Tag Archives: sensory issues

A Response to Skeptics About Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, and ADHD

Recently, a person with a PhD in the humanities, who is chair of a department at a prestigious private university, said to me, “You’re wasting your time talking to people online about autism. Autism doesn’t exist outside of the United States. The rising number of cases is just another example of mass hysteria, people convincing themselves that there’s a problem and the pharmaceutical companies taking advantage of them. We always had people with autism and they got jobs. The only issue is that now you need a college degree to get a job so parents are pushing schools to give their kids more help when it’s their responsibility to do the extra work their kids need.”

I was incredulous and went into my logical brain. I tried to convince her that perhaps my ten years of reading the news and research on sensory issues, ADHD, and autism, and listening to parents of children with autism and related conditions talk about their struggles, might give SOME weight to my opinion and take me out of the category of “hysterical” parents. Later, I asked some people in the hidden disabilities community if they thought I should educate her by sending her some links. The consensus was not to bother, because anyone with such an extreme position and unwillingness to admit that she was not the expert of all time as a result of having met one or two college students with Asperger’s wasn’t worth the effort when there are so many people eager for and appreciative of guidance and support. A close friend said to me I shouldn’t feel insulted so much as sorry for this person, who clearly couldn’t appreciate my passion for educating and inspiring other parents and the professionals who work with their kids. I don’t know if it was actually Eleanor Roosevelt who said this, but I’ve always loved the quote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”! (At one point, I asked, “So you think my work is stupid and pathetic?” She did not contradict me but continued her diatribe. To my credit, I did laugh at the audacity of her non-response!)

“Do you even get paid for the work you’re doing?” the PhD asked me.

My gut dropped. I had, after all, just lost two freelance jobs worth five months’ income in the last week and had been “singing a happy tune” to try to prevent panic for days.

“No,” I answered. “Well, I make enough money selling Amazon.com items through my website to pay my hosting fees. And I earn about 48 cents for each copy of my book sold. But sending out my newsletter, advising people online—no, I don’t get compensated for any of that.”

The PhD’s eyeballs rolled. “Your son doesn’t even have autism.”

“Yeah, but his issues overlap autism, and SO many kids with SPD also have autism! I want to better understand the special challenges of kids with other hidden disabilities so I’m more sensitive when I advise parents. And besides, isn’t there some value in giving back when you have so much information and insight that can help others?”

The PhD had no answer for that. I suppose information and insight about something that doesn’t exist except in the minds of neurotic U.S. parents doesn’t have much value!!!!!!

It’s funny—so often, parents of neurotypical kids try to one up each other, comparing whose child meet their developmental goalposts first, whose child is more extroverted (so highly valued in our culture), or who said something so intelligent that surely he’s a shoo in for an Ivy League school. Maybe that’s why someone who doesn’t know us parents of kids with hidden disabilities thinks we’re all obsessing over college. In ten years of being in online support groups for parents of kids with sensory processing disorder, I’ve never experienced a parent trying to one up another. Ever. Nor have I ever experienced it with parents in my community who have kids with hidden disabilities. Now, we do congratulate each other when someone’s child consents to a dental procedure with Novocain for the first time, or ties his shoes by himself at age nine, or goes an entire day without wetting the Pull-Up even though he’s eight—because we know how much effort went into achieving that milestone. And maybe we can’t find the time to play the “one up” game because we’re too busy trying to get that homework assignment to travel from the homework folder to the teacher’s desk without showing up at school to make that happen, ensuring that our child will get credit, a grade that isn’t a demoralizing F, and feedback we can use to help her work on her language disability that keeps tripping her up.

I feel I lucked out by getting connected to parents for whom parenting isn’t a competition so much as a collaboration—between Mom, Dad, grandparents and other caregivers, teachers, therapists, other parents who can share their wisdom, and of course, our wonderful kids. We cheer each other on and help each other out. I’ve seen parents join support groups desperate for answers and for someone to say, “I’ve been there. You’re doing great!” only to pass forward that message to another newbie when they’ve found their “sea legs” as a parent of a child with a hidden disability.

