Strategies for Sensory Processing Difficulties

Sensory strategies should not be based on generalised guidelines; they should be based on the individual and their specific sensory needs. A child's sensory system can be very complex and understanding what impacts on regulation can take time with guidance from an OT. However, not everyone can access an Occupational Therapist who is trained in Sensory Integration and therefore education and advice is vital so that parents can start addressing these needs as they have a huge impact on the daily routine. 


Firstly, you want to observe your child and document two typical days; make sure to note their behaviour and any changes in their behaviour throughout the daily routine.

Main activities to be observed and behaviour recorded: dressing, toothbrushing, brushing hair, eating at mealtimes, travelling in the car, sitting at the table, doing homework, bath-time or showering, playing outside and bedtime.


In terms of behaviours; you want to record when your child is calm, fidgety, giddy, difficulty to settle and focus, aggressive, tuned out, engaging in repetitive movements, obsessional about certain topics or toys, clumsy, disorganised, stressed, anxious and avoidant. This will begin to give you an idea of what activities the child finds calming and the activities that may overstimulate your child.  You also want to see if there are obvious triggers to negative behaviours or if a certain time of the day is particularly difficult.


You now need to use your problem-solving hat to try and hypothesis the causes to some of your child's sensory behaviours. Some may be more obvious than others for example:

You might find that the nights your child has a bath and story-time before bed- they sleep better and settle quicker. You can therefore hypothesis that this structured routine which includes water play, tight squeeze in a towel and reading with a parent are regulating activities for that child. 


Or during grooming activities like showering and hair brushing- your child appears stressed and can become aggressive. You can then hypothesis that grooming activities which include lots of light touch are a stressor for your child. 


However, it frequently isn't easy to see a pattern in some children's behaviours and responses to sensory input and lots of factors can disrupt their regulation.

The more structure in the routine you form- the easier it can be to spot the impact of certain changes. 


So once you have identified your child's routine, behaviours and triggers- what can you do?


While you wait for a Sensory Integration trained OT- you can start to trial some activities and record your child's reaction.


For example:

When you child appears anxious, stressed or engaging in repetitive movements- acknowledge this and offer some deep pressure which can be calming and regulating to a child's sensory system-


"I can see that your body and brain might be a bit worried/stressed or busy; maybe a bear squeeze will make it feel calm". Approach your child from the front and come down to their level to talk to them. Ask if they want a softer or harder hug- some children prefer intensive deep pressure to feel calm. 


Try to build activities into the daily routine that your child finds calming- this might be a bath, jumping on the trampoline, swinging in a hammock, playing with Lego, baking with mom or going to the playground.


Other things to try include water play, blowing bubbles in water using a straw, yoga stretches, calming music, lava lamps or fish lamps, reading a book on a rocking chair or going for a walk with mom or dad. 


Every child is different and so is their sensory system so activities must be trialed to see what is effective. As much as possible; try to avoid screen-time as a child's calming activity as it's effect may not be immediate and may impact on sleep regulation, mood and engagement.


There are also lots of specialised approaches that address sensory processing difficulties such as the Wilbarger Therapressure Program however these can only be completed under the supervision of a trained OT. 


Also remember to bring your sensory toolbox with you when the child has to experience an environment outside of the home in order to reduce over-stimulation or meltdowns. Fill it with things that your child finds calming such as a chewy, headphones with music, ear defenders, soft toy, bubbles, busy bag with Lego, drink with a straw etc..


Hope you find this helpful,


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