Category Archives: Raising a Sensory Smart Child

Teenagers and Sensory Issues: Special Challenges for a Special Time

As I look forward to my son entering his teens very soon, I’ve been thinking a lot about teenagers and sensory issues. Years ago, when I was first thinking about writing a practical guide for parents of kids with sensory processing disorder, I knew I wanted to cover teenagers and their sensory challenges. I knew of teens with SPD and I recognized that there was nothing out there in books or on the internet to help parents. I’m very proud to say that my coauthor, Lindsey Biel, OTR/L, and I were really at the forefront of talking about sensory issues in teens in our book.

I’m repeating here my most recent Sensory Smart News because I know how eager moms and dads, and professionals who work with teens with SPD, are to get info aimed at this particular group of kids. So here it goes:


Teens with sensory processing disorder have special challenges because of the stage of development they’re in and the fact that until now, their sensory issues may have gone unaddressed. In the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues, you’ll find an entire chapter devoted to teens as well as many practical tips for older kids. If you are unfamiliar with the special challenges of teens with sensory issues, here they are—followed by practical strategies for addressing those challenges.



1. Finding the right OT can be challenging. Few occupational therapists are trained or experienced in working with teenagers who have sensory processing disorder. Play-based SI therapy may seem silly and embarrassing to teens.


2. Poor self-esteem. Teenagers who have had sensory issues for years will have learned at least some accommodations to get around them and are less likely to experience the extreme behaviors and responses they did when they were younger. However, years of feeling different and not knowing why, and noticing that they have never been quite as mature and self-controlled as their peers, take their toll. Teens with sensory processing issues usually struggle with self-esteem. They need a lot of encouragement to admit they have sensory issues and need some help.


3. Need for independence. Teenagers need to have their independence respected, so being told, “You need to do X, Y, and Z to manage your sensory issues” usually doesn’t go over very well!


4. Desire to fit in. Even teenagers who don’t feel the need to have a lot of friends or be conformist want to have some friends they feel they fit in with. Sensory challenges can embarrass them and may make them feel isolated, and different in a negative way.


5. Changing hormones. Teenagers have ever-changing hormones that can exacerbate sensory issues by making them more sensitive to input than they were in the past. The normal changes of adolescence can also make them more moody and emotionally sensitive.


6. New expectations. People are less likely to see your teen as a young, immature person with a hidden disability and more likely to see him or her as a young adult whose behavior is willful.



What’s a parent, teacher, or therapist to do?


1. Modify traditional SI therapy techniques to be more teen friendly. As a substitute for playing with a tray of shaving cream or finger-paints, encourage the teen to cook, garden, do art or arts and crafts, and engage in other activities that challenge his tactile issues. Work with a sensory-smart occupational therapist who is willing to alter her approach to helping your teenage son or daughter to reduce any embarrassment or defensiveness.


2. Talk about sensory issues positively. Reassure your teenager that sensory issues are simply a difference in brain wiring that can have advantages but that can also be controlled and addressed to make life a little easier. See Raising a Sensory Smart Child for specific advice on helping teenagers overcome their defensiveness about having sensory processing disorder and how to talk to them about the “little tricks” you and the OT can teach them to “make their lives easier.”

3. Offer accommodations and sensory diet ideas for him or her to choose from. Present accommodations and activities to teenagers and let them decide which they would like to use. Honor and respect their choices and encourage them to engage in problem solving with you. If they don’t want to be seen doing a brushing protocol for tactile issues, can they do it discreetly in the bathroom at school? If all the kids are wearing loose clothes and they prefer them tight, can the teen wear tight clothing, such as bicycle shorts, underneath looser clothes that seem more stylish?


Teens with sensory issues need teen-friendly activities as part of their sensory diet.

4. Help him to feel okay as he is and find a group of peers he’s comfortable with. Practical solutions for grooming, picky eating, and dressing, and encouraging talks about the upside of being different, can help your teen with sensory issues feel more comfortable among his peers. However, he may also feel better about himself if he expands his group of friends. Encourage your teen to develop hobbies and engage in new activities from individualized sports that don’t require high levels of skill and competitiveness to enjoy them to groups that engage in the arts, community service, spiritual growth, etc. Extracurricular activities can help kids find their “tribe” and feel the power to make a difference in the world as well.


5. Accept that your child may be more emotionally sensitive at this stage. Be alert to signs of increased anxiety and depression and consult a medical health professional with any concerns you have. Remember, addressing sensory issues will reduce overall anxiety that can lead to mild or moderate depression (when you feel you can’t manage your discomfort, over time, you can develop depression). Don’t forget some of the most effective treatments for mild or moderate anxiety and depression include physical exercise, time spent outdoors, meditation, and breathing exercises. Mindfulness practices from yoga and tai chi to tai kwan do and karate can help, too.


