Parenting is an incredible journey filled with joy, challenges, and discoveries. For parents of children with sensory processing challenges, understanding and addressing their unique needs can be both rewarding and demanding.
As an occupational therapist and a mom who has navigated this path, I thought I could share some advice to help fellow parents support their children with sensory processing disorders.
In this article, we’ll explore what SPD entails, highlight common mistakes to avoid, and provide resources for additional help.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder
When we think of senses most of us think of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. As occupational therapists, we’re concerned with not just five, but 8 senses.
In addition to the standard five there are vestibular, proprioceptive, and interoception:
- Proprioception – Our proprioceptive sense is extremely important, and often called the hidden sixth sense. It receives sensory messages from our muscles and joints. This helps our body to know where it is in space and how our limbs are moving. It also helps us to know how much force we are using. Some example activities that give a lot of proprioceptive feedback include, squeezing an orange, pushing a pram/stroller, cycling, rock climbing, and lifting weights.
- Vestibular Sense – The vestibular sense is often called the balance sense. It receives sensory messages from a part of the inner ear, called the vestibule. The vestibular sense helps with balance and coordination of movement. It also helps with alertness. Activities that give a lot of vestibular feedback include swinging, jumping, and fairground rides.
- Interoception – this is a lesser-known sense that helps you understand and feel what’s going on inside your body. Kids who struggle with the interoceptive sense may have trouble knowing when they feel hungry, full, hot, cold, or thirsty. Having trouble with this sense can also make self-regulation a challenge.
Sensory processing disorders refer to difficulties in effectively interpreting and responding to sensory information from the environment.
Children with SPD may experience hypersensitivity (overresponsiveness) or hyposensitivity (underresponsiveness) to sensory stimuli, or exhibit a combination of both.
These challenges can impact their daily functioning, behavior, and overall well-being.
What Can You Do As A Parent?
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If you feel that your child is exhibiting signs of hyposensitivity or hypersensitivity to stimuli there are some steps that you can begin to take:
- Educate Yourself: As a parent, it is essential to educate yourself about SPD. Understanding how sensory processing works and recognizing the specific sensory challenges your child faces will empower you to make informed decisions and offer appropriate support. Consult reputable sources, and books, and seek guidance from professionals specializing in sensory integration.
- Seek Professional Help: An occupational therapist trained in sensory integration techniques can be an invaluable resource for your child’s development. They can assess your child’s sensory needs, design individualized therapy plans, and equip you with effective strategies to implement at home. Collaborating with professionals will ensure a holistic approach to addressing sensory challenges.
Common Mistakes to Avoid:
Parenting a child with SPD can be overwhelming, and it is important to be aware of some common pitfalls to avoid:
- Ignoring or Dismissing Behaviors: Dismissing or ignoring your child’s sensory challenges can exacerbate their difficulties. Acknowledge and validate their experiences, even if you don’t fully understand them. Open communication and empathy will foster a trusting parent-child relationship.
- Overwhelming Environments: Avoid overwhelming your child with excessive sensory stimuli. Understand their triggers and create a sensory-friendly environment at home. Gradually introduce new experiences, allowing them to adapt at their own pace.
- Pushing Too Hard: While it is important to encourage your child’s growth, pushing them beyond their comfort zone can lead to distress. Respect their boundaries and provide opportunities for gradual exposure to challenging sensory situations, ensuring a supportive and non-threatening environment.
Finding Additional Help
Navigating the world of sensory processing challenges can be challenging, but you are not alone.
Here are some avenues to explore for additional support:
- Support Groups and Online Communities: Connect with other parents and caregivers facing similar challenges through local support groups or online communities. Sharing experiences, strategies, and resources can provide invaluable emotional support and practical advice.
- Parenting Workshops and Webinars: Attend workshops or webinars specifically tailored to parenting children with SPD. These educational sessions can equip you with practical tools, techniques, and a deeper understanding of your child’s needs.
- Advocacy Organizations: Numerous advocacy organizations focus on sensory processing challenges and offer comprehensive resources for parents. Explore websites, forums, and publications provided by reputable organizations such as the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation or STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder.
Parenting a child with sensory processing challenges requires patience, empathy, and a willingness to learn. By understanding SPD, avoiding common mistakes, and seeking additional help, you can create an environment that supports your child’s unique needs.
Remember, your love and unwavering support will be a guiding light for your child as they navigate the sensory world. Together, let’s embrace the journey and celebrate their progress every step of the way.
About The Author:
Kimberly is an Occupational Therapist, Adjunct Professor, and owner of Alta Pediatrics. She is also a mom of 2, an avid traveler, and a marathon runner.