A Story of Sensory Therapy
When you are not sure, it’s always best to fulfill their sensory needs anyway.
Sensory Processing is a touchy subject in the parenting community. It brings up anxiety in new parents. Everyone knows that Early Intervention often looks at sensory processing as a red flag issue. This early admission of problems with sensory processing when it is staring at you in the face is scary to say the least.
When my son was just 6 months old, I was already confronted with the possibility of some kind of sensory issue. After all, he was a very good baby in all respects. Except, he was fussy when I put blankets on him or wrapped him up. He wanted himself to be uncovered at all times. When he was fussy, I put him in between my legs as I sat in a lotus pose. With my legs hugging him in a cradle position, he calmed down.
By the time he was 12 months old, I realized that he had sensory issues that were not the norm. He was unusually active for a young toddler. He would perform physical fiats (repeating them) nonstop for 30 minutes at a time. It’s a lot for a baby that age. He also threw epic tantrums when his physical needs could not be fulfilled. His tantrums were so irrational that it felt like meltdowns.
By the time he turned 2 years old, he was basically spinning, hanging, running, and jumping all day long. By the time he turned 3 years old, he decided that he didn’t like clothes or shoes. Instead, he wanted serious compression pressure.
He would try to get into my shirt as I was sitting down so that my shirt would wrap him up like a bun. He slept with a pillow underneath him as well as a pillow on top of his chest.
He’d only be calm and focus if he could have at least 3 hours on the playground daily. His physical fitness needs were out of this world. When he was on the playground, he was non-stop climbing, jumping and running.
Through the years, I researched sensory processing disorder. I read all I could online and I realized that my son has many symptoms. Although he did not meet the criteria for sensory processing disorder or ASD, his symptoms were getting in the way of him living a healthy life. I had to admit to myself that he had some kind of a problem even though it was going to be undiagnosed.
I decided to treat my son as if he had a sensory processing disorder.
The admission, at least to myself, helped me be proactive about dealing with his issues. I actively fought against the notion that “He will grow out of it.” Instead, I sought out information from therapists, professionals, and online resources to figure out the right equipment, hacks, and activities to do with him to help him recover.
My biggest fear was that when he went to school, his sensory issues will be viewed as defiance or lack of discipline. In a large classroom, it’s often difficult for teachers to manage such students who disrupt the class. By helping him fulfill his sensory needs early, I hope that by the time school comes around that he will be better adjusted to that environment.
Sensory Seeking vs Sensory Avoidance
There are many types of sensory issues. But, the two main types are sensory seeking and sensory avoidance.
Sensory seeking is when the child seeks out a particular kind of sensation. Toddlers who have an incessant need to lick every surface or who need to hug are often sensory seekers.
Sensory avoidance is when the child avoids a particular kind of sensation. A child who doesn’t like the scratchy feel of clothing is a sign of sensory avoidance. Picky eating related to the texture of food is also sensory avoidance.
The tricky part is that sensory seeking and sensory avoidance can happen at the same time.
This is what happened to mine. My son is very much a sensory seeker most of the time. But, he also had food-related sensory avoidance issues. This is when the parent must differentiate these situations. For each of the symptoms of sensory seeking and sensory avoidance, some activities will help with that.
The point is that you don’t need professional therapy to relieve your child’s symptoms. You just have to figure out the activities for each “major” issue and do that every day with your child with the recommendation from a doctor, a therapist, or professional information you find online. You can be the therapist for your child.
The Importance of mindset
As a parent, I found that the most important aspect of parenting a child with sensory issues is mindset. Simple things such as getting dressed, eating the right foods, sitting down, and focusing can take such a long time to work through that often it’s beyond frustration.
In those moments, it’s very important to trust that it will get better. Each day, I pick my battles. To me, all sensory issues of his are the number one priority. This means that it’s a priority over discipline, over boundaries, over everything else.
We did activities and at-home therapy to get my son to a baseline every day before we moved on to other activities. To me, our days begin and end with my son’s issues. But, that was okay. It’s necessary to get better. Everything else can wait.
Activities for Sensory Seekers
The number of sensory seekers by far out way the number of sensory avoiders. From my personal experience, a toddler at 2 years old will have some sensory seeking behaviors.
- Crash into everything
- Lick the window, lick parents, lick play partners
- Run everywhere
- Swing on the swing for what feels like a whole hour
- Jump from everything
These are just some examples of sensory seeking behaviors.
To alleviate my son’s discomfort, we relied on the following items and activities:
- Play tent with a pillow crash pad
- Climbing device over a mattress for jumping
- Trampoline at playrooms for jumping
- DIY Sensory Swing attached to a gymnastics bar
- Yoga mat for rolling and partner yoga with mom
- Ball chasing games
- Mesh Crawl Tunnel
- DIY ball pit made from a large cardboard box
- Dancing and spinning to music
- Indoor slide and obstacle course (Montessori Triangle and Waldorf Balance board would have been helpful, but we DIY-ed ours)
- Exercise ball for bouncing
- Weighted pillow for sleeping
- Water therapy by playing in the pool or bath
- Lick lollipops, popsicles, and other food items
Activities for Sensory Avoiders
Sensory avoidance is hard to deal with. Regular things like wearing clothes, wearing shoes, eating textured food, and hearing sounds are just some of the things that bother sensory avoiders.
The over-sensitivities of these toddlers can often make it hard to take them out for socialization. We have been lucky. My son’s sensory avoidance issues were not as bad as the sensory seeking issues. He grew out of most of these issues with repeated “therapy” from me over time.
- Walking on tiptoes
- Don’t like to wear cloth, socks or shoes
- Inability to share personal space
- Picky eating due to the texture of food
- Low pain thresh-hold
- Don’t like to be touched
- Covers ears at any type of unusual sound
- Hates taking baths
- Hates any kind of mess
- Avoids hugs
My son had some of these symptoms but not all, here are some of the activities that we relied on:
- Sharing food to practice sharing personal space: “mine” and “yours”
- Sampling food with different types of textures made with favorite sauces
- Play with different kinds of sensory materials: slime, play dough, play sand, shaving cream, etc..
- Wearing baggy dresses or oversized shirts instead of a T-shirt and pants
- Walk barefoot on the ground at home
- Take silent walks in nature
People say that dealing with a special needs child is difficult. But, I feel that you have to make it a lifestyle. By understanding that your child is different, you are understanding that your life will be different because your life will be revolved around accommodating your child’s needs.
If there was one thing that I learned on this journey is that you live how you want to live. You define what is appropriate for your child and your family. There’s no norm, no right or wrong in these situations. It is all about what is right for your family.
Changing my lifestyle entirely to adapt to my son’s needs has been the easiest and the best decision that I have ever made. Ultimately, it made our life much easier in the long run.
If you have children that have sensory needs, then work with them. The joy at seeing these sensory needs fulfilled is priceless. If these needs are on-going, then work out a lifestyle plan that is filled with coping mechanisms for your whole family to learn. Once that lifestyle is instituted, it will all seem easier.
What are you waiting for?
About the Author
Jun Wu is a Content Writer for Technology, AI, Data Science, Psychology, and Parenting. She has a background in programming and statistics. On her spare time, she writes poetry and blogs on her website.