6. Focus on self-awareness and accountability for self-regulating. It’s very difficult to get others to accept poor self-regulation in a teen, even if you educate them on hidden disabilities. Therefore, the sooner you collaborate with your teen in creating a workable sensory diet that prevents negative behaviors, the better. It will be easier for your teen to develop better self-regulation if she is trained in using specific self-calming and self-alerting techniques that she knows work for her. Hold her accountable for using her alerting music and gum, taking time out to sit in a quiet space and do breathing exercises or use a brushing protocol, etc. Have her participate in creating a sensory diet tailored to her needs to keep her sensory needs met and to prevent fight-or-flight behaviors. Let her experience the natural consequences if she refuses to use her calming, focusing, alerting techniques.


Above all, never forget that kids with sensory issues need a “just right” challenge, a balance of accommodations to make them more comfortable and challenges that take them out of their comfort zone.  Sensory diet activities for teenagers help them to develop a higher tolerance for situations and activities they’ll encounter in life, and over time, retrain their brains to process sensory information more typically. Be creative and encouraging in setting up a sensory diet for a teenager, and always be collaborative to respect the teen’s need for independence.


Finally, if you’re a parent frustrated by trying to get your teenager’s sensory issues under control, consider joining an in-person or online support group, such as the ones on, or creating one. Knowing that you aren’t alone, and having practical and emotional support from other parents going through the same experiences with their teen, can help you enormously at this stage of your child’s development.

Check it out!


Know the symptoms of depression in teens: See the information on the Mayo Clinic website. Information on Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which often begins in adolescence, can be found at WebMD.

Find more quick information on teens and sensory issues at and in the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child.

NEW WEBSITE AND BLOG! If you liked this article, PLEASE come join me at the new and sign up for my NEW newsletter and blog. Thanks!


Filed under exercise and movement for sensory kids, grooming, heavy work, helping your child with SPD at home, Lindsey Biel, Moms of kids with SPD, online support groups, OT, Practical tips for sensory issues, proprioceptive input, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, sensory diet, sensory diet at school, sensory processing disorder, sensory seeking, teenagers with sensory issues

Sensory Smart Toys Shopping Ideas

Shopping for sensory smart toys and equipment for a child with sensory processing issues? Here are some ideas I included in the December 2010 edition of the Sensory Smart News.

Sensory Smart Tip: Choose Toys That Are Fun

and Support Development

The number of toys and products marketed to parents and therapists who work with children who have sensory processing disorder and/or autism has exploded since the book Raising a Sensory Smart Child first was published in 2005. In the book, Lindsey Biel, OTR/L, and Nancy Peske recommend 50 favorite toys for kids (included below) and it continues to be an excellent guide for finding toys children both enjoy and use to address sensory issues and developmental skills. If you’re looking for or purchasing gifts for a child with sensory issues these days, here’s some key advice:

You don’t have to spend a lot of money. In fact, some of the best toys and products you can purchase are small and inexpensive. Every small child should have a Play-Doh Fun Factory, for example, which sells for under $10. Bubbles with bubble wands, modeling clay or Silly Putty, Wikki Sticks (wax-covered yarn for crafts), puzzles, handheld games such as Simon, and classic games such as Candyland or Kerplunk are excellent inexpensive toys that promote everything from tactile exploration to fine motor and visual memory skills.  

Buy the classics, and consider classic original versions. There’s a reason certain toys are perennial sellers: Their play value can’t be beat. You may find some of these toys in excellent condition on sites such as eBay and Craig’s List, or even at second-hand stores. Interestingly enough, sometimes the older versions are actually better for our kids because they tend to be sturdier and come without all the annoying chips for sounds and lights that are so distracting. Don’t underestimate how much kids will love Legos and Duplos building blocks, wagons, hand puppets, and so on. Thomas the Tank Engine toys are great for helping children move from cause-and-effect, parallel (independent) play to imaginative, cooperative play.


Buy toys that get kids moving.
 Ask your child’s sensory smart occupational therapist and/or physical therapist what type of movement toys she feels would be appropriate for your child, and ask her if she can work with him on using toys that involve coordination and gross motor skills. You may need to start slowly, such as with a three-wheeled scooter instead of a two-wheeled one, or a very small bike with training wheels rather than a bike that the bike store salesperson says is the correct size for your child (and be sure your child uses a properly fitted helmet).  A Sit-n-Spin can be a good choice for learning motor planning skills while getting vestibular input, but a Dizzy Disc for preschoolers or a Dizzy Disc Jr. for older kids an provide that input to a child with poorer motor planning skills. Sleds and mini trampolines (which are safer than full-sized ones) are great options too.

