We recently had our son’s IEP meeting. We are, from what I can tell from other stories I hear, very rare in our experiences. Our IEP meetings have always been friendly and upbeat. You can feel how much his teachers and therapists love him and only want to set him up for success. A story from his IEP got me to thinking. First… the story.
At our IEP meeting his teacher leaned over and said “OMG, I have to tell you this story about Dylan. Not only does he recognize his own sensory needs but can now spot them in the younger kids”. Dylan is in a self-contained classroom that runs Kindergarten through second grade. “Just the other day he said “Mrs. W. Pablo is driving me nuts! He needs my vest!” With that he went over to his compression vest, took it off the hook and put it on the younger boy who immediately settled down. I heard this story and was, as you can imagine, beaming with pride. Then I realized that it wasn’t something that just happened. It was years and years and years of work on my son’s part, with his OT, that brought him to this point.
Many of our children are capable, with the right training, of managing their own sensory needs. To be honest, I couldn’t have done this one my own. My son’s first OT when he was 3.5 years old immediately recognized his sensory seeking and set out on a mission. She wanted to give him a “tool box”. This tool box contained sensory items for him to use when necessary. Now, he didn’t have free range at the box, he had to learn the signs of over/under load and how to use them. The teacher kept the box and verbalized his behavior and the solution “Oh my Dylan, you seem figity right now, I think it may be helpful for you to hold this squishy ball for a while to make you feel calmer”. His OT also provided us with a 3 page, comprehensive sensory diet. Her instructions were to go down the list. As we found things that worked for our son we’d hold on to them till we had 3 or 4 techniques in our arsenal. Then, when those things would stop working, it was back to the list. Again, with the understanding that we would verbalize to our son what we were doing and why.
Now, this transformation didn’t take place overnight and it is far from finished. However, what the story made me realize is that when we give our children the gift of self regulation, it opens the door to so many wonderful things (like compassion for a friend in need).
Now that my son is almost 7 years old (how did that happen?), he can usually take care of a good portion of his sensory needs. If you’d like to help your child learn to self-regulate, here are a few suggestions (please feel free to add more!)….
1. Find an OT who truly understands SPD. Hopefully you can find such a person through your local school district. Work with them to create a tool box for your child so your child can learn to manage their sensory needs. Be a team, whatever they are doing successfully at OT, do the same thing at home and make sure the tools are available to your child in his/her classroom and/or daycare. Use the same language that the OT uses and be sure the teacher and/or caregivers do as well.
2. Get yourself a good sensory diet. It’s basically a list of sensory activities your child can do (or do with you) to meet their sensory needs. The book “The Out of Sync Child Has Fun” has lots of ideas. Find something that works? Tell the OT & teacher & caregivers. Find something that sets your child off? Tell the OT & teacher & caregivers.
3. Listen to your child. Clothing, for example, is not a hill worth dying on. All too often I hear stories of parents fighting with their child over something as basic as socks in winter. If your child is willing to wear closed shoes without socks, count your blessings and invest in good shoe deodorant. If a child is being pushed into overload, none of this will help. If your child can tell you what they like and don’t like, do your best (I know at times it’s impossible) to meet their sensory needs.
4. Use your words! Especially if your child doesn’t have his/her own (or has very few). When doing sensory activities, verbalize what you are doing and why.
5. Think outside the box when it comes to therapy for your child. OT is fantastic for children with SPD. So is therapeutic horseback riding, swimming, rock climbing and other physical activities. Try to find something fun that doesn’t feel like therapy for your child to engage in.
6. Accept defeat as a lesson and rejoice in your child’s amazing accomplishments.