The sensory world of a special needs child is often overwhelming. Things that don’ t bother us neuro-typical parents may be highly sensitive for our child. From the simple hum of the fluorescent lights or air conditioner, to the prickliness of the jumper, or label in the undies - these unseen needs can cause great issues for our children, often resulting in meltdowns or distractions with the inability to focus on anything other than the heightened sense. Different children experience different sensations.
A simple light can be blinding to our highly aware children. Sunlight can cause an instant headache and our children may benefit from sunglasses or hats whether they are inside or outside. Calming, yellow light may be easier on their eyes than stark, bright, white light. Some children prefer dark rooms, others respond better to white rooms.
A simple touch on the arm, or bump by another child on the playground, can be so startling for our children. They often go in to a flight or fight mode. The feel of clothes on their body can cause a feeling of closed in or claustrophobia. Have you notice how your child strips off their clothes as soon as they come home from school? Given a choice, these children crave the freedom of nakedness over the restriction of clothes or shoes.
Some solutions can be body brushing. This is best explained by your Occupational Therapist. Basically it is brushing a nylon bristled soft brush to awaken the nerve endings and help stimulate them. It is then finished with bone crunching or pressing the bones together, to calm the nerves down. This routine is repeated multiple times in a day, for a few weeks.
Bump and crash is a technique involving rough and tumble play. Often ‘ Dad’ play is great for this. Wrapping your child in a blanket and squeezing them or bumping and crashing them helps their bodies not become so sensitive to touch. The squeals of laughter with this type of play are an added bonus to the benefits of therapy.
Choosing natural material for clothing is often a good solution for our touch sensitive children. Finding a particular style or type of clothing and buying multiple colors and items can be a lifesaver for sensitive children. Look for underwear without seams. Prickly jumpers can be put into the freezer for a few hours to take the prickliness feeling away. They can also be lined in silk or cotton.
Texture boards or blankets can be a wonderful way for our children to explore different textures and materials. Some textures will alert their senses and others will calm them.
Weighted vests and blankets can provide a calming release to our over sensory children.
Jumping on a trampoline often helps put the body into place, so your child knows where they are in space. Regular trampoline jumping helps calm the system and helps your child cope with touch sensitivities.
This can be caused by high pitched noises that we can’ t hear, but our children can. The air conditioner in class, can be humming and become unbearable. The sound of cars, planes or lawn mowers can be overwhelming to our children. Even the high pitch of a baby crying can cause discomfort to our children.
Some solutions can be wearing head phones or ear plugs to muffle the noise. You may notice your sound sensitive child putting their hands over their ears. Whilst this can provide an instant solution and muffling, it is often hindering, because it leaves the child without the use of their hands.
When a noise is overpowering, it can be pointless trying to get the child to focus on another task. A gentle hug or should squeeze can help to calm your child, so can some reassuring words to talk them through the anxiety. But generally, your child will need to be trained through the learned negative response to noise, into the positive response of what to do instead. This may take many weeks of small step by step positive behaviors, but the long term rewards are worth the small achievable steps.
Remember, even though you can’ t hear the noises they can be extremely disruptive to our sensory sensitive children.
Isn’ t it funny how our children can tell who has been in the room by their smell? It might not just be the perfume; it could be t he laundry detergent that is used or the smell of plants. Whatever it is, these children have a heightened state of smell.
Try and use the same products to keep the smells at a low point and not the focus for your child. Don’ t change your shampoo too often, but odorless fly spray. Try and think how can we reduce the aroma for our children.
Have you noticed that your child may only eat a particular type or color of food? Food could have a certain texture that is liked or disliked by our children. Foods could be described as salty, crunchy, non-lumpy or a gagging texture, green food, white food or red food.
It is best to work with the foods your child is happy to eat and then slowly add a new taste, texture or color. Don’ t turn food into a fight. Pick your battles.
Becoming aware of your child’ s sensory needs and how to calm them or increase their sensory needs, will help your child to live a more balanced and less overwhelmed life. Take the time to observe and learn your child – you know them best!!!
To discuss tips and strategies in greater detail head over to The Journey where we unpack these ideas and many others, as we empower Moms with wisdom, support and community to help their child.
Where is your child's sensory focus?