Do you know preschoolers who crash into furniture, bump into other people and stay constantly on the move? Or who are unable to get from point A to point B without touching something? They’re not necessarily doing it to aggravate their parents, teachers or other folks around them. It might be a type of sensory processing disorder.
Like with Goldilocks, who looks for the “just right” porridge, every child has his own comfort zone of sensory input and activity level. Kids with problems processing sensory information are living outside those comfort zones. Depending on the type of disorder, they may either shy away from normal sensory stimulations or seek out more of them – like the preschoolers crashing into things and touching everything in sight.
If you think your child or student may have a sensory processing disorder, start by tuning in to what activities calm her down vs. what makes her overly excited. Many parents of kids with SPD have found ways to play to their kids’ strengths and keep them on an even keel. A Los Angeles mother of two boys, ages 4 and 8, is among them. Her 4-year-old is under-reactive to his surroundings – similar to those “crashers” and “bumpers” – and needs to focus on fine- and gross-motor activities, she says.
Here are some techniques used by the L.A. mother to help her younger boy – shared with her permission.
• The brothers eat breakfast in the kitchen with the alphabet painted on the wall, and the 4-year-old is asked to locate certain letters and match words with them. The sensory act of chewing helps him focus on building his vocabulary.
• The family has a “sensory box” full of beans and dry pasta. The 4-year-old enjoys scooping the mixture, which helps his gross-motor skills, and picking out individual beans and pasta pieces to build his fingers and hands.
• The boy bounces on an ottoman and holds an adult’s hands or bounces by himself. For a similar activity, some parents let their kids jump on a mini-trampoline.
• In their garage and yard, the parents have set up an obstacle course for running back and forth and doing exercises in between.
• Each week is rounded out with professional occupational therapy, says the mom, who writes for the Sensory Processing Disorder Blogger Network at www.spdbloggernetwork.com. The group is heading toward 2,000 Facebook members in its first year, and focuses on parents’ stories and experiences with the disorder.
Other tips from parents and teachers:
• A to-do list isn’t just for grown-ups. Put your daily routine on a calendar with laminated pictures. Show your child the schedule at the start of each day. Let him take down the pictures as each task is finished.
• Some kids find it’s soothing to plop onto a beanbag chair and be surrounded by the filling. If they are doing a sedentary task, such as watching a movie or reading, they will still be receiving calming pressure if they are snuggled into the beanbag.
• Have your little one pretend he is a turtle and crawl around on hands and knees with a pillow balancing on his back. Doing a crab walk with hands and feet on the floor and belly up is another good exercise.
• Provide a laundry basket or empty suitcase for your child to push and pull. Let your child add objects to make it heavier.
• In a classroom, assign the child jobs such as sweeping, carrying books and wiping the tables.
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, is a mother and preschool teacher. If you have tips or questions, send email to email@example.com or call 704-236-9510.