By: Laura Petix, MS OTR/LEPISODE 121


Whew! This sick season has been so rough. It feels like it’s been never-ending sick cycles since winter began.

I’ve had lots of parents reach out to me asking questions like “why is everything so much harder when my child is sick?” or “they were sick two weeks ago but we’re still experiencing regressions in their skills – why is that?” When you start unpacking what happens inside the body when fighting a virus, it makes sense why our kids are more moody, needy, and less able to cope with day-to-day tasks when they’re sick and when they’re recovering from illness.

These types of questions come up a LOT for sensory sensitive kids, when they’re sick or even when they’re well. That’s why I decided to host a FREE, live masterclass – 4 Steps to Less Stressful Daily Routines with Your Sensory Sensitive Child – on June 30th and July 1st for parents who are looking for more strategies and support for their neurodivergent child.

Register at!

What you’ll hear in this episode:

So how does illness impact neurodivergent children?

Feeling sick is not fun for anyone but, for neurodivergent children, it can add additional strain to their already sensitive nervous system. This leads to greater dysregulation and the need for more support in their day-to-day routine both while they’re sick and while their nervous system is recovering afterwards.

This is due to the fact that our nervous systems regulate our senses, our movement, our basic body functions, our stress response, and our emotional wellbeing. And, when you have a sensitive nervous system to begin with, any changes – even small ones – can then make it hard to function when you also may be experiencing pain and discomfort on top of dysregulation.

Strategies for supporting during and after an illness

When adults are feeling sick, we usually don’t feel like doing anything. Our nervous system KNOWS that we need rest. We may be exhausted, less hungry, and don’t have the mental or emotional capacity for bigger brain tasks or dealing with daily life stresses.

Our children feel the same way AND, if they’re sensory sensitive, all of this may be heightened.

So, what can you DO to support them while they’re sick and recovering from illness?

Episode Links

Why Is My Child's Behavior Worse When They're Sick?
Laura Petix 0:00 Hey parents before we get started with this episode, I wanted to take the time to invite you to my brand new masterclass that is happening on June 30 or July 1, you get to pick which day and time works best for you. And if you can't make it live, you...