Have a ball. Balls can be incredibly helpful for developing a multitude of skills and now many modified balls are available, including ones that are easier to catch or throw or which provide sensory input via a textured surface (Gertie balls, koosh balls) or sounds created by movement (such as the Wiggly Giggly ball). Exercise balls are great for kids to sit on for input and for rolling over them to provide deep pressure: Your OT can show you many ways to use them. Why not keep balls in the yard, in your car, and even your purse so that they’re available for your child to get movement or sensory input at any time?

Be cautious about “active” video games.
 Although some of the newer games, particularly Xbox360 with Kinect which requires that the child use her body as the controller, encourage movement, don’t assume that your child will use them to get the aerobic exercise he needs. Wii Fit offers options that provide very little if any aerobic activity (although the quieter games on Wii Fit can be excellent for balance training which many of our kids need help with). I also has game options that will actually help you child work up a sweat, but observe your child to be sure she’s actually using videogames in a very active way. Then too, if your child has her heart set on Super Smash Brothers or another inactive video game, have her jump on a mini-trampoline while playing to give her exercise as well as build her hand-eye coordination.

Choose developmentally appropriate toys.
 One of the challenges of having a child with sensory issues is accepting that our kids may be far behind their peers in being able to play appropriately with particular toys. Offer your child choices that are in the “just right” challenge zone, which build their skills without being overwhelmingly difficult for them to use. If you’re giving a toy as a gift, think about choosing something that he will actually enjoy. Go ahead and buy the therapy toys he will resist at first, but if you feel he might get immediately frustrated by them, think about having your OT introduce them as part of therapy.

Buy books. If your child resists reading, try picture books and visual dictionaries, optical challenge books such as Where’s Waldo?, nonfiction coffee table books on trains, dinosaurs, and the like, pop-up books, scratch-and-sniff books, and so on. If you’re thinking about buying an eReader, note that some children with visual processing issues or vision issues find them much easier to read from than ordinary books due to the adjustable type size, low contrast, and auditory option (available on many books). You can even “gift” an electronic book to a child’s Kindle now and many are very low priced (although selection can be limited). Also consider audio books and mp3 downloads.

While you’re shopping, please consider buying some toys for Toys for Tots or other charities, and for your child’s school OT or PT (they may have a wish list or you could give them a gift card for a therapy catalogue or store such as The Learning Center).

Finally, remember that what kids want even more than toys is our attention. Playing a simple board game with your child or teaching her how to catch a ball may create one of her fondest childhood memories.

Check it out!

Be sure to check out Lindsey and Nancy’s Fifty Favorite Toysl ist in Raising a Sensory Smart Child. Also,you can shop for toys and equipment by developmental skill or sensory channel at:


NEW WEBSITE AND BLOG: Get new and up-to-date information and support for parents of children and teens with sensory processing disorder at and sign up for the newsletter and blog.

1 Comment

Filed under affordable sensory items, kids toys, Practical tips for sensory issues, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, sensory processing disorder, sensory smart toys and equipment, Uncategorized, Used sensory items

Dads, Roughhousing, and Self-Regulation

I’ve written before about what an important contribution Dads (and Dad-figures) can contribute to our kids by roughhousing with them appropriately. Finally, someone’s actually done research on this!

I attribute much of my son’s development of self-regulation and improvement in his sensory issues to my husband working with him daily, roughhousing before bedtime. He also worked with him at the playground, doing activities such as getting him down that slide, getting him to tolerate and enjoy various swings (while stopping the movement at intervals to let it register in the brain, as directed by our marvelous OT, Lindsey Biel), using the monkey bars, doing sand play (OK if the child needs to wash off a lot), water sprinkler play, etc. He had him on a seat on the back of his bike as he rode over cobblestones, and hugged him often (affection and deep pressure–how can you beat it?). On outings, he encouraged our son to push his own stroller, filled with packages if possible, and taught him to push and run at a clip without plowing into other people. Now that our son is older, there’s still a lot of physical play: Sledding, hitting the heavy bag, climbing and hiking, playing stickball. A sensory avoider may well have to be coaxed into such activities but a patient Dad, or other sensory smart adult, may be able to do this.

Yes, some kids can go into sensory overload if pushed too far, but an attentive dad can use deep pressure, a quiet and loving voice, and loud/soft games such as having the child vary his drumming on a pillow or exercise ball or dad’s back from quiet and gentle to louder and more intense and back.