I could post here a bunch of links showing that autism is on the rise in many countries, that many experts debunk the idea that diagnostic changes alone are responsible for those rises. I could also post links to research articles and news pieces about breakthroughs in understanding and treating sensory issues and autism, which many of you know I post on the Facebook page for the book Raising a Sensory Smart Child whenever I come across them. I love to participate in conversations about how we can best help our kids shine in a world where “quirky” doesn’t always fit in so neatly, and how we can keep our spirits up when we’re feeling misunderstood, frustrated, or worn out. At the same time, I have to balance that with enjoying my own family, helping my son get the extra help he needs, running my business, and being good to myself. So I’ll let the skeptics check out the book’s Facebook page, use a search engine, and do their own work to convince themselves that we parents of kids with sensory issues, ADHD, and autism are not dealing with “mass hysteria” and aren’t being “duped by the pharmaceutical companies” into imagining our kids need help. And I’ll choose to feel sorry for those who don’t know what a joy it is to have a quirky kid and a slew of supporters cheering you on whenever you feel discouraged. Thank you to ALL of you who participate in this marvelous community of people who care about kids with hidden disabilities. I know you’re out there and I appreciate you!

(Okay, I can’t help myself. Here are some helpful links for finding support groups and resources for your quirky kid: http://www.sensorysmartparent.com/websites.html )

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

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Brain Differences Are Real! How YOU Can Retrain the Brain of Your Child Who Has Sensory Issues

The brains of people with ADHD, autism, and/or sensory processing disorder are different from the brains of neurotypical people. There’s reams of evidence this is true, including a new report on visual processing differences and ADHD. Whenever I hear people say ADHD or sensory issues aren’t real, or that some kids don’t have autism and are just the victims of bad parenting, I wish I had a portable brain scanner to whip out to show people WE ARE NOT MAKING THIS STUFF UP! (Forgive my crankiness–I hear so many of your stories about ignorant people who are convinced it’s all nonsense and I share your frustration!)

For those of you who have already accepted this fundamental reality about different brains, please remember that brains are retrainable, or plastic so there is reason to be optimistic, although it may not feel that way on your worst days. How does brain retraining work? As the saying goes, “When neurons fire, they rewire.” That means that when a neuron is stimulated and sends out an electrical signal to another neuron, a bridge between them forms. When the stimulus is repeated, the bridge is strengthened. In time, that bridge becomes very strong. That’s why we see that after a sensory smart OT does the same activity, hand over hand, with our child again and again, one day, he just “gets it” and doesn’t need cueing or demonstrating anymore. In fact, the stronger the neural network of bridges, the easier it is for him to translate the original skill to a new activity. He can blow a bubble off of a bubble wand  AND blow out a birthday cake candle.

Kids with sensory issues may need lots of practice to acquire skills such as bubble blowing. Have your sensory smart OT assign you homework--activities you can practice with your child, as part of a sensory diet, to retrain her brain.

Retraining the brain is easiest with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, but we can retrain the brain at any age as long as any damage to the brain is not too severe. Even then, our brains are marvelous at rerouting signals so that we can make do with what we have.

What this means for us as parents is that we help our children develop more typical sensory processing, better self-regulation, and new skills through repetition and practice. Talk to your OT regularly about what she is doing with your child to build new neural networks and follow through with “homework.” My son’s marvelous sensory smart OT, Lindsey Biel, showed me how to stand over him, cueing him to keep his legs together using my own legs, and count off to jumping over three stuffed animals lain on the floor, in sequence. “1-2-3 jump–legs together! 1-2-3 jump–legs together, that’s right!” Every week, we had homework to do. It was fun and easy to work into our home routine (especially because Lindsey is a huge advocate of sensory diet activities that combine with everyday life easily). I learned that this follow through was as important as a musician practicing between lessons. Just a few minutes of each activity a few times a day helped tremendously. In fact, my son had so much fun he would often try activities on his own, or point to the equipment (it helped that he is a sensory seeker so jumping and the like always held great appeal–I know you parents of sensory avoiders have it a bit harder!).

If you haven’t done OT homework at all, or in a while, make a plan for yourself to learn what to do with your child and work on it every day, even if only for a few minutes. You can do it, and it’s fun!

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Filed under A.D.D. and A.D.H.D., helping your child with SPD at home, Lindsey Biel, occupational therapy, organizational issues, OT, Practical tips for sensory issues, sensory diet, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder

Pink Toys, Boy Toys, Imagination Toys: Should We Push Our Kids to Play Differently?

The viral video of an adorable girl named Riley venting about how “the girls all get the pink princess stuff” has garnered a lot of attention, and inspired a thoughtful Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by writer Peggy Orenstein called “Should the World of Toys Be Gender Free?”

