Helping Children With Sensory Concerns

Sensory ProcessingMore and more caregivers are recognizing that many children in child care exhibit signs of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). According to research by the SPD Foundation, 1 in every 20 children experiences problems with sensory integration.

Sensory Processing Disorder occurs when a child’s nervous system has difficulty making use of sensory information. It is the job of the nervous system to take in the information around us through our senses and organize that information so we can attach meaning to it and act on it. The lack of control over sensations like touch, smell, sound, taste, balance and body positioning, can make it very difficult for a child to manage his own behavior, especially when he or she is expected to sit in circle time or participate in structured activities with peers.

Behaviors that may indicate Sensory Processing Disorder:

  • Rubs off kisses or casual touches and pushes others away to avoid closeness
  • Is bothered by certain types of clothing and is particularly sensitive to sock seams, shoes and tags in shirts
  • Touches people and objects constantly
  • Seems unaware of touch unless it is intense
  • Is uncomfortable on stairs and clings to walls or banisters
  • Enjoys being upside down, hanging over the bedside or swinging while lying on tummy
  • Bumps into objects and furniture, apparently on purpose
  • Has problems with touch, balance and movement
  • Has a poor sense of body awareness
  • Is stiff, uncoordinated, and clumsy; falls and tripps frequently
  • Leans, bumps, or crashes against objects and people, and invades others’ body space
  • Pulls and twists clothing, stretches tee shirt down, or chewes sleeves or collars
  • Is sensitive to sounds

In a workshop hosted by Child Care Council’s Inclusion Project in January 2009, Bonnie Arnwine shared a variety of ways to incorporate sensory activities into a busy day to help decrease challenging behaviors. Children diagnosed with SPD need occupational therapy treatment. However, parents and providers can still work with children to support them and improve behavior using games and activities that help children learn to cope and enhance sensory organization and social development.

Tips for Helping Children with SPD:

Arnwine provided tips that can help children recognize their challenges and learn appropriate strategies to calm themselves and reduce challenging behaviors.

  • If a child does not like certain textures like finger paint, put it in a plastic bag or plastic glove so the child can enjoy the activity without touching it.
  • If a child squirms around and touches everyone around him, give him a small toy to hold or put in his pocket to keep his hands busy (called a fidget) instead of his whole body.
  • For a child who cannot control his energy, try blanket swinging, a body wrap or jumping on a small trampoline with supervision.
  • A child who mouths shirts or sleeves, or bites other children, can use a chewelry or chew tubes.

To learn more about early intervention techniques and evaluation, contact Ange Burnett, Inclusion Project Coordinator, (925) 676-5442 ext. 3113, or e-mail.

More to Explore:

  • The Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) Foundation web site expands knowledge, fosters awareness and promotes recognition of Sensory Processing Disorder. www.spdfoundation.net
  • The Abilitations web site provides solutions for professionals and parents working with and raising children with special needs. www.abilitations.com
  • Visit Bonnie Arnwine’s web site, www.sensoryfun.com or read her book, Starting Sensory Integration therapy: Fun Activities for your Home and Classroom.
  • Other books of interest include Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder by Carol Stock Kranowitz, and Is It Sensory or Is It Behavior? by Carolyn Murray-Slutsky.