Parents often have a hard time figuring out how to connect with kids who are going through difficult behavior periods. Learning to hold boundaries and help your child adapt to expectations is not easy. For some parents, though, it’s exponentially harder. It seems like everything leads to meltdowns and big feelings. Many parents are not familiar with sensory processing disorders, but when they learn about them, everything seems to click. The good news is that there are tools parents, teachers, and caregivers can use to help them relate to kids who may have a sensory processing disorder. Here are a few key things to know.
Observe the Child
Occupational therapy practitioners (OTP) who are trained in sensory integration can work with children and the adults who care for them to learn about the ways that specific child interacts with the world. For some children, loud sounds can be an issue. This can be something as seemingly benign as classmates singing “Happy Birthday” to a friend. For others, it’s difficult to sit still. To adults caring for the children, it often appears on the surface as bad behavior.
Watching how children respond when their senses start to become overwhelmed is another way to help understand their needs. A properly trained OTP may use such tools as the well-respected Sensory Processing Measure to evaluate a child who is struggling.
Find Tools That Help
Not all kids with sensory processing disorders respond to the same triggers or benefit from the same tools, but there are many things to try that can be helpful to a large number of kids. Of course, for a child that struggles with loud sounds, it’s not really possible to go through life avoiding all loud noises. When an OTP teaches children various movement exercises and other skills, they may learn to better cope with things that bother them.
Some kids respond very well to weighted blankets and other materials or clothing that feel heavy to their bodies. Even a short period of that deep pressure can be extremely calming. Replacing a chair with one that encourages wiggling can help kids fidget without the risk of falling out of their chairs.
Other physical activities such as push-ups or jumping jacks might also help to center certain students. Learning the specific tools that help is an important step in helping a child with a sensory processing disorder to learn how to more easily navigate the world.
Practice at Home
OTPs and mental health therapists are great for helping kids and their parents figure out what’s going on. They know what to watch for in the problematic settings, and they have the right language, as well as a full tool kid, to talk about solutions. Once kids have tools to try, it’s important to continue working at home with the activities that can help kids temper their reactions to stimuli.
Learning that your child has a sensory processing disorder may at first sound difficult. Finding the right help and figuring out which tools best meet your child’s needs can be very reassuring.
Title: The 8 Sensory Areas and Common Symptoms of a Sensory Processing Disorder
At all times of the day, you receive information from your environment to your entire sensory system, including your eyes, ears, and skin. For some children, the sensory input they receive can be too overwhelming, or it may not register at all, which makes it difficult for them to attend and follow directions at home and school. An occupational therapist (OT) is a practitioner who specializes in teaching children to be as independent as possible while conducting activities of daily living (ADLs), such as eating, riding in a car, sitting in a classroom, and writing. For children who have difficulty processing sensory information, these daily tasks can be extremely challenging.
What Is Sensory Processing?
One area of specialty for the OT is sensory processing, which is the ability to receive information, process, interpret, and use that information appropriately. However, when there is a breakdown in one of the sensory areas, it can be challenging to behave or respond in socially appropriate or acceptable ways, especially at school. OTs conduct thorough sensory processing evaluations, create treatment plans, and provide recommendations to family members and teachers to help them address the child’s sensory needs at home and school.
Via standardized assessments, observations, and clinical judgment, the OT assesses the following eight sensory areas.
1. Sound – auditory processing.
2. Sight – visual processing.
3. The perception and awareness of the body in space – proprioceptive processing.
4. Balance – vestibular processing.
5. Touch – tactile processing.
6. Smell – olfactory processing.
7. Taste – gustatory processing.
8. Feelings within the body – interoceptive processing.
What Is a Sensory Processing Disorder?
A sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a breakdown in the interpretation of sensory stimuli. Some children are overly sensitive and respond in unexpected ways to sensory information. In contrast, other children have the opposite response and under-respond. Children who are under-sensitive may not have any awareness of an external stimulus or how they feel about it. For example, a child may have difficulty with auditory stimuli causing them to overreact to a sound with excessive crying or screaming, whereas other sounds may not appear to evoke a response at all.
For children with vestibular concerns, they may become dizzy easily or experience motion sickness quickly. Whereas other children may be unfazed by motion despite prolonged swinging or spinning. Children may dislike sitting or lying in certain positions and may be overly cautious.
Children with SPD will either acutely avoid or excessively seek out sensory information. Some common symptoms of children with SPD include the following:
• Complaining that the lighting is too bright.
• Complaining that sounds are too loud or not loud enough.
• Gagging on certain food textures.
• Avoiding specific food temperatures.
• Avoiding playground equipment.
• Showing overt clumsiness.
• Falling out of their seat.
• Becoming frightened by sudden movements.
• Having difficulty wearing clothing because of the way it feels.
• Having difficulty writing and concentrating.
There are many other manifestations of an SPD. The world is a sensory playground, and brains are receiving stimuli through all the sensory avenues. For many children, it is possible to synthesize stimuli without becoming overwhelmed or oblivious to them. However, for others, the sensory world is difficult to navigate, and it requires the expertise of an occupational therapist to help assess and treat these essential everyday abilities.