I’m old enough to remember when this controversy began in the late 1960s, when unisex toys and clothes were the hottest thing, and feminists were baffled by why, after reading “Stories for Free Children” from Ms. magazine to young boys and girls, they were still seeing boys gravitate toward trucks and guns and girls gravitate toward dolls. I finally got clued into what that was all about years later when I observed my own son, who was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder and multiple developmental delays at age 2, playing with toys. His speech-language pathologist and occupational therapist explained to me that imagination play, and collaborative play (“You be the cop and I’ll be the robber”) requires a certain amount of language skills, which requires the neural networks in the brain to be at a particular level of development. They told me it made sense that my son, who had verbal apraxia and a significant receptive/express speech delay, was only engaging in cause-and-effect play (“I drop the marble down the chute and it makes a cool noise!”) and parallel play (“I push my Thomas the Tank Engine train and that boy across the table will push his.”) I would not see a leap forward in imaginative play until he took a leap forward in language skills. I kid you not, the week that I noticed he was now stringing sentences together in a way that made sense rather than jumping from one thought to the next was the week I saw him animate the toy cars he loved to line up. “I’m a blue car,” one told the other. “Well, that’s okay. I’m a red truck.” Wow! Never before had I seen such clear evidence that my SLP and OT had an excellent grasp of development.  I also came to understand why my son, who spent a lot of time in his dad’s antique toys and collectibles store, had always preferred to push the button on the Buzz Lightyear doll rather than animate him, and loved to push the 1960s pink girls’ carpet sweeper as much as he loved to vacuum at home. Cause-and-effect play was his preference, and Thomas the Tank Engine was a major force in pushing him toward more imaginative play–which involved cooperative play with other kids who shared the public Thomas tables at FAO Schwartz and Toys R Us. I began to learn more and more about play and language, and discovered a marvelous book by a child psychologist, Lawrence Cohen, about using play to stretch developmental skills called Playful Parenting. It taught me how to get down on the floor with my son and engage in play with him, asking questions as the blue car or the red truck and suggesting activities, which expanded his language skills: “WHY do we want to drive over to the couch?” “BECAUSE we can park underneath it. It’s going to rain. We don’t want to get wet!”

So do we let our boys or girls stick with their favorite toys because those toys match with their their natural preferences, whether it’s because they are kids who think in pictures, kids with language processing difficulties, kids who are verbally gifted and highly empathetic but not skilled at visual/spatial tasks, or just kids who have typical language wiring for their gender? We know girls develop more whole brain connections, necessary for language development, earlier than boys do and continue to hold that advantage throughout life, but nature shouldn’t dictate our kids’ experiences. So how much do we push the child who wants to do puzzles alone to play with others and to try out toys that take him out of his comfort zone?

I think when we take our anxiety out of the mix, and push our kids to try something new using the just right challenge (not so much pushing that they resist aggressively, not so little that they make no progress in stretching themselves), they benefit, regardless of what the activity is. When we constantly send the message that “your type of play is inferior,” whether it’s play they do alone or pink princess/Barbie play, we make them question their worth. Being a bit lopsided in your play and your preferences isn’t such a bad thing, but we also want our kids to have the benefit of a variety of experiences and friendships. As Orenstein points out, there is some evidence that boys with sisters do better at relationships down the road than boys without sisters do, and girls with older brothers tend to be better at visual/spatial tasks than other girls are (although apparently my brother’s love for all things Tinker Toy and Lincoln Log had little effect on my brain…) Maybe girly Legos in pink and purple, with kits for building a spa or a cafe for the Lego figures to hang out in, isn’t such a terrible thing if it gets some girls out of their comfort zone a bit and learning some building and visual/spatial skills–and working with boys and girls who love the visual/spatial aspect of Legos. Maybe it’s not so bad if the girl or boy who loves to construct Star Wars vehicles out of Lego shows the kid with the pink and purple set how to modify that cafe to be more interesting. I still recall my brother’s GI Joe and my Barbie, Francie, and Skipper getting dressed to go swimming in the pool on the side of our home, which my brother figured out would be less muddy if we lined it with Saran Wrap. Yes, he had to put up with my girlfriend fussing over GI Joe’s outfit before the gang got into the Desert Jeep and got carried outside, but my Barbies’ hair was a lot less filthy thanks to my brother’s engineering skills.

