When it comes to kids with Sensory Processing Disorder and meltdowns, prevention goes a long way. Learn how to put together a bag of tricks to help your child navigate everything from loud music to stressful car rides.
Prepare to avoid meltdowns
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) meltdowns aren’t bad behavior. They may resemble tantrums, but they’re the result of a child struggling to deal with sensations and stimulation that are experienced as distress and discomfort. Create a sensory tool kit to help your child cope and avoid reaching the point of melting down.
When it’s noisy and distracting
Pay attention to how your child reacts to noises. Typically, very loud noises or music are distressing, but various background sounds and conversations can also interfere with a child’s focus and mood. Riding in the car with the radio on, going to the movie theater or attending a sporting event can cause stress for a child with SPD. To help your child cope, try tools such as noise-muffling ear covers, soft earplugs or child-safe headphones and an MP3 player with her favorite music. Teach your child to signal you if she needs to find a quiet, safe place to get away from noises.
When textures don’t feel good
If your child has SPD, chances are he responds strongly to textures. Some textures may be soothing, while others cause discomfort. Your texture tool kit needs to be customized according to your child’s needs. Consider always having at least one soothing texture on hand, such as a fuzzy blanket or toy for comfort. If your child responds well to strong textures, such as enjoying bare feet on a rough doormat, keep one in the trunk of your car for on-the-go therapy. Keep food in mind when planning your sensory tool kit. Pack snacks you know your child will eat in case textures, temperatures and tastes present a problem.
When it’s time to sit still
At restaurants, gatherings and during quiet occasions, your child will be required to sit reasonably still. Any child struggles with this, but a child with Sensory Processing Disorder may have a particularly difficult time. Talk to your child’s occupational therapist about activities that can help your child focus and stay calm. She may recommend a weighted belt or vest, fidget toys or something your child can chew on safely. Don't forget the importance of reasonable expectations. No amount of tools can help if you push your child into a situation full of distressing sensory experiences.
Pull it all together
Whether your child is 2 or 12, you should keep your sensory tool kit around for help with Sensory Processing Disorder therapies when you’re out and about. The kit may be a diaper bag stuffed with toys and snacks, or it may be an older child’s backpack full of headphones, favorite books, chewing gum and fidget objects. Consider talking to your child’s teacher about allowing your child to bring SPD therapy tools to the classroom. Special pencils, weights and headphones are just some of the tools that may help kids with SPD succeed at school.
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