The Most Important Thing You Can Do To Help Your Child With Sensory Issues
Both of my boys have various sensory sensitivities. Today, I’m sharing the most important thing I think you can do to help your child with sensory issues.
It’s hard for me to remember what it was like before we realized my sons’ had significant sensory issues.
Both struggle with noise, light, taste and smell.
Both complete specific activities to help their systems feel calm and more controlled.
Both need and have benefited simple lifestyle changes that impact their level of sensitivity.
I have received several questions lately about how to best help sensory kiddos cope with everyday circumstances that most of us take for granted. I understand the frustration, the concern and the exhaustion.
Children with sensory needs, whether avoidant or seeking, can create an environment of constant vigilance for their parents. Moreover, it doesn’t take much for it to feel like sensory issues are taking over your entire family’s life.
The good news is, there are simple changes we can make that dramatically impact our children’s everyday for the better.
Affiliate links may be included below. Please know, I only share products that have genuinely worked for my family, in the hopes they might help yours as well!
10 Effective Ways To Help Your Child With Sensory Issues
Here are ten lifestyle changes we have made that have had a significant impact on my boys’ sensory needs.
1. Drive Two Cars
We take two cars anytime we are going somewhere as a family of four. This way, if one child is struggling, but the other is having fun and wants to stay, we can easily accommodate both their needs. Or, if my husband wants to stick around for a bit with his friends, or me with mine, the other can drive the boys home without incident.
Is it annoying sometimes? Yes. Do my husband and I freak out a little when we are actually able to ride in a car together like normal people? Yes. Does it work and make our lives 100% easier? Yes.
2. Separate Spaces
Because my oldest is extremely sensitive to noise, we have created a space for him as far away from the general hub-bub of our home as possible. We changed his room so that his desk is on the opposite wall, as far away as possible from our living space. We placed all of his younger brother’s workout gear (for sensory activities – see below) completely on the other side of the house.
Our home is not huge, but intentionally thinking about strategic spaces for each of our boys within it has made a real impact for the better.
3. Shoes and Socks
I gave up a long time ago. Seriously, my son is 16 years old. He can choose his own footwear. When your child has sensory issues, you need to pick your battles. This is one of the ones I no longer fight and we are all better for it.
The right pair of headphones changes the world, y’all. Keep trying to find a pair that might work, even if your child resists and rejects a lot of the available options.
My youngest has trouble in the car. He gets dizzy and carsick. Noise bothers him more than usual. If he and his brother are going to argue, it is almost always in the car (while I am driving, trying not to lose my mind). The only thing that has really helped is audiobooks. We turn on one of his favorite stories every time we leave our driveway. His brother puts in his headphones and listens to music, and then he and I listen to a good book. It works, and it has become a part of our day that is actually quite pleasant.
6. Sensory Activities As A Way Of Life
The only way my children feel more comfortable in their own bodies, is through daily sensory input. Sometimes, this looks like bear hugs. Most of the time, it is a weird mix of exercise and activities that we learned in OT. It is worth it to me to take some time to think through different sensory options to scatter throughout our home each day.
7. Teeth Brushing and Bathing
All I can say on this one is don’t give up. Keep trying different toothpaste and soaps. Do the best you can and hope that as they grow up and understand a bit better how to care for themselves, they will start to try things that work on their own. The struggle is real here.
8. Plan Ahead and Talk About It
Anytime I know that we are heading somewhere that may aggravate sensory sensitivities or increase sensory seeking behavior, I try to plan ahead and talk to my boys about what they can expect. We discuss a way for them to disengage, if needed, and socially acceptable ways to seek input without crashing into people’s bodies or laying on the ground and spinning in circles. (Keeping it real here.)
This helps on so many levels. It sets my expectation that my children may need assistance. It helps them feel a sense of control over their environment, no matter how unfamiliar, and it eases frustration for all of us.
9. Eating – Lots of Choices/Too Many Choices
I have already shared how much food avoidance plays into some of the texture and overall sensory sensitivity my oldest experiences every single day. What has worked best is always giving him a few options (never demanding that he eat the one thing that I prepared) but not too many options. For example, last night he had the choice of what I made for dinner, plain pasta (usually an easy substitute), or a smoothie.
I almost didn’t share this one, but the truth is, lately, this has made a huge difference in our sensory life.
I don’t go to the grocery store anymore. Seriously.
I pay a flat fee every month with InstaCart and then order my groceries from Aldi and Costco online. They deliver them to me in two hours, I tip the driver and usually end up spending far less than I used to when my kiddos would meltdown mid-shop and I would just start throwing things into the cart.
If you want to give this a try, I cannot recommend it enough. (If you’d like, you can use my referral code here – https://inst.cr/t/YajpKdx84. This saves me a little on my groceries next month too, but please know, I am sharing this because it works, not to get you to click this link!)
The Most Important Thing You Can Do To Help Your Child With Sensory Issues
Beyond these ten suggestions, I have one recommendation that I think is more important than any other.
Your child’s sensory system is driving some of the chaos you are experiencing.
Accept it. Acknowledge it. Stop fighting it.
The hardest part for me has been believing that this really is a big enough deal to necessitate all these lifestyle changes (and don’t get me started on all the people who will say this list is an example of my spoiling and ruining my kids).
Please, let me encourage you – this is real.
What your child is experiencing is significant and effects large portions of their life. Helping them with these challenges is reasonable. It’s loving and necessary for your family to function.
Having a child with sensory issues isn’t easy, so hang in there.
Do the best you can and don’t be afraid to trust your gut and do what it takes to help. Your entire family will be better for it. Your child will be better for it.
And you may even get grocery delivery out of it.
Shawna Wingert is a special education teacher turned educational consultant, and mom of two brilliant boys who have learning differences and special needs.
Shawna has also written four books: Everyday Autism, Special Education at Home, Parenting Chaos, and Homeschooling Your Child With Special Needs. A passionate advocate for individualized education, Shawna is frequently featured on Today.com, Simple Homeschool, Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers and The Mighty. She can also be found supporting parents online at her own site, DifferentByDesignLearning.com.