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.