Laura Petix 0:00 Hey parents before we get started with this episode, I wanted to take the time to invite you to my brand new masterclass that is happening on June 30 or July 1, you get to pick which day and time works best for you. And if you can’t make it live, you will get a recording sent to you. So, in this 60 minute masterclass, I am talking to parents of sensory sensitive kids, and particularly those who are experiencing daily or weekly challenges around daily routines. So think of clothing if you have a child who refuses to wear certain types of clothing, or if it’s really uncomfortable for them shoes, socks, underwear, shirts, or if they have a hard time with adding new or different foods to their diet. Maybe you have a child who is sensitive to hygiene tasks like taking a bath, washing their hair, brushing their teeth, brushing their hair, getting their hair cut, cutting their nails, all of the things with imposed touch that make those daily routines really challenging. Or you might have a child who is sensitive to sound and being in loud or busy environments that make it really difficult for them to participate at birthday parties or in restaurants or other community environments. If that sounds like your child, and you want to learn how I helped my daughter, my sensory sensitive daughter at home using my ot Lens, I’m giving you my four step process for free in this masterclass, so you can join us and register at the OT steps. That’s the number four and then S T E. P S. All right, I hope to see you there. Let’s get started. Welcome to the sensory wise solutions podcast for parents, where parents can get real actionable strategies to support kids with sensory processing disorder. I’m Laura, OT and mom to Lilyana a sensory sensitive kid who inherited my anxiety and my love for all things Disney. Consider me your new Oh T mom bestie. I know my stuff. But I also know what it’s really like in the trenches of parenting a child with sensory processing disorder. Okay, mom, enough about me. Let’s try the podcast. Hello, hello, everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today’s episode is actually highly requested despite us being in the middle of the summer months here in the US. I’m not sure what is in the air right now, or what has been in the past like four to six weeks, but there were so many bugs and viruses going around. My daughter and I both got the flu in May. And since then she’s had a lot of like little random things going on. It just it feels more like the January February sickness cycle like but we’re in like, late June like what? So anyway, this topic is because I got a lot of DMS, from parents asking how common it is, or why is my child so moody and irritable around their illness and even following their illness. So if you’ve ever experienced that, you know what I’m talking about, they become more dysregulated more behavioral. And even after their illness is over, you’re still noticing it and you’re like, what’s going on, like, let’s get back to normal here. So you are not imagining things being sick really does impact the nervous system and therefore behavior because remember, I always say this behavior is a reflection of the state of the nervous system. So when you’re sick when your child’s sick, the nervous system is directly impacted. And not only that, but after your child has recovered, quote, recovered from their illness, it can still take extra effort and time for the nervous system to really bounce back. Especially for neurodivergent kids, and especially especially especially for sensory sensitive neuro divergent kids. And let’s not even forget that even the earliest days of illness before our child is even really showing any symptoms. The nervous system may already be detecting that something’s off and your child will start having some behaviors then I can’t even count how many times I’ve caught myself saying like she’s like really off today. Like I wonder what’s going on, only to find out like the next day or the next couple of days she comes down with a bug of some sort. And to be honest I actually do find it really hard to decipher on Sundays because with a sensory sensitive neurodivergent child who can become dysregulated, at all sorts of things, and at the drop of a dime, I think I tend to lean that way more like I’m always justifying her moods and behaviors by, you know, oh, today was a hard day at school, or it was really hot today or whatever sensory trigger that there was. But it’s only after she then starts displaying symptoms that I put two and two together. And in hindsight, I realize, like, that’s probably why she was having a hard time, then of course, if you have the brain that I am so blessed to have, then the next few times that they start acting like that again, then my brain is like, oh, gosh, she’s getting sick, only for it to just be the regular old plain vanila, dysregulation triggers, and I just, I can never get it right. So let’s do some quick neurodivergent parenting math here, if you will. So if you’ve got a sick kid, with, let’s just go with your regular old cold or runny nose, no fever. Sometimes that eventually turns into a cough because our kids don’t like blowing their nose. And so all of the mucus, all of the stock goes down their throat and then turns into a wet cough. It’s like the same cycle. Those symptoms, like at their worst, quote, last five to seven days, maybe seven to 10 days, but let’s just go with average five to seven days. But with your child’s sensory sensitive nervous system, perhaps they are dysregulated a day before they fully show symptoms of their cold. And then it takes them maybe a few days after they are back to normal in terms of their energy, their voice sounds the same all of that it takes them a few days after to fully return to their baseline. So that means you’ve got like over 10 days minimum of dysregulation for just a plain old runny nose. Of course, the more severe the illness or virus or infection. Cute can imagine how that extrapolates and how that magnifies and changes that timeline. So obviously, many viruses and bugs come with some level of discomfort, if not pain, there’s something going on whether it’s a tummy issue ahead issue, nose being congested breathing, coughing, sore throat aches and pains. Like I mentioned earlier, my daughter and I both just had the flu. And she was actually much more uncomfortable and dysregulated and moody, when