Children with sensory processing disorder (SPD) tend to give adults the impression that any meltdown they have is the result of overstimulation.
In other words, many assume these kids are mainly hypersensitive. The meltdowns are started by something in the environment, it triggers them, and then the parents immediately panic as they try to put away all sources of stimulation as possible.
But at this point, asking any expert will tell you that this is too simplistic and even reckless. Assuming pure hypersensitivity is not a good way to approach these meltdowns.
People with sensory processing issues all have varying sensitivities (and lack of sensitivity) that makes each one of them very unique. Furthermore, these varying sensitivities should not just be a reason to just take a long list of things that your child must somehow avoid at all costs.
These should indicate that your child has a very different experience of the world, an experience that could even be magical. This can lead them to enjoy certain sights, sounds and sensations with greater appreciation than most people.
Being too narrow or heavy-handed in your approach to avoid meltdowns can also result in the child feeling deprived, misunderstood and obviously unhappy. Rather than working actively against the senses that seem imbalanced, consider these alternative strategies:
1. Understand how your child’s different senses work together.
This is a lot harder than it sounds because even people with normal sensory processing hardly understand how their senses coordinate. Give yourself a crash course on this topic, and then proceed to understanding how your child’s senses coordinate differently.
For example, a child who has poor sensory integration with sound may have trouble communicating verbally. However, the same child could also be very good with understanding visual information while responding better with gestures and pictures instead of hearing more noise.
2. Look for activities that combine positive sensory experiences together.
Another good strategy is to understand what combination of sensory experiences your child loves the most. And like in the previous strategy, this works best if you first understand how even normal people enjoy experiences through a combination of senses rather than a single one.
Cooking is one very good example! Have you ever wondered why people love it when they successfully pull off a recipe? It is because at least three senses are combining into a positive stimulation through the experience. There’s smell, taste and also touch (from the food’s texture in your mouth).
Without a doubt, children with sensory issues often seek out their own preferred combination for the same reason. This is why observation is key. Pay very close attention to what your child loves to hold, smell or listen to!
3. Use positive sensations to counter negative ones.
When experiencing a sensory meltdown, some children may resort to running off in search of a positive stimulation to help manage the stress.
Before, this was erroneously considered as just another negative behaviour. But these days, it can be more advisable to help a child obtain positive stimulus if the result is calming and helps them regain their bearings.
Another way this can be done is through the use of programs that are specifically designed to stimulate in a manner that improves sensory processing in the brain. And in either case, it goes to show that sometimes allowing sensory information is more productive than suppressing it!
Overall, the challenge of sensory meltdowns should no longer lead to a restricted lifestyle for your child. Instead, it should call parents to further deepen their understanding of how their children see the world (and broaden your own perspective as well).
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