Are there any toys or games that you’ve found bring different kids with different skills together? Please share!

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Filed under kids toys, language processing disorders, sensory smart toys and equipment, Uncategorized

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.

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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:http://sensorysmartparent.com/toysequipment.html

 

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

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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

Fine motor delay? Fine motor skill benchmarks to watch for in your child

This month’s Sensory Smart News is chock full of tips for developing fine motor skills in your child. I think it’s important to take a variety of approaches and keep working on those skills in fun ways to bring your child up to speed with her pre-handwriting and handwriting skills. Of course, language processing difficulties and short-term memory issues (which may include motor memory or visual memory problems) can factor into a child’s difficulty with handwriting, but very often, fine motor skills play a big role.

We don’t often think about handwriting before kids actually have to do it starting in kindergarten–I remember thinking, why is my son’s OT through the Early Intervention program concerned about whether he can draw with a crayon at 27 months old?–but the child who is behind in fine motor skills will need lots of extra help to catch up and be able to handwrite well in school. If your child is trying to compose his thoughts in a coherent way, the last thing he needs is to be struggling with writing them on paper using a pencil.

Fine motor skills play an important role in handwriting.

So where should your child be with fine motor skills? Here are some fine motor skill benchmarks from Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues (a complete list of skill benchmarks can be found in our chapter on Dealing with Developmental Delays).

7 months or so:

–can bang 2 objects together

–can poke objects with index finger

–good grasp and voluntary release

13 months or so:

–mark paper with crayon

–put 3 or more objects into a small container

16 months or so:

–points with index finger

–builds tower using 2 cubes

18 months or so:

–one hand holds object stable while the other manipulates it (Oops! That was a biggie I missed in my own child–fortunately, once he began early intervention at 27 months, I had my OT, Lindsey Biel,working with him hand over hand to develop this skill)

–scribbles spontaneously

24 months or so:

–snips with scissors

–strings one one-inch bead

–imitates vertical stroke and circular scribble

5 years old or so:

–prints first name

–writes numbers 1 through 5

If you are concerned with your child’s progress in fine motor skills (using fingers and hands), gross motor skills (using larger muscles), speech, socialization, or other skills, I urge you to investigate and get answers now. Don’t be afraid or intimidated! You can’t possibly tell if he will grow out of it or catch up on his own. Early intervention makes a HUGE difference because children’s brains are more easily trained when they are very young. When in doubt, check it out!

Here is a link to a list of early intervention providers in your state who can do a FREE evaluation of your child from birth to age 3 if you suspect developmental delays: http://sensorysmarts.com/ei_providers_by_state.html

You can also Google “early intervention” and your state’s name.

If your child qualifies for services, they will be FREE or on a sliding scale depending on your state’s policies. If your child is over age 3, or in school, ask your local school district to evaluate him. Reaffirm your request in writing by certified mail.

You can also consult a private OT for help with handwriting issues and fine motor skill delay. Be sure to ask about whether she is familiar with and experienced with working with children with sensory issues.

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Filed under evaluations, fine motor skills, handwriting, Lindsey Biel, sensory processing disorder

Halloween and Sensory Issues

Getting ready for Halloween? Now’s the time to think about whether your child with sensory issues and/or autism can handle a costume, trick or treating, parties, and exposure to umpteen food dyes, artificial flavors, sugars, and hydrogenated oils. I well recall candy being a rare treat when I was a kid, and now it seems I’m saying “no” to Starburst several times a day as junk food is everywhere. That said, there’s nothing like being part of a neighborhood trick or treat celebration or spooky party to create good childhood memories, IF you make some accommodations for your child with sensory issues and/or autism. Start talking about a costume now. Often, our kids are more comfortable in a costume that’s homemade or modified. Many of the store-bought ones (aside from being pricey) are scratchy or provide other unpleasant tactile input. A costume that relies on wearing a mask, uncomfortable hat, makeup, or a wig may not be tolerable for your child. Have her practice wearing the uncomfortable pieces of the costume beforehand so she doesn’t melt down on Halloween, saying, “But I can’t wear this!”

I wrote a Sensory Smart News piece on this very topic which you can find on my website, SensorySmartParent.com Halloween is a great time to for make believe and for confronting fears in an emotionally safe way. I hope yours is healthy and happy and full of spooky fun.

