Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory Processing Disorder is when the brain has trouble receiving and responding to messages that it receives through the senses.  Oftentimes,  children with SPD may be oversensitive to stimuli in their environment, such as:

  • Texture/Taste
  • Sounds/Noises
  • Touch
  • Balance
  • Sights

Meet Julia: Teach children how to interact with the new Sesame Street Puppet with Autism.

What can you do to help? You can be a blessing by saying kind and supportive words to the child and family. Behaviors do not define a child.

Sensory items can be a big help to children with Sensory Processing Disorder.

  1. Puffer Balls are great because they are soft, squeezable, and can easily be pulled. They can be used during any activity to calm children, including class transitions in hallways.
  2. Sensory Bottles are helpful for children to hold during large or small group discussions.  These bottles give children something to engage with their hands and soothe their eyes.  Sensory bottles are also very quiet, so they have minimal disruption to surrounding students.
  3. Wiggle Seats are double-sided objects that can be used for circle times, small groups, or a large group activities to help a child sit. If a child has difficulty staying seated, wiggle seats may help calm them by giving them the sensory input they need. Both sides are useful depending on how much sensory input the child needs that day.

Behaviors related to SPD:

  • Excessive/Low energy and activity levels.
  • Problems with social skills, such as biting, refusing to share, and isolation
  • Difficulty controlling impulses, such as aggression, blurting out answers, or jumping out of their seat.
  • Short attention span such as difficulty staying seated for a task, becoming easily distracted by objects, sounds, smells, or movements.
  • Difficulty with transition, such as have anxiety with change, trying new foods, or changing activities. These changes can sometimes result in tantrums in children with SPD.
  • Low frustration tolerance, such as screaming, or having difficulty regulating their emotions.

So, what can you do to help?

  • If a child is screaming or covering their ears, or overwhelmed by sounds/light, it would be helpful to remove them from the situation.  Sometimes taking a brief walk, sitting in a calm room, being around low lighting, or using a quiet corner can help.
  • Allowing time in a sensory room with a ball pit can help when a child feels overwhelmed.  Try to learn the child’s triggers so you can take them to the sensory room prior to the behavior. Fidgets can also be helpful.  Common fidgets are puzzles, sensory bottles, squishy balls, bean bag chairs, and bubbles.
  • If a child is biting or feeling overwhelmed by other children in their space, separate the children. Let someone in charge know immediately.
  • Engage in Sensory Activities. Children with Sensory Processing Disorder typically love playdough, beans, noodles, pom poms, digging in the sand, or other projects that keep them engaged and could provide sensory relief. Try to find ways to incorporate sensory activities into your lessons every day; all children can benefit from sensory activities!
  • For a child that seems impatient or unable to sit still (for example, during circle time), a ball pit may be helpful. The playground can also be helpful to allow the child time to climb and get out physical energy. They can also use a squishy objects, stretchy therapy bands, or a fidget toy.
  • Some children are calmed by a deep pressure hug or a weighted lap pad/blanket. If a parent gives you permission, hugging a child can help alleviate some of their symptoms of SPD.
  • If a child will not stay seated for a lesson, allow them to sit on a special pillow or a wiggle seat. Bring sensory objects, such as therapy bands or fidget toys, and allow them to play with objects while listening to lesson. Encourage children to stay seated and attempt to engage them in the lesson. Going to the playground or a sensory room prior to the lesson can be helpful to allow the child time to get out energy and reset sensory system.  Jumping on a trampoline or in a ball pit prior to the lesson can also help!

Article Written by Meagan Walkley, LPC, NCC

Blog Post Created by Sarah Warner, MS

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