A few weeks ago we went through more than 2 weeks of constant meltdowns. Why? My son’s schedule changed. The point is…this forced me to make a schedule for my son for the first time, which you can read about here.
When I say make a schedule, I don’t mean a routine. I mean put it in writing, make it visible to your child. We have been following basically the same routine for months now. And because of this I guess that is why I never actually thought it was important to make a schedule, to put it in writing and to make it visible for my son. But let me say that after deciding to do this, I have seen a remarkable difference in more than one way.
Here is some information to learn how children’s sensory systems impact participation in daily activities. Pediatric Occupational Therapy professionals are trained to understand how children’s sensory systems impact their ability to participate in daily routines and activities, known as “occupations”. Some examples might include daily activities such as mealtime, hygiene, dressing, playing, socializing, learning or even sleeping.
Did you know we have more senses than the “classic five” senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching? These five senses tell us about what types of sensations are coming from outside the body. But what about sensations that come from within the body?
There are two more “hidden” senses that also contribute significantly to our ability to participate in daily life. These include our sense of balance and motion (the “vestibular” system) and our sense of body awareness (the “proprioceptive” system).
Children receive and perceive sensory input through our sights, sounds, touches, tastes, smells, movements and balance, body position and muscle control. All of these sensations make-up your child’s sensory processing system which is controlled by your child’s brain. Sensory processing disorder impacts kids making it difficult to take in or interpret this input and thus can lead to devastating consequences with interactions with others and daily functioning, social and family relationships, self-esteem, using appropriate behavior and especially learning.
Why Do Kids Seek Out Sensory Input?
- Do you wonder why they are uninhibited – jumping and crashing into anything they can?
- Why puzzles are tricky- write is challenging – or coordination for riding a bike is off?
- Why loud sounds bother them too much – even vacuums, toilets or hairdryers?
- Why they don’t like to be touched or can’t get enough touch?
- Why they will only eat certain foods and cannot even be around other foods?
- Why they have their “favorite feel” clothing or need you to cut the tags out of their shirts?
- Ever wonder why you can’t seem to calm them down or get them to sleep?
- Why they won’t put their hands in anything messy or use glue, Play Doh, or play with mud?
- Why they fear playground equipment or want to constantly swing?
- Why crowded places bother them so much they end up having a major meltdown?
Your child’s brain is the supercomputer that is running his or her body. When the brain is functioning in an overactive state in the areas that process sensory and motor information, these behaviors result. The symptoms are viewed by most as negative behaviors that the child is performing. The truth is that these sensory seeking or aversion behaviors are a symptom of the underlying problem. Your child is not choosing to act that way, he or she needs to in order to bring a sense of calm to the overactive brain.
Today I want to share these Sensory Processing Disorder at home ideas, because if you have a child with sensory issues, it can be the difference between a great day and a not-so-good day.
A few months ago, on a rainy day in the cold part of winter, I went with my son’s class to an amazing bright, well-lit, colorful museum built just for kids their age. Most of the seven and eight year olds were so excited, itching to run around and explore.
I looked over to see John, my son’s classmate with sensory processing disorder. He was going further and further into his own shell. What is excitement to some children is scary to him.
Parenting is hard enough without getting unwanted advice others. Parenting kids with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and getting unwanted advice and suggestions from others is downright maddening.
Sometimes these comments are made because others don’t understand SPD. Sometimes they are made because someone is really trying to offer some comfort. And sometimes others think that what they have to say might actually help you and your child.
Every parent of a child with SPD has heard some suggestion that they hate to hear. We struggle EVERYDAY to help our child. We have read every parenting book, we have tried every parenting technique. Most of us have sought advice from medical professionals at some point. And we have all questioned our parenting skills. So when a stranger, teacher, friend, or family offers their advice, it can send us spiraling.
I have written a lot about ADHD, however, I have only merely breathed a mention of a lesser known challenge among kids today, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). When many of you think of SPD you either have absolutely no idea what it means, or you’re like, “yes, yes, that’s when your sensors are processing all wrong, right?” Well, in a way, yes, but do you understand what that really means for daily functioning? I’ll break it down for you in a way that is most easily understood.
You have five senses, touch, sound, smell, sight, and taste. Additionally, and less known, our bodies also take in information through body movement, position, balance, and muscle control. During your day, these systems work seamlessly together to take in the environment around you- so seamlessly, in fact, that you likely don’t even register the workings of this finely tuned machine until a wrench is tossed directly in its cogwheel. You have all put something in your mouth, like tapioca pudding, or heard nails run down a chalk board and had a visceral bodily reaction. You shutter a little, maybe gag on that weirdly textured food, and are generally left with an overall edgy feeling for a few seconds. What if you felt that way throughout your day, and you never knew when it was coming or what exactly will cause it?
A class full of students in an open gymnasium can make for a very overwhelming experience for a child with sensory processing disorder. Echoing voices, shoes squeaking on the floor, whistles blowing, the smell of sweat and cleaning agents, bright colors and moving objects are enough to increase anyone’s stress level.
Throw in the demand to attend to instructions, learn new motor skills, and keep up with your more advanced peers. For a child with sensory processing disorder, this could potentially become a recipe for disaster.
Or, with the right structure and supports put in place, this time can be a regular opportunity for fun, growth, and learning!
Choosing clothes that are acceptable to a child with Sensory Processing Disorder can be a challenge for any parent, including those with experience navigating SPD and those that are new to its nuances. Every child, with or without SPD, is different and handles day to day encounters differently, which means there are no hard-set rules to finding the right solution. But, most children with SPD are challenged with irritations that make wearing certain clothing uncomfortable. Thankfully, there are several things parents can keep in mind when selecting their child’s wardrobe to help them navigate SPD and their child to cope. The following tips are great ways to help children feel comfortable and avoid common clothing irritations.
I once had a 7-year-old boy in my school named Joe who had sensory processing issues. Joe reacted strongly when anyone touched him, especially if he wasn’t expecting it.
He had trouble in gym class and in hallways at school where other kids might bump into him. He would yell and sit on the floor holding his legs to his chest to avoid situations where he might be touched. At home, he didn’t want to be hugged or kissed. Family events were a nightmare.
Both the school and Joe’s mother made accommodations for his tactile sensitivity. But Joe’s father wasn’t on board, and he came to talk to me since I was an administrator at the school.
I never knew about sensory issues before having Brody. I wouldn’t have believed that a child could get so upset at the sight, touch, smell or sound of something – if that something wasn’t typically upsetting.
Brody’s sensory issues were visible before we even knew what they were. When he was weaning as a baby, he would often gag at the sight of food to the point he would vomit and refuse to eat. When we went to play groups, he would retch when he saw other children eat grapes and bananas. When I gave him cooked coloured spaghetti to play with, he looked at me in sheer horror, repulsed. He threw up at soft play once after touching stringy sensory lights and on one occasion was sick touching wet washing that had come out of our washing machine.