Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Help For The Child With Sensory Processing Issues

As I've mentioned many times, my kids are adopted. We met our oldest when he was 18 months old. He was a big kid with chubby legs and a huge grin. He melted my heart long before I ever met him. 

When we did meet him, one of the first things we noticed was that he was "rough." He was clumsy and often kind of threw himself at people and things. If he wanted your attention, he'd flop on the floor or into furniture with such intensity you were sure that either he or the floor were going to break. He'd come running at you full speed, you literally had to brace yourself for the impact. We were sure these things must be hurting him, but he seemed impervious to them. He never seemed to tire and required very, very little sleep. Conversely, he could get the smallest hurt, like a paper cut, and it would send him over the top. 

At first, we chocked a lot of this up to him being all boy, our first child, and newly adopted. But, over time, we noticed other things too. He could not stand the seams in socks or the tags in shirts. They drove him into a frenzy. He also hated to wear any shoe other than his roomy Crocs. He overstimulated very easily, particularly at parties, in crowds and in bright and noisy places (basically any place that was supposed to be "fun").  

We never really made the connection between any of these things. To us, they seemed random and, at times, buying endless seam-free socks to find a comfy pair, felt overindulgent. We mentioned some of these things to the international adoption specialist we saw shortly after coming home and our pediatrician. No one ever told us anything was out of the ordinary. 

Then one day, I found the book The Out-of-Sync Child and learned about sensory processing disorders. Suddenly, it all made sense and I saw the common thread between these things: our kid's nervous system was being pushed to overcapacity.  (To compound issues, he's also a "spirited" child and has significant allergy problems - all common in kids with sensory issues.)

There are several ends of the sensory spectrum. Our son tends to be sensory-seeking (thus explaining why he liked to run into things and people) but some kids are the opposite. They become overwrought over certain textures, noises or unknown situations. 

Every child (and adult) is quirky, to some degree. We all have our individual likes and dislikes, temperaments and personalities and off days. But the out-of-sync child isn't just occasionally "off," for him, it's a chronic condition. 

There has been no panacea for our son. We've found many things that have helped him to regulate more easily. But the most beneficial thing for us to learn has been that his behavior has meaning, often "difficult" behavior is his body's way of saying, "Help!"

If you're reading any of this and a little light is going off in your head, I can not recommend the book The Out-of-Sync Child enough. Here are some other things that have worked for us: 

  • Swinging: The back and forth movement is calming for our son. But being outside isn't always practical. All of our kids love it when they climb into a big blanket and we swing them, like they're in a giant hammock. This is especially helpful before bedtime. 
  • Rice bags: It's a kind of weighted heating bag filled with rice that we heat in the microwave before bed. Our son loves both the pressure and the heat. 
  • Hop balls: Sometimes all of that energy is just too much. When we can't get our son outdoors, we let him hop on this. 
  • Melatonin - this is a natural sleep aid found in drug stores. Melatonin is naturally occurring in our body and helps us to fall asleep. Consult with your doctor before using. 
  • Gum - The repetitive motion of chewing is calming to some kids. 
  • Wiggle Seat Cushion - This is for the kid who just cannot sit still. He's always either standing during meals or flopping out of his chair. This is a lifesaver. 
  • Kinetic sand - This is the coolest stuff, it sticks together. The texture is very soft and playing with it is very soothing. I buy mine at Michael's with a coupon. 
Here's another article that might be beneficial: Don't Punish Your Child's Nervous System, Understand It. 

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