she had a runny nose versus when she had like a fever of 104.9 like the fever was fine. But as soon as she started getting a runny nose, and her fever was gone, she was much more uncomfortable. And then in addition to the pain and discomfort that a lot of the viruses and the illnesses have and come with, then of course it impacts your sleep, and your appetite, and then your digestion and all of those three things I always tell parents sleep, nutrition, and then like potty issues, those things have a direct impact on the nervous system. So if you have an issue with sleep, or if you have an issue with nutrition, or or eating. And then you also have an issue with constipation or any kind of bathroom or GI issues, you’re going to kind of like, hit your ceiling, your maximum of regulation that your child can have or that you can have without those three things kind of being in place will say Alright, so we know now why illnesses are so hard for our kids. I pointed out some of the obvious things. It’s nice to just hear them all together. So now what can we do? What is the magic solution here? Yeah, I hate to say it, but I have to say there really isn’t much we can do in terms of snapping our kids out of it or getting them to return to normal faster. There are however, a few supports accommodations mindset shifts that I rely on to infuse as much regulation as possible for them. It’s like squeezing the last little bit of lemon juice out like as much of it as I can get I will take right so when I’m in this like timeline of the illness is over. She’s like maybe going back to school going back to her regular scheduled stuff. But she’s still in this like trying to get back to regulation phase. She’s still dysregulated there’s two main things that I prioritize and protect in this timeframe. And that is my daughter’s sleep and eating not neutral. question specifically what you might think. And I’m, I know, and I believe that there are tons of vitamins and supplements and special foods with certain ingredients that that offer a natural remedy to speed up the healing after a virus or an infection. And I know there’s Oh, there’s all of that out there. But again, that’s all well and good if you have a child who’s willing to eat that normally let alone when they’re not feeling their best, right. So trying to get a sensory sensitive, selective eater who’s just recovering from a cold, maybe their smell is still off, their taste is still off, or they haven’t been eating well, the last few days, trying to get that kind of kid to eat any food that’s not immediately part of their safe foods, like they’re already safe foods is really an uphill battle, at least it is in my house. So speaking from my experience, right, so I, in this timeframe, I really let her eat any snacks or food that she wants, so that she’s not hangry so that she can drink whatever she wants to drink. And she can have food so that she’s not like working on an empty stomach. And sometimes I even do rely on screens or other distractions while she’s eating, to have her gain back the energy that calories that she lost in the days prior for more energy. So I’m not picky here. Of course, if she has say foods that are higher and vitamin C and all the goodness, totally, but if she’s like I don’t feel like strawberries and fruit right now, I really want a bag of Doritos girl, eat those Doritos fill up like that, because there is nothing worse than a sick dysregulated child who is hungry. Like that’s, that’s just bad on all counts. The other thing I said that I prioritize is sleep. And for us, that doesn’t really mean that we have to do anything different. It’s just I might put her to bed a little earlier, I might let her sleep in a little longer. But but sleep, to be honest, isn’t really an issue for us. So she sleeps well in her room. It’s just that I prioritize sleep for her and trying to get her to her sleep a little earlier. But I want to mention this specifically for any of you. And to remind any of you I know some of you have kids who get the best quality sleep when they’re sleeping in your room in your bed, or if you sleep in their room. And maybe you’re kind of in this time when you’re trying to encourage them to sleep on their own. Because for whatever reason, right. But let’s say they’re in this timeframe, this window of when they’re still recovering from their illness, I’d say let them sleep a few extra nights in your bed, when or wherever, whatever their most comfortable situation is to get their nervous system like back to baseline, if that makes sense. So just put the rules that you have, like try to look at them and say how important is this to my child’s physical well being right now. And if their nervous system is off from being sick, it’s probably not going to trump their need for sleep or, or food. The I remember like the earlier like probably when she was three or four and she would be sick, I would try to just quickly jump back to the routine, like the day after her snotty buggers dried up. Because I was so afraid of her getting, like use, quote, use to this like different, like lacks lifestyle where I would like let her do a lot of things that I don’t typically do. But I learned she really does need that time. And even if I if it takes a little bit longer, I haven’t had an issue, getting her back to where we were before she got sick. If you think about it, recovering from an illness is a transition. And we know that neurodivergent kids struggle with transitions. So it’s very similar and it does take a slower approach and more time to transition out of that illness back to quote normal life, then you may like or then might feel convenient for you. So I know it feels inconvenient. We have to get back to the schedule, we got to get the back to school, we got to do all these things. And so just knowing that it’s harder for their nervous system to transition and shift between these phases is helpful and showing up with more compassion. So no, there’s not a quick way to snap them out of it. But helping but knowing that it’s hard for them and knowing the reason why will at least help you hopefully show up a little bit more compassionate and just know that this is just what they’re going through right now. The other thing that I’m more mindful of in this window of time following an illness is just trying to lower the cognitive demands that I place on her. It’s really, really, really the hardest mind