A child who's easily overstimulated or who seeks sensory input can quickly be overwhelmed by everyday situations. For a parent, it's hard to know how to help when a scratchy clothing tag or a too-loud restaurant triggers a meltdown. But there are plenty of coping strategies parents can use to help daily life go a little more smoothly.
1. Strategies for Tactile Input
Tactile input is what you probably think of first when you think of sensory input. Also known as messy play, tactile materials include play dough, finger paints, shaving cream, sand, dry beans, water tables and mud. Most kids love this kind of play, but you can make it more fun -- and encourage a reluctant, tactile-defensive child -- by incorporating games like hunting for treasure in sand or adding glitter and food coloring.
2. Strategies for Proprioceptive Input
Proprioceptive input is input from muscles and joints. It improves body awareness and can also help with regulation, making a wild child more calm and a lethargic one more active. One type of proprioceptive strategy is deep pressure input, which involves putting deep, even pressure all over the child's body. This can be as easy as having your child sit in a bean bag chair, which cradles his body evenly, or rolling him up in a blanket. A ball pit is another way to get deep pressure, and you don't have to go out to find one -- you can make your own with a kiddie pool and a couple of bags of balls. You can also buy sensory products such as weighted vests and blankets that provide deep pressure. Another proprioceptive strategy is heavy work, which means carrying, pushing or pulling something weighted. You can easily make heavy work part of your child's daily routine by having him wear a backpack, push a toy cart or open the door for you. Jumping is another type of heavy work, so you might want to get a kid-sized trampoline (or reconsider that rule about jumping on the bed).
3. Strategies for Vestibular Input
Vestibular input means any kind of movement -- swinging, rocking, jumping or bouncing. Like proprioceptive input, vestibular input can help regulate, so it can arouse your child or calm him down, depending on his sensory temperament. Your local playground, as well as your own playroom, are probably full of opportunities for vestibular input, from swings and see-saws to rocking horses and gliders. If there's an indoor play space with bounce houses near you, a morning there will give you a calm and peaceful afternoon with your sensory kid. And if you need a more immediate strategy, consider installing a therapy swing in your child's room. Because they're made of soft, slightly stretchy material, therapy swings provide deep pressure as well as movement, so