory systems, i.e. having a deviated septum
  • Damage to any one of the sensory systems, i.e. damage to your auditory system caused by overexposure to loud noises

In addition, the following disorders have been linked to hypersensitivity in children:

  • Anxiety disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder
  • ADHD
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Down syndrome
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Epilepsy

Types

Just as there are five senses, there are five types of hypersensitivity in children. Each type of hypersensitivity is very uncomfortable to the child that experiences it. They are:

  • Hypersensitivity to touch and movement
  • Visual hypersensitivity
  • Auditory hypersensitivity
  • Hypersensitivity to taste
  • Hypersensitivity to smell

Hypersensitivity to touch and movement refers to extreme sensitivity to being touched. Children with hypersensitivity to touch and movement do not like to be touched or hugged. They may find even the softest touch to be uncomfortable or painful. Children can also become sensitive to motion. Children who suffer from hypersensitivity to touch and movement can become disoriented and nauseous with the slightest movement. Many activities that we take for granted, such as running across the yard, using a swing, or climbing a tree are not possible for children with hypersensitivity to motion - at least not without becoming dizzy, fainting, or nausea. Other signs include:

  • Extreme emotional and behavioral reactions to minor injuries, i.e. yelling and screaming after receiving a small cut on the knee.
  • Unable to tolerate tags on clothing
  • Throwing a temper tantrum when it is time for nail trimmings

Children with visual hypersensitivity, or hypervision are usually able to see things that people with normal vision are not able to notice. However, they find bright lights and flashing lights disturbing. Other indications of hypervision include:

  • Difficulty focusing on moving objects
  • Easily overwhelmed by visual stimuli such as when watching the television
  • Reporting that blank print when placed on a white background appears to move or vibrate

Auditory hypersensitivity, or hyperhearing is hearing that is abnormally sensitive, where sounds that are normally tolerable are perceived as being excessively loud. Symptoms of hyperhearing include:

  • Unable to walk in the school cafeteria without ear muffs, ear plugs, or placing hands on ears
  • Cannot tolerate loud sounds, such as fireworks or bells
  • Frequently covering one's ears

Hypersensitivity to taste, or hypertaste, refers to an increased sensitivity to taste. To children with hypertaste, mildly sweet foods are extra sweet, mildly sour foods are extremely sour, and so on. Hypertaste is closely related to hypersensitivity to smell, or an increased sensitivity to smells. Both taste and smell are closely related to each other. If you have ever tried to eat something while you had a cold, you may have noticed that it tastes off. That is because your sense of taste is connected to your sense of smell. Indications of hypertaste and hypersensitivity to smell include:

  • Fainting or vomiting as a result of smelling someone's perfume
  • Unable to tolerate certain smells without vomiting or becoming disoriented, such as the smell of gas or citrus
  • Irritation in the mouth as a result of eating spicy or salty foods
  • Only eating certain foods
  • Inability to tolerate foods that are more than mildly sweet, sour, bitter, or salty

Lesson Summary

Hypersensitivity in children refers to abnormally sensitive senses in which sensory stimuli that is normally tolerable is perceived as being excessive. Sensory processing disorders and pervasive developmental disorders are known causes of hypersensitivity in children. Hypersensitivity has also been linked to obsessive compulsive disorder, fragile X syndrome, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy. The five types of hypersensitivity are hypersensitivity to touch and movement, hypervision, hyperhearing, hypertaste, and hypersensitivity to smell.

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