Sensory Friendly Kid's Rooms & Sensory Diet Ideas for On the Go!
My 6 year old has been diagnosed with Mild Autism (high functioning, and formerly known as 'Aspergers') He has a co-morbid diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder which is a condition that exists when multi-sensory integration is not adequately processed in order to provide appropriate responses to the demands of the environment.
Sensory processing issues can impact a child’s social skills. It can also cause difficulties in the classroom. Learning more about sensory processing issues and possible treatments is a good first step in getting help for your child.
What are some sensory processing issues?
A child’s brain receives a steady stream of sensory information—from the smell of cookies baking to the feeling of shoes rubbing against her feet. Most kids can “tune out” or “filter” that information as needed. They can deal with unexpected sensations, such as a loud crash on the playground.
But children with sensory processing issues may be oversensitive or under sensitive to the world around them. When the brain receives information, it gives meaning to even the smallest bits of information. Keeping all that information organized and responding appropriately is challenging for them.
All kids can be finicky or difficult at times. But children with sensory processing issues can be so emotionally sensitive that doing simple daily tasks is a constant challenge. Certain fabrics or tags in clothing might irritate them. On the other end of the spectrum, they might have a high tolerance to pain and not realize when they’re in a dangerous situation. (Read more here.)
What skills are affected by sensory processing issues?
For kids with sensory processing issues, dealing with sensory information can be frustrating and confusing. Here’s how it can affect certain skills.
Resistance to change and trouble focusing: It can be a struggle for kids with sensory processing issues to adjust to new surroundings and situations. It can take them a long time to settle into activities. They might feel stressed out when asked to stop what they’re doing and start something new.
Problems with motor skills: Kids who are under sensitive to touch may avoid handling objects. This is a problem because playing with and manipulating objects is a crucial part of development—one that helps kids master other motor-related tasks like holding a pencil or buttoning clothes. They might appear clumsy due to poor body awareness.
Lack of social skills: Oversensitive kids may feel anxious and irritable around other kids, making it hard to socialize. Under sensitive kids, on the other hand, may be too rough with others. Other kids might avoid them on the playground or exclude them from birthday parties.
Poor self-control: Children who feel anxious or overstimulated may have trouble controlling their impulses. They might run off suddenly or throw a noisy new toy to the side without playing with it.
Above is a great graphic sharing just some of the difficulties one with SPD would encounter. Many times children who encounter these uncomfortable situations react with what I refer to as a "meltdown," however these quickly get labeled "tantrums" and invite judgmental onlookers who assume your child is simply "a bad child."
Let me be the first to reassure you, there is no such thing as a "bad" child. Children respond to situations how they are taught to cope/react. Skills are lacking either because they are unlearned, or are being inhibited from deploying coping skills by way of stress, miscommunication, or unaddressed emotions. Irrational brain > rational thinking in times of stress.
With sensory disorders, we are working through a mixture of uninvited feelings, chaos, disorganized thoughts, and on top of that the stress of feeling misunderstood/embarrassed. I use this example often, when my son gets a cut or scratch that I am unaware of, he may have poor self control, become more impulsive, and show poor social/communication skills. He may be on a playground working through this bothersome feeling of a splinter in his hand, playing seemingly erratic, making more random noises, being more physical in general and then someone upsets him in some way. Instead of simply getting upset and walking away or using his words to work out the issue, he will go from 0-100 in a matter of seconds either hitting another child, or destroying someone's toy/ hard work they have been working on.
The focus here is not on his poor behavior when addressing him. The main focus is to make sure 1. no one is hurt, 2. apologize to whoever he was ill towards, and 3. remove him from the situation and redirect. This is really hard, because naturally as a parent you get embarrassed by your child making a scene or causing others to be upset. However, you have to set your feelings aside here and realize you are his only form of calm. Now is not the time to drag him back to the car screaming "YOU DON'T HIT OR THROW YOUR FRIENDS TOYS!" Honestly, he doesn't care about his friend at the moment. He is feeling so many emotions at once, and it is your job to get him to baseline and comfortable asap!
