I am writing to you about my 18-month-old son. He is a very active little boy who is always laughing and smiling. However, his early childhood educators and I have noticed that he is quite rough when playing with others. In fact, he often pushes, hits, and hurts his brother who is 3 years old. I have also noticed that he voluntarily hits his head against objects or other children. He often squeezes us very tightly as he hugs us and he hits us too. Is this normal for an 18-month-old? Could all this be caused by hyposensitivity? Is he simply seeking various sensations through his actions? Do you think I should consult an occupational therapist?
Your son does seem to be seeking various sensations and thrills. At birth, a child's brain resembles a jungle of cells. At first, these cells don't all have precise roles. The child undergoes many sensory experiences at a very young age and later voluntarily seeks other sensory experiences in order to build routes and intersections between cells and complete the connections that are required to make his/her brain function efficiently. These connections will make it possible for the child to feel his/her body and feel safe in his/her environment. With time, the child will continue to improve the level of control he/she has over his/her body.
During the first years of a child's life, he/she seeks key tactile, proprioceptive, and vestibular experiences required for his/her development. In simple terms, the child's brain needs many experiences involving his/her sense of touch (on the skin), sensations in his/her muscles, impact within his/her joints, and finally, plenty of movement. If a child doesn't receive enough experiences, he/she will find ways to produce them over and over again. Sometimes, a child's brain requires more experiences because those that are present in his/her environment lack in intensity. The information may also have trouble reaching its destination or may not travel fast enough. This phenomenon is occasionally called hyposensitivity. It can also simply be described as seeking out sensory information.
It is perfectly normal for an 18-month-old child to be active. At this age, a child does not have the ability to think about the impact his/her sudden movements may have on others. Nonetheless, actions such as your child hitting his head against objects reflect a much more intense need than what is normally required for a child's brain to develop and function. Furthermore, the fact that your son does not appear to feel pain is atypical and can indicate an immaturity or particularities related to the development of his nervous system. Thus, I would recommend that you see an occupational therapist with your son if this behavior persists for more than a few weeks.
Josiane Caron Santha
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