Posted: 9 July 2018
If your child has sensory processing disorder (SPD), parenting can be challenging. There may be meltdowns, sensory triggers, and behavioral problems may arise from poorly-handled SPD.
And if you don’t have the disorder yourself, it can be difficult to know how to help your child.
Here, we’ve broken down nine ways you can integrate sensory processing disorder treatment at home.
Is Your Child a Sensory Avoider or Seeker?
First, you should understand a few basic facts about SPD in order to know how to help your child.
Many parents are resistant to a diagnosis of SPD because their child doesn’t cover their ears at every sound. But this belief is based on a misconception of SPD.
There are two types of people with SPD:
- Sensory avoiders
- Sensory seekers
Sensory avoiders are what most people think of when it comes to SPD. Common signs of a sensory avoider include:
- Picky eating
- Covers ears at certain sounds
- Won’t wear shoes, or only prefers one shoe type
- Dislikes having people too close
- Hyperresponsiveness to pain (i.e. everything hurts)
- Complaints about normal light being too bright
- Avoids touch
Then, there are sensory seekers, who fall at the other end of the spectrum. Common symptoms include:
- Climbing everything
- Mouthing, licking, or chewing inedible things
- Touching everything
- Playing with food or eating messily
- Frequent jumping, pushing or spinning
- Difficulty sitting still
- Seeking out loud noises
- Failing to monitor their own voice volume
- Dumping out toy bins just to look at everything
Essentially, sensory seekers and avoiders are polar opposites. Where avoiders can’t stand certain stimuli, seekers crave it. As such, how you help a sensory avoider is wildly different from how you help a sensory seeker.
It is also important to note that SPD can often overlap with (or be confused for) attention deficit disorder and autism spectrum disorders, so it’s important to work with your child’s doctor to make sure you’re addressing the full spate of issues your child may be facing.
Sensory Processing Disorder Treatment at Home
While you may be working with your child’s school to help deal with behavioral problems and sensory issues in the classroom, the benefit of working with your child at home cannot be overstated.
Regardless of what techniques you try, you should always listen to your child–what do they think works for them? What do they not like? Listening to your child helps to empower them to start addressing sensory issues independently.
1. Focus on Your Child
It all comes back to your child.
It can be easy to get lost in lists of symptoms and potential treatments and lose sight of what’s really important here: your child.
As we said, the needs of each child with SPD can be different, which means that treatment won’t look the same for every child. Whenever you try something new, remember to keep your focus on what your child needs and how you can help them.
2. Do Some Research
That said, doing your homework on SPD can be very helpful in figuring out what to do first, especially if you don’t know anyone with SPD or have firsthand experience with it.
This can help you to better understand why certain stimuli upset your child or why they’re seeking certain stimuli, and understanding will help you figure out how to help.
Research can mean many things, from reading a few books to talking to a doctor to looking up information online. Do what you feel comfortable doing, but be thorough.
3. Track Your Child’s Signs
On a related note, in order to treat your child’s perceptual problems, you first need to figure out what stimuli is an issue for them.
Once you’ve done a bit of homework on SPD, start keeping track of your child’s behavior, taking care to note any meltdowns, signs of stress, or acting out.
Many parents think their child’s tantrums are random until they start tracking the pattern of tantrums more carefully. Close inspection may show you that the tantrums occur when you vacuum, for example, or wearing shoes, or hearing about having to deal with these things.
Throughout this process, although it may be frustrating, try to keep in mind that your child probably isn’t trying to be difficult on purpose. They can’t find a way to cope with certain stimuli and they don’t know how to express it to you, which can create behavioral problems as they try to deal with an upsetting, painful world.
4. Start by Practicing the Basics
Once you’ve identified your child’s triggers and why they’re upsetting, you can start to work on the basics.
One of the easiest places to start is basic coping skills picked up in occupational therapy. In occupational therapy, therapists teach your child various coping tools and strategies in order to live happy, healthy, independent lives.
While you may not be able to practice everything that an occupational therapist has your child try, you can start with simple things.
For example, if your child has behavior issues related to certain foods, you can start by introducing them to a problem food every other day, encouraging and rewarding appropriate responses.
5. Create a Visual Schedule
On paper, it might seem counterintuitive to use a visual schedule to help a child with SPD. In fact, this kind of schedule can be surprisingly helpful.
A visual schedule simply means a detailed schedule of what’s going to happen in a day, arranged in a way that your child can see. An easy example is a weekly calendar with time broken into blocks for each activity.
It should be somewhere your child can easily see and access. Better still, ask your child for input and help to create it. This will help them feel like they have some control over their routine, even if the routine has to change at some point.
6. Balance Sensory Input
An occupational therapist can test for sensory input in order to determine the stimuli your child is especially sensitive to.
This is done using a specialized setting called a sensory gym, which is used to evaluate your child’s sensory cravings and sensory defensiveness. For example, a child who is hypersensitive to vestibular input always needs to spin or swing, which is similar to what an under-reactive child does to reorient their brain.
The difference is that a child who is hypersensitive is resistant to it, while an under-sensitive child actively seeks it out.
These tests will help you know what sensory input you need to balance, at which point the therapist can give you techniques to use at home.
7. Strengthen Spatial Awareness
Traditional occupational therapists focus on the proprioceptive, vestibular, and tactile systems in treatment.
Strengthening spatial awareness is a treatment that focuses on the vestibular-visual-auditory triad to help your child understand three-dimensional space. This is done using listening programs that they will listen to while doing normal activities.
You can practice this at home by having your child listen to music or a program while playing, doing crafts, or other everyday activities that challenge them to develop their sense of space.
8. A Sensory Diet
Essential to this process is a sensory diet.
A sensory diet is a series of physical activities and accommodations meant to give your child the sensory input they need. Once they’ve reached the right sensory balance, it becomes that much easier to do well in school and complete everyday activities.
The good news is that some of these activities are things you can have your child do at home if they’re feeling overstimulated or sluggish. A few common examples include:
- Bouncing a therapy ball
- Jumping jacks
- Yoga poses like downward dog
- Swinging on swings
- Certain activities like mopping or sweeping with supervision
These activities are assembled in a routine that your child can turn to in order to address certain sensory issues.
9. Make a Safe Space and Buy Fidget-Toys
Even children with mild SPD can become overstimulated and need to withdraw. When this happens, your child needs a safe space that won’t continue to overwhelm them with unwelcome, stressful stimuli.
To this end, you should create a safe space for your child to withdraw to if needed. A pillow fort is a good example, or a designated armchair in the living room, or a specific corner of their room.
Ideally, this should be a space absent of stimuli that stress them out. So if you have a safe armchair, it shouldn’t be a fabric that causes your child anxiety. Your child might have a favorite chair, or you could work together to get a new one for this purpose.
If you need somewhere to look, check out this website.
Helping your child feel safe is the first step to keeping them safe. Give them this sense of security and many future meltdowns can be avoided.
Making Life with Kids Easier
Sensory processing disorder treatment at home is a process. But it doesn’t need to be impossible.
If you need more tips to help your kids thrive, check out our blog for posts like these parenting apps you need to download or these backyard ideas your kids will love.