I love the “steal the socks” game!

Here’s to dads on Father’s Day!

Roughhousing and physical play can benefit kids who have sensory issues as well as typically developing children

The researcher’s report.

The really sweet Diane Sawyer report on the research.

1 Comment

Filed under Dads of kids with SPD, exercise and movement for sensory kids, family fun, Lindsey Biel, Moms of kids with SPD, playground issues, Practical tips for sensory issues, proprioceptive input, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, sensory diet, sensory seeking

GIVEAWAY of Raising a Sensory Smart Child!

I’m in a giveaway mood! Two random subscribers to Sensory Smart News will each receive a FREE copy of the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues. If you haven’t signed up, go to and sign up before Dec. 10 when the lucky winners will be chosen!

Hurry! Contest ends December 10, 2010!

1 Comment

Filed under books on SPD, Raising a Sensory Smart Child

New to SPD? First Order of Business: BREATHE

I absolutely loved Hartley Steiner’s blogpiece on what you need to do once you learn your child has sensory processing disorder. Over the years on the many online support group forums I’ve read, I’ve noticed that the typical chain of events is that the parent

1) knows something’s “off” or wrong,

2) seeks help,

3) gets told by well-meaning people that she’s “worrying too much” and second-guesses herself,

4) eventually comes across a description of SPD and thinks, oh wow, THAT is the missing piece,

5) stands there stunned, upset that there really IS something wrong, thrilled that she finally has some answers, confused by what to do next, sad because her illusion that her kid has no problems after all has just been shattered.


I always say that first, just take a deep breath and recognize that you are more empowered now than you were yesterday. You have more knowledge, and you’re going to build upon it. Your child is already benefitting from your hard work and diligence in finding answers. If you simply start there, feeling good about what you’ve already done to help your child, the fear starts to dissipate.

Know that there is a LOT of support. People can be incredibly generous in sharing ideas, giving feedback, and offering encouragement. If you can, join an in person support group for parents of kids with SPD (try The SPD Foundation’s Parent Connections). If not, join an online support group such as the ones through (SID_DSI_AllAboutKids, sensoryintegrationgroup, sensoryintegrationdysfunction, and SID_DSI). Heck, do both!

There are so many resources out there–don’t get overwhelmed. Learn just a little each day. Poke around my website,, and check my award-winning book, Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues, coauthored with Lindsey Biel, OTR/L. Don’t feel pressured to become an expert overnight or “inhale” every book on the topic (as I did years ago–talk about information overload!). Focus on what’s most important to you: Your child’s tantrums in public or school? Her picky eating? Bedtime battles? As you start to implement some practical solutions (there’s a HUGE section on them in my book and lots of info on my site as well), you’ll start to realize you really can help your child with her sensory issues. And I promise, it gets much better!


Leave a comment

Filed under books on SPD, online support groups, OT, Practical tips for sensory issues, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, sensory processing disorder diagnosis

Pick up a copy of the newly revised Raising a Sensory Smart Child, cheap

For a limited time, is selling slightly damaged copies of Raising a Sensory Smart Child (the revised and updated version) for cheap. If you’d like to pick up a copy for yourself or perhaps for your child’s teacher or caretaker, you might want to act now. I’m told these have “shelf ware” or slightly bent or soiled paperback covers–nothing that would make it difficult to actually read the book.

Meanwhile, pristine copies are available too! You might want to pick one up in your local bookstore on the Special Needs parenting shelf.

Leave a comment

Filed under books on SPD, Raising a Sensory Smart Child

Summer Reading–How About Raising a Sensory Smart Child?

I know, I know…on first glance, my book Raising a Sensory Smart Child, coauthored by Lindsey Biel OTR/L with a foreword by Temple Grandin, does NOT look like summer reading. It’s got a lot of pages and a lot of type (although if you page through, you’ll see we really broke it up with lots of headers and bullet points). But it may be the perfect summer reading for you.


1. Summer is a time when the pressure is off with you and your child. No homework notices, suspensions, calls from the school about unacceptable behaviors and frustrated explanations by you of the sensory issues underlying those behaviors–you get a few months off from those headaches. What’s more, if you’ve got a simple routine going for your child, he or she may be able to be less dependent and clingy than during the school year. That buys you more time to hunker down and do what you’d like to do for yourself. And I am sure that learning some keys strategies for making your life MUCH easier is on your To Do list.