shift mindset shift for me. So I’m gonna give a very specific example. So she’s independent in brushing her teeth, she knows how to brush her teeth, it is not her favorite thing to do. It’s not really related to her sensory stuff. She just doesn’t like brushing her teeth. But we finally got her to a place where I could say, Go brush your teeth, and she would do it. Now, in the wake of the past couple of weeks, more than a couple of weeks, few weeks, have her on and off, like illnesses that I talked about. She’s back in the phase of asking me to put on the toothpaste for her. And to sit in the bathroom, and watch her brush her teeth like her shadow. To be honest, it’s going on a little longer than I’d like. But I know that this isn’t going to last forever. And I know that the early morning, like rushing off to summer camp, which is what we’re in right now is when she needs as much regulation as possible. So it’s truly a trade off for me. I know that I could easily enforce a boundary and say with competence. Hey, I know you can brush your teeth by yourself. I know you don’t like to. And I know you can do it, and I can sit through the feelings that she has when she protests. I know the whole thing. I know how it would play out. And that’s definitely an option. But I also know that starting off the morning of summer camp days after already having that meltdown, may not help her feel regulated in an overstimulating summer camp environment. So I always weigh options like that. And I also know that dropping her off at summer camp is like a 5050. Sometimes she gets really dysregulated. The drop offs at summer campus are hard. So if all she’s asking me is to sit with her to brush her teeth, like I will do that, because I know there are much more hurdles in our morning that I can’t necessarily control or change for her. So it’s constantly weighing the priorities. Now on the weekend, when we’re home and relaxing, we don’t have to rush out the door, I have some room to play with encouraging her to get back into her routine. So I’m always trying to compartmentalize the different days. So I hope that this was helpful. I tried to give as many examples and concrete ideas of how to apply this information. And but I know it’s really loosey goosey. And like when they need a little bit extra more time and try to decrease your demands a little bit. I don’t have a one size fits all formula. We don’t No one does. Because all our kids are different. And every family dynamic is different. There’s no objective or concrete rule, that’s like wait seven days before returning back to your routine, I just really try to keep my mindset on thinking my child’s nervous system is sensitive to begin with. And in these days fresh out of an illness, it is probably still extra fragile and needs a little bit more TLC, it needs a little bit more cushioning. So hope that was helpful. But before you go, I want to speak to those of you who are actively working towards goals with your sensory sensitive kid. So I’m talking people who are working on maybe exploring and adding new foods to your child’s limited diet. Or maybe you’ve been practicing wearing socks and shoes or trying to add different clothes to your child’s wardrobe. I know that there are a lot of you who have been working on pottying or hygiene tasks like taking a bath and you’re trying to work up to that, trust me, I know this because these are all very, very common challenges in homes with sensory sensitive kids I have experienced with this with my clinic practice and at home with my own daughter. So if that’s you just know that it is very common for kids to quote, regress and I really don’t like using the word regress. But it gets my point across and you know what I’m talking about it it’s common for kids to go backwards in their progress with regard to those goals. So maybe you know, before they got sick, you got them to they were starting to eat a different flavor yogurt, whereas before that it was like vanilla yogurt every day and you were like great. They had blueberry yogurt. That’s amazing. And now after the sickness, you’re like wait, now they like won’t even touch the blueberry yogurt. That is totally okay. Do not panic. That’s okay, that’s normal. That’s expected and it’s okay to pause and pick back up where you left off at another time. Okay. So that’s it, but quick PS, if that is you and you have a child experiencing daily challenges, meltdowns, dysregulation, even outside of the illness, and you want to help them and help yourself better understand the sensory sensitivities and what to do and how to support them towards their goals to help them feel more comfortable around food to help them feel more comfortable around clothing to help them feel comfortable around more Work sounds in busy environments around hygiene tasks like bath time or brushing teeth or brushing hair or shampooing. Then I’ve got something for you. I want to invite you to join us for our brand new free 60 minute masterclass in the masterclass I’m going to teach you how to make those daily tasks less stressful for your sensory sensitive child without using things like punishments timeouts or sticker charts and it’s all in four steps. Just give me 60 minutes of your time. So if you want to register for that, you can scroll down below the episode and click the link there or you can just type in the OT like the number four and then steps four steps. The you have two options of the classes. There’s one on June 30 and one on July 1 at different times, and you will get a recording if you can’t join us live. Alright, thanks for being here. I hope this was helpful. I hope to see you at my masterclass next week. Take care everyone. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider rating it and leaving a review which helps other parents find me as well. Want to learn more from me. I share tons more over Instagram at the OT butterfly. See you next time. Transcribed by




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Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

I’m an enneagram 6, so my brain is constantly moving. My OT lenses never turn off and I can’t “un-see” the sensory and other developmental skills that go in to literally every activity. I love taking what I see and breaking it down into simple terms so parents can understand what goes into their child’s behavior and skills.

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