Real life, practical tips for sensory kids (and their parents!).
Please, do not get me started.
I just read another article, with another ‘expert’ stating that sensory processing disorder isn’t a real thing.
I can’t even.
If you are a mom of a child with sensory processing disorder, you knew it far before anyone ever suggested there might be an actual medical term for it.
You knew it before you anyone told you about The Out of Sync Child.
You knew it before you even heard the term “Sensory Integration”.
You knew it in spite of yourself.
The t-shirts with holes chewed through the collars, hands held firmly over the ears in every single public bathroom, the little guy slamming his body into people, the remotes not working anymore because of the combination of spit seeping into the batteries and teeth marks, the demands to be spun around and around and around, the avoidance of sand, grass, and dirt, the over the top reaction to what are seemingly mild smells – it all adds up over time, no matter what some outlying doctors may or may not include in the DSM-5.
Sad but true.
I wish we better understood Sensory Processing Disorder. I wish we had a plethora of resources available to us. I wish I could make every single expert who claims this is made up babysit my kids alone in a noisy public place.
But the truth is, most resources for SPD – the best resources – are from other parents and caregivers.
Two boys of my own with sensory issues, and a whole lot of trial and error later, I am learning more and more from the parents who have gone before me, and walk beside me. I am learning that there are very real ways to help our children thrive in their own precious bodies. There are ways to help.
Here are my Top 10 Tips For Sensory Kids and Their Parents:
1. Use Chewies
Oh my goodness, yes. Chewies are designed for kids to safely chew (instead of their shirts or our remotes). They are inexpensive and come in a variety of easy to access options, including necklaces and bracelets. You may have to try a few (especially if your child has taste sensitivities), but they help.
2. Bounce on Trampolines
Every sensory family I know eventually breaks down and buys one. The trampoline provides a rare, but effective combination of input that can sync up a sensory system faster than anything else I’ve seen. My boys have worn through three of them in five years. But I consider it to be some of the best money we have ever spent.
3. Buy Crocs
And elastic waistband pants or shorts. And cut out all the tags. And don’t force your child to wear socks when it is not absolutely necessary. It is my experience that allowing my child to dress for his needs, makes him more likely to tolerate other sensory related tasks that are typically a struggle. For example, my son is much more likely to be able to tolerate a noisy room, if he is in his comfy crocs.
4. Snuggles Help
This is one of the hidden benefits of being the momma of two boys with sensory sensitivities. Although they can get overwhelmed with touch, both of my boys enjoy the feeling of being closely snuggled and hugged. I ask them both what feels good – neither want back rubs or tickles. Both love firm, close hugs, or lying on the couch with their legs up on my lap. When they were younger, both loved being closely “spooned” as they were relaxing before bed.
5. Messy Play Matters
It is a pain to clean up, but sensory play has changed our days for the better. Shaving cream in the shower, Play-Doh available at all times, dish soap and water on the sidewalk (or kitchen floor for a little extra help cleaning), making mud pies, finger painting – it all adds up to much-needed sensory input. And, my boys have fun.
6. Occupational Therapy Can Be A Lifesaver
I cannot say this enough. If you are really struggling with how to best help your sensory child, the right occupational therapist can change your world. Read more about our experiences with OT here.
7. Fidgets Help With Focus
Having these silly little things around allows us to easily read a book, sit still for a haircut, or even just have an important conversation. Fidgets are a great way to help my sons focus.
8. Weighted Blankets Are Strangely Calming
My son will literally get into my bed sometimes, and pile up blanket after blanket on top of his body (as may of six or seven at a time). It helps him calm down. A weighted blanket has exactly the same effect, but is a portable, less to fold and store when he is done option.
9. Lycra Saved Our Life
Like the weighted blanket, lycra sheets have allowed my son sensory input on demand like nothing else. Large swaths of lycra also allow us to wrap him up tightly, even when he is not in bed. He has been known to double his sensory delight by jumping on the trampoline, while wrapped in lycra. It may look strange, but oh my goodness, it works.
10. Let It Go and Enjoy Your Kids
This is my most important tip of all. I want to encourage you that it is OK to allow your child to do the things that work for him or her, no matter how strange or out-of-place they may seem. For a long time, I worried about what the folks at church would think when my son showed up in sweats and crocs, or how the school would react when my child wore a chewie necklace to class.
Embracing the children I have, just as they are, and finding ways to help them is my goal – of course it is. But for a long time, I felt uncomfortable about not fitting in, or my boys being ‘those kids’ at the park or in class.
Letting go, and allowing my children the tools they need to feel more equipped, has been the best thing I could possibly do for them, and for my own heart.
These boys are my best teachers. They are the bravest kids I know. They are fun and crazy and silly and aggravating, and argumentative, and loud, and messy, and beautiful.
Sensory processing disorder or not, I want to be on their team and not worried about what everyone else thinks. I want to help them understand better, and live well in this world.
Fortunately, many of these suggestions have helped me do just that.
Looking for more Tips For Sensory Kids?
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.