2. Summer’s a time when you want to read a book that doesn’t demand your full attention. Personally, I struggle to dip in and out of fiction and keep track of all those characters, but a book I can read for 1 minute here, 5 minutes there? Love love love it. That’s what Raising a Sensory Smart Child is. Sure, read the first chapter or two to get an overview (why not read a page at a time every time you go to the bathroom? Seriously–I got through the entire first Harry Potter this way! Stay hydrated this summer, pee a lot, and work your way through those pages!). But then just dip into the Practical Solutions for Everyday Problems chapter anywhere and pick up a few tips. Page through til a header grabs your eye and read a page or so. Check out those bulleted lists. You might be surprised at how easy it is to understand the material in the book even without reading an entire chapter, or reading the book front to back.

3. Do the bibliomancy trick. (Excuse the big words–as a writer, I just love to use an obscure word! Bibliomancy is a way of randomly using a book to find information you need). Close your eyes, open Raising a Sensory Smart Child to a random page, plunk down your index finger, open your eyes, and read what you are pointing to. Does it have meaning for you? Don’t be surprised if it is exactly what you need to read today.

Developing sensory smarts doesn’t have to be some big overwhelming project that you mean to get around to and feel guilty about because time has a way of getting away from you. All it requires is learning a little bit, then a little more, then a little more, and applying what you’ve learned. Frankly, it takes time to process it all. You can’t just “inhale” all there is to know about sensory processing disorder and related issues and become an expert overnight (although being prone to anxiety, that’s what I tried to do years ago–the result was a fabulous book and the realization that shoot, it takes time to really “get it”!).  I found that even just watching my son play offered the perfect opportunity to relax and begin to muse about what I was learning from my OT and other moms as I was first developing sensory smarts. You have to have time to take it all in, to observe your child, and start finding ways to do just a little better today than you did yesterday. So relax, have a great summer, and dip into Raising a Sensory Smart Child as you would a bag of M&Ms or potato chips–only without the guilt!

Summer is a great time to read the revised and expanded Raising a Sensory Smart Child!

Leave a comment

Filed under Raising a Sensory Smart Child

Raising a Sensory Smart Child Giveaway and Interview with Nancy Peske

I was just interviewed at the Welcome to Normal blog about how the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child, which I coauthored, came about, and how I came to be involved in advocating for kids with SPD. If you comment on their blog, you have a chance to win a free copy of the revised and updated edition of Raising a Sensory Smart Child (blue cover). Check it out!

Win a free copy of the revised and updated Raising a Sensory Smart Child! Hurry!

Leave a comment

Filed under books on SPD, Nancy Peske, Raising a Sensory Smart Child

Finding a Sensory Smart OT

I’m a big believer in the value of a Sensory Smart OT. If you are looking for a private pediatric OT who can work with your child, be sure you find one who is trained and experienced in working with kids with SPD (not all have). Here’s how to start finding one.

A sensory smart OT is trained & experienced in helping kids with SPD

While some of the OTs who work for school districts or early intervention programs, also known as Birth to Three programs and by other names depending on the state, are sensory smart, not all are. What’s more, after your child has “aged out” of EI, the services are only provided if the focus is on school-related skills. If your 4 year old’s sensory-based sleep problems or picky eating are making family life difficult, know that it is not a school district OT’s job to address those very real issues.

Private OT can be very expensive out of pocket. A good sensory smart OT should know how to code her interventions to get insurance coverage from various carriers but of course, if you don’t have insurance, have a high deductible, or have limits on the number of sessions and need more, it can be costly. What if you were to work with an excellent sensory smart OT, ask her lots of questions and observe her sessions, and carry over the types of activities yourself, doing “homework”? I think you should be doing this anyway if you can (some kids will do more for an OT or in a sensory gym than they will for you at home or in the park). But if you carry over the OT activities and ensure that your OT has set up a workable sensory diet for home and for school, then you may be able to work with her on a consultation basis. So, for instance, if your child is going to start a new activity, or transfer to a new school, she might be able to come out and assess the situation or consult by phone.

Then too, make sure your OT has a copy of the revised and updated Raising a Sensory Smart Child. The book is chock full of ideas and strategies for kids with sensory processing disorder. Having worked with your child, and drawing on her training and experience, she can be an incredible asset even if you can’t afford regular OT sessions.


Filed under evaluations, OT, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder

New Sensory Smart Parent Site Coming!

Many of you are familiar with the site Lindsey Biel runs for the book we coauthored, Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues.

The award-winning Raising a Sensory Smart Child, recently revised and expanded

This month, I will be launching a new site for parents, with tons of great info on SPD and how to help your child at home and at school, but with special sections on parenting issues. This site will be  Look for the announcement here! The new site will also be connected to this blog so that you can easily go back and forth between the two. I hope all of you will come check it out!

Leave a comment

Filed under Raising a Sensory Smart Child, sensory processing disorder