A Child's View of Sensory Processing
How to Love a Child With Sensory Integration Issues or Oversensitivity
Children with sensory integration issues (SI), also known as sensory integration dysfunction (SID) or sensory processing disorder (SPD), can be super-sensitive to everything. Each of their five senses, and their emotions, are turned up to "high" all the time. Loud noises, over-stimulation, crowds, the mall, and chaotic classrooms are overwhelming to them and can cause tears and meltdowns. These suggestions apply to children and adults with sensory integration, those who are sensitive souls, and even those without sensory issues!
Provide a balanced and healthy life.The old common sense things apply double for people with sensory integration issues: take care of your body. Eat right, get enough sleep, exercise. Yes, yes... we've heard it all before. However, an unbalanced life can heighten sensitivity, leading to irritability and overwhelm. It’s hard enough going through life with SID, and hunger or exhaustion can make the day even more challenging.
Give quiet time when your child is upset.Children with SID often act sensitive, withdraw, or melt down when they feel overwhelmed. Set aside a corner of a room where your child can go without being disturbed. Weighted blankets, lights on a dimmer switch, white noise, and no interruptions can help your child relax and return to equilibrium. Put some books or little toys there for them to occupy themselves. When you notice that the child seems overwhelmed, ask if they want to go to their quiet place for a while.
- Quiet time can also apply for strong emotions such as anger. This is NOT a "time out" or a punishment. In fact, positive reward works better than punishment.
Use reflective listening and open-ended questions.After the rough time has passed, calmly talk about it. Ask reflective questions like “what made you cry at the party?” and answer sympathetically. “Yeah, that would make me cry, too.” Just listen without judging. It is hard for a child to articulate complex, overwhelming emotions. Listening is such a simple thing, but it is incredibly powerful.
Teach mutual problem solving.Rather than punishment and laying down the law, figure out what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future. If the child is old enough, try to figure out a way to reduce stressful stimuli while still engaging in the outside world. Your child may come up with good solutions that you would never have thought of. Note: this takes a lot of practice.
Act, don’t react.SI people react rather than assess the situation and act appropriately. If in an overstimulating place like the mall, or in a stressful situation, their brain gets overwhelmed and goes into panic mode. It's impossible to make good choices in that state. Create a predefined action plan to find a quiet space to calm down, and enlist the help of others if possible.
Don’t push it.Pay close attention to your own body and feelings. If you are at a loud restaurant or a crowded mall, there comes a time when you just have to leave for your own sanity. Likewise, pay close attention to your child, read her cues, know when she is approaching her limits. Don’t try to do too many things in one day. If your child is telling you that she needs to leave, honor that and don’t push her beyond her limits. You will be thankful!
Leave on a high.Decide beforehand how long to stay at a party, play-date or Grandma's house. Leave a party, a play-date, or cut short the visit to grandma’s early. Don't linger until tiredness or crankiness set in. Leave while everyone is still in a good mood. Explain to your child that you will listen and respect their wishes if they need to leave.
Recognize your child's triggers.Learn both your own and your child's triggers. Triggers are actions, stimuli, or behaviors that bring about an overwhelm or 'fight or flight' response. Usually it starts with being tired, hungry, or overstimulated. Then there is some minor irritation. Then another that multiplies it. Most people would feel mildly bothered. But for people with SI, it can escalate exponentially. The signals are there; they must simply be recognized and respected. Children with SID usually send verbal & nonverbal messages well before they melt down. It’s when you ignore them that you both get into trouble.
Build in extra time.Get up extra early to allow for the extra time to do things. It is frustrating. Take a deep breath and remember the mantra "Love = Patience". Also, she takes longer to process things mentally, emotionally, to form answers. Remain still and silent while waiting for her to complete her thoughts. It frustrates her when you talk too much or interrupt her.
Break directions into smaller steps.Sometimes children with SID cannot take multiple directions at once. Like, “Brush your teeth - use toothpaste, brush your hair, and get put on your new yellow dress.” The instructions can quickly become jumbled, lost, or blurred in her mind. Instead, tell her to brush her teeth. When she’s done, do the next thing. You just have to let her do things at her own speed - and in her own unique way.
- Picture schedules can also help children remember their schedule. Knowing that the schedule will guide them relieves the pressure of trying to recall everything perfectly.
Be flexible and adaptable.There is no one way to do things. Come up with creative solutions. You can change course in midstream. If your daughter wants slightly change the bedtime routine, it’s okay. Go with what she wants to do sometimes. Give her a bit of control. Stop for that ice cream. You’ll end up having a lot more fun.
Artificially dull the senses.There are tricks you can use to take the edge off. When you go to a loud place, bring earplugs and let your child use earphones to listen to music or white noise. Wear sunglasses and hats, outdoors or even indoors. Bring familiar foods when on vacation to avoid the stress of needing to try new things. When making spicy foods, try letting each person apply seasoning to taste, instead of making it equally spicy for everyone.
Accentuate the positive.Let your child know when he or she has done something well, even if it is something small. Parents forget that life can be challenging for the most well adapted kids. Every little victory should be acknowledged.
Forgive yourself.If you do blow up at your kid, say you’re sorry and that you’ll try to do better next time. Calmly talk about what happened and how they felt, focusing on them. It’s good modelling for your child. You are not perfect. Assure them you love them and give them a big hug. The next time your child misbehaves, she might just come up afterwards and say “I’m sorry, Daddy,” and “I love you.” It is a golden moment, and you know you’re doing it right!
Tell them you love them and are proud of them.A lot.
QuestionI feel like no one wants to do anything about my SPD. They say they feel bad but they don't act like it. My parents won't change anything around the house either.wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTry explaining cause-and-effect relationships, using the template "When _____, I _____." Bring up specific ways your family can accommodate your needs, so they know what to do. If they don't understand, use "I" language to explain why this causes pain for you. Get yourself coping tools like earplugs, floppy hats, and quiet spaces to limit your sensory input. Also consider researching sensory diets and put yourself on one.Thanks!
- Before potentially overstimulating excursions occur (e.g. birthday parties, trips to the mall), discuss an action plan for sensory overload.
Video: 4 Parenting Strategies for Making Your Child's Sensory Sensitivities Less Painful
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