Education Update December 2019

13th December 2019

Tis the season for … Sensory Overload
  • Does your child hide offstage during school performances?
  • Do sing-along songs end in tantrums?
  • Are there tears when presents are opened?
  • Do you dread school holiday meltdowns?
  • Are festive trips to the panto off-limits for your family?
  • Does your child still want to wear summer clothes in winter?

Your child may have difficulties with sensory overload or oversensitivity to sensory input.

We have more than our 5 senses. Not only do we have a sense of taste, sound, smell, vision and touch we also have our sense of balance, a sense of where our body is and the messages our body sends to us internally, like sensing hunger and thirst, making 8 senses in all.

There are so many layers to the challenges of sensory processing. Most children can learn to cope with sensory experiences but some children with neurological conditions, like spina bifida and / or hydrocephalus, will struggle with sensory integration.

When a child’s brain cannot cope with all these sensations coming in at the same time then it’s like a “traffic jam in your head”, according to Dr Jean Ayers when writing about sensory processing.

Difficulties with processing sensory information is often called sensory processing disorder (SPD) or SP condition (SPC). This is when a child is overwhelmed with information from their senses, leading to dramatic mood swings or unexplained shifts in their behaviour.

Parents and carers are often aware of behaviour differences that their child displays and may already have started sensory integration therapy, a tailored plan of physical activities to help their child learn how to self-regulate.

There are extra stressors at this time of year so...

  1. Changes should be kept to a minimum. Try not to pack in too many activities into each day. Limit the number of activities at the end of term and during the holiday season. Over-scheduling can contribute to your child being over-tired, needy, anxious and having mood swings.
  2. Children need play time as part of the routine of their day.  Balancing play time with screen time is important so that children can learn everyday responses through play that neurotypical adults take for granted.
  3. If your child resists putting on winter clothes, then give your child a choice of two items of clothing so they have a say in what they wear to keep warm when it’s cold and frosty.
  4. Try natural or softer fabrics like fleece. Hooded and looser necklines are often preferred by children with sensory processing difficulties. Remove tags, avoid tricky fasteners and choose underwear that doesn’t bunch up.
  5. Have a place for winter clothes in a position where they can put on clothes easily so that your child can see what they should wear. Mittens and hand warmers are easier for a child to learn to put on than gloves.
  6. Put away summer clothes and explain why a child’s preferred sandals are not suitable for little feet that get cold easily.
  7. Make a sensory travel kit for days when you are visiting family and friends. Pack a small bag of favourite toys, books, food, games and clothing for your child’s comfort so you can keep to their routine as much as possible.
  8. Parent carers of children with sensory processing problems and their families need to remain calm and maintain teamwork in order to help their child cope with sensory overload.
  9. Every child loves their special time with a parent where they are totally ‘present’, a difficult thing to do as the Christmas holidays draw near. Try to make some quiet, special moments to treasure with your child.
  10. All the usual rules are broken around this time of year so try to relax and enjoy time together.

Have a cosy festive season!

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