Happy Halloween to you and your child with sensory issues!

 

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60 first graders, 4 teachers, one open classroom = Sensory Hell

Do I laugh or cry at the misguided professionals who borrowed an idea from an elite private prep school to create a overpopulated first-grade classroom  for public school children, a group that includes kids with sensory processing issues?  According to the New York Times article, the class is held in an open area with 60 first graders and 4 teachers who can all hear and see what’s going on with the other groups. Transitions that involve a change of activity and moving the children to a different part of the room are a nightmare, which is frustrating for the teaching team.

Up to ten percent of children have sensory processing differences that make everyday sensations such as background noise or visual clutter incredibly intense experiences that are difficult for the brain to process, distracting, and anxiety provoking. Although we can be grateful our own kids aren’t in the sensory hell of 60 kids, 4 teachers, no walls, this story is a good reminder of how important it is to be aware of how sensory kids experience auditory and visual clutter.

Neurotypical people and children have the ability to automatically “turn down the volume” on sensory input that isn’t important and “turn up the volume” (that is, pay attention to) priority sensory input. Neurotypical children can usually tune out the sound of a truck rolling by a classroom, a dog barking outside, a chair scraping as someone pulls it out, or the squeak of a marker on a whiteboard isn’t important noise–unless they’re bored or antsy because they’re hungry or tired of sitting. However, most of the time they probably won’t notice the sound or, if they do, they automatically know it’s unimportant and they don’t instantly break their focus. Of course, younger children do get distracted by sounds they find especially interesting–the sound of money jangling in a bag, described in the article, would probably excite a six-year-old eager to see how much money it is. The sound of a dog barking outside a classroom door might elicit excitement (“Ooo, there’s a doggie in the building? Can I see him? Can I pet him?) or anxiety (“Oh no, a dog. I’m scared! My aunt’s dog bit me once!”).

Imagine, though, that your brain simply can’t block out the sound of children’s feet as they move across the room, or the teacher talking to a different class. Imagine that your brain is taking in the sight of 60 kids all moving, some of them moving suddenly, or bursting into giggles that pierce your ears because of your auditory sensitivities. Your brain can’t process all this information quickly enough and some of it is being processed as danger signals. Sudden high-pitched sound? Sudden movement to your right? Your body responds with panic: the fight or flight response. You start chewing your fingertips and rocking, shutting down and not hearing the teacher’s instructions. You feel yourself getting agitated, and when another child moves too close to you, you take a swing at her. You feel yourself so excited by all the stimulation that you start hand flapping and making silly noises–which the other kids laugh at, which makes you more excited, so you start bopping your head side to side and rolling on the ground. Fight, flight, sensory overload–these are not responses that will help you learn in this environment. And if you have poor self-regulation, which many sensory kids have much longer than neurotypical children do, you’re not going to come back to a calm and alert state simply because the teacher says, “Tommy, calm down now.”

Does this sound familiar? Are you seeing these behaviors and situations in a classroom of just 20-25 kids? If there’s a child with SPD in that classroom, and statistics tell us there is, the answer is “absolutely.”

So what’s a parent or teacher to do?

In general, kids with sensory issues function better in smaller classrooms because of the lower amount of stimulation. Any time you can reduce sensory stimulation and sudden transitions, it will be easier for all children, but especially those with sensory processing differences, to focus and remain calm and alert. Many parents have found that having their child with SPD in a private school classroom with 8 children is more supportive of him than a public school classroom with 30 children, but then there’s the issue of can you get special educational services (such as OT for sensory issues) paid for by the school district if your child is in private school? It’s very difficult.

Small private school classroom but no services, large public school classroom but services, including in-class services? It’s a tough call for many parents. Whatever choices you have before you, do check out the information on my website, SensorySmartParent.com, about helping your child at school (start HERE) and the chapter on Advocating for Your Child at School in Raising a Sensory Smart Child. There are MANY ways to make classrooms more user friendly for children with sensory processing issues, and many of the accommodations are simple, low cost, or no cost. You can begin to set up a sensory diet for your child today (hopefully, with the help of a sensory smart OT). No child should be put in “sensory hell.”

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Filed under anxiety, auditory processing disorders, autism and sensory issues, back to school for sensory kids, books on SPD, boys in school, schools, sensory diet at school, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder symptoms, sensory seeking, SPD and auditory, special education