Every child is unique in their own way, and who knows this better than their parents? Finding what makes your child “tick” can alleviate many future tantrums and emotional breakdowns, specifically recognizing their sensory needs. As a mother of a toddler and one on the way, I personally can say your child’s sensory needs are constantly evolving and learning what makes them most successful within their environment is one key to successful parenting.
To put it simply, your body is composed of eight core sensory systems: visual, auditory, olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), tactile, vestibular, proprioception and interception. When children have sensory issues , they may experience tactile defensiveness when touching certain textures, particular textures on clothing or present as a “picky eater”; auditory sensitivities to loud noises such as hearing the vacuum or the flush of a toilet, or overstimulated visually by large crowds or bright lights, just to name a few. Many of these concerns are brought to light within a child’s daycare or classroom environment. Some examples of these are: difficulty attending to their teachers, inability to complete classwork efficiently, and difficulty standing in line by their peers. According to Dr. Lucy Jane Miller in her book, Sensational Kids, 1 in 20 children in the US have Sensory Processing Disorder, with possibility of statistics gradually increasing as more research is performed.
One of my roles as an occupational therapist is to educate parents and families on recognizing sensory issues within their child and finding ways to minimize or diminish these issues. Hopefully this will allow the child to interact and play as functionally appropriate as his/her peers and succeed with flying colors, which is the greatest wish for all of us as parents. A specific tool I help families create is a sensory diet that is specifically tailored for their child. We develop strategies that can be used within the classroom or home with simplicity in mind. This means finding items around the house, the Dollar Store or activities requiring nothing extra at all. Here is an example of a sensory diet for a child who has tactile sensitivities to textures:
- Begin with creating a sensory bin with dry textures such as dry rice and beans for the child to explore with hands and feet.
- Water play is also a great tool; water balloon games, play time with toys in the sink or bath tub; you can experiment with different temperatures of the water as well.
- Snack time and cooking with Mom and Dad! Let the child explore with smelling, touching and tasting ingredients as you cook: finger paint with chocolate pudding or whipped cream; build “string cheese towers” or tic tac toe with pieces of fruit. Simply letting the child be present as you prepare snack time gives the child a since of inclusion and making meal/snack time a pleasant experience.
- Deep pressure massage with scented lotion and/or combination with the Willbarger brushing protocol and joint compressions. An occupational therapist skilled in this area should educate you on proper protocol before using.
Meeting your child right where they are is an ever growing and changing process. Recognizing not only their weaknesses, but most importantly their strengths, can lead to a child becoming confident in who they are and teaching them how to respond to change in an appropriate way.
- Miller, Lucy J., et al. Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Penguin Group, 2014
Kayla Boyer, MOTR/L, is an occupational therapist with special interests in sensory integration, the school setting and early intervention. She is certified in Integrative Listening Systems and has been working at Beyond Therapy for Kids for 4 ½ years. She currently resides in Madison, MS with her husband, son Brooks (2) and baby on the way.