“I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch”
At least 1 in 20 children may be affected by Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). I repeat, 1 in 20! That statistic makes SPD astoundingly common and we wonder why getting our children dressed in the morning causes such tears and tantrums, or why mealtimes are either so messy or stressful due to ‘picky’ eaters.
So what exactly is SPD?
SPD is caused by the brain’s inability to process input from the five senses; touch, taste, smell, sound and sight. Our five senses work together to give us a reliable picture of the world and our place in it. If a child’s sensory processing cannot filter information internally and externally from the environment into messages they can act on, they may have difficulty coping with every day tasks and feel great discomfort and frustration.
For children with SPD, often the only solution is to seek out a specific sensory experience and do everything to avoid others. Lack of sufficient awareness and guidance in this process, can often lead to a meltdown for a child.
Stanley Greenspan, the author of The Challenging Child (1995) has an insightful analogy to help us understand what people experience when they can not effectively process, or interpret, sensory input.
He describes it this way:
“Imagine driving a car that isn’t working well. When you step on the gas the car sometimes lurches forward and sometimes doesn’t respond. When you blow the horn it sounds blaring. The brakes sometimes slow the car, but not always. The blinkers work occasionally, the steering is erratic, and the speedometer is inaccurate. You are engaged in a constant struggle to keep the car on the road, and it is difficult to concentrate on anything else.”
Children are incapable of knowing how to verbally explain these feelings at a young age and so the challenge for parents is to be able to look past the behavioural problems these restrictions create and find quick, alternative solutions to ease anxiety levels and improve functionality.
Here are my top tips to alleviate sensory complaints relating to the five senses:
If the subject of getting your child dressed leads to the beginning of World War 3, stick to buying soft clothes made from jersey materials with flat seams that feel natural against the skin. Thoroughly removing labels sewn inside clothing are known to significantly reduce negative reactions. For more information on a wonderful new clothing line especially designed to support children with SPD, take a look at Soft.
Eliminating certain foods from a child’s diet can often be unhealthy and restrictive. For alternative solutions try serving those foods in different ways. For example, if the texture of cooked peas is unbearable, mash them and put them in stews or meatloaf. For simple, delicious menus and cooking ideas for the fussy eater, go back to basics with Annabel Karmel’s simple and child friendly recipe ideas.
There isn’t a great deal you can do to avoid hypersensitivity to smells, however you can try to categorise sensitive areas. For example, if your child reacts negatively to household products stick with non odorous lines. Keep windows open and during periods of anxiety calmly talk your child into moving into a different place until the smell disperses.
If your child is terrified of loud noises, create activities at home where you can gradually expose them to loud noise, helping them grow accustomed to it. It is often the onset of loud, unexpected sound that cause the most alarm. Allocate certain times for your child to listen to their favourite music. Keep the volume relatively low at the outset and gradually increase the level. Introduce different types of music and sounds to this, with and without headphones and slowly your child will grow more attuned to the change in volume and pitch.
For children who react strongly to bright lights, ensure that they carry sunglasses with them or if they wear glasses invest in lenses that darken in the sunlight, often referred to as Transition or Photocromatic Lenses. This way, the glasses will change automatically, supporting the child before they realise they need it.
Most children won’t outgrow SPD, but the symptoms can be managed with appropriate treatment. For more information and support contact the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation.
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