Redirection is key, the longer you dwell on the situation at hand, whether it's forcing him to say sorry to someone, or trying to have a full on lecture about why "we" don't hit... the longer you will be in meltdown mode. You have to realize a stressed child is an unreceptive child, there will be no understanding or teachable moments mid meltdown. Save your time and your sanity by focusing on calming. Big hugs work well, return to your car and perhaps offer a tissue to wipe away tears and perhaps offer a drink or a snack. Invite him once quiet to give you his input on a subject, ie: dinner ideas or weather for tomorrow. Speak slowly and with a rhythm that will make him want to stop and listen.
Be aware of background stimulation, bright lights, loud music, windows down with kids yelling on playground you just left. Like mentioned before those without sensory processing issues aren't focused on these small things and can easily block them out, making it hard to realize that it may be intensifying the moment at hand. Stop and really think about what else could be adding to the stress. Don't put in him the car and make him get buckled in right away, don't restrain him if he is safe to himself and others. Have sensory diet items in the car that will help refocus his input, like squishy toys and visually calming items. (see below.) Some children like weight and need that pressure input, but not being physically hugged, having a small lap weighted blanket while you travel is a good idea as well! Hard candies are also a go to for us, lollipops are nice because of the hand eye redirection and he is able to take in and out if he is still upset talking, or crying.
At home, we have incorporated a sensory diet to help when he is having an off moment... we have learned to make note of the antecedents and are able intercept most situations before we get to a full blown meltdown. We have many sensory items throughout our home including hanging chairs (also have one in our living room I wrote about, he loves it!)
They also have these awesome pods in their rooms, they like to retreat to read or just snuggle!
Heavy or weighted blankets work really well also for that pressure input for children who are overly stimulated. We have heavy duvet covers on our beds as well as a weighted blanket for snuggles on the couch or for sick days. If you have ever seen the movie Temple Grandin, you might remember the "Squeeze Machine," and how it helped calm her. Deep pressure therapy studies have shown a correlation between pressure and it's calming effects.
We also have these AWESOME memory foam mattress toppers! They are SO cozy, my husband and I even purchased for our own bed!
The little desktop bubbler toy has a super slow and rhythmic calming effect when they watch them! This is nice, and also good to have in the car!
These jellyfish lamps were a huge hit! They colors change and the little jellyfish do look real! They both will sit and watch these for a good while, really helping them calm down!
We ended up killing two birds with one stone on this one, a cool air humidifier that has a color changing option. You can pick one color as a constant, or you can choose a changing cycle that has a consistent pattern that is very soft and slowly transitions through the colors. The best part is you can use it alone as a lamp, so you don't always have to have the humidifier on. This is genius!
These ocean wave lights are soothing and calming. It looks like the water's reflection on your ceiling!
Liquid floor tiles! These are AWESOME for playrooms! Our doctor's office has them, and we loved them! They are really neat when you step on them, sort of like a squishy lava lamp!
See that gold sequin pillow in the background?
This "mermaid" pillow is so fun! It is super fun to "pet" but also a great spot to do a quick game of tic tac toe or draw a silly face! They come in so may color options, and are super cheap if you only need to purchase a pillow case!
More Sensory Diet must haves:
Stress relief toys are a good place to start for searching items that are more versatile when it comes to space! These stress balls are really fun to squeeze and visually appealing as well, and help a great bit with resetting!
We call this "Unicorn Fluff" it is really neat to play with, it's slimy but its fluffy! Such a different and unexpected texture sure to help redirect unwanted feelings by way of tactile stimulation. The colors alone are memorizing, but seriously, I will grab this and play with it on a phone call because it feels so nice!
Glitter wands! I remember having these as a kid, and they are always fun to watch. The unexpected paths of falling make it hypnotic to watch!
Noise cancelling headphones! These are great for those times that you can't find a quiet space to run to! If you have other children in the car who are amping the situation, these work wonders!
Spiky Slap Bracelets! These are neat for that need for tactile input/redirection in small confined places... the input comes from both hitting their wrists to deploy the bracelet as well as the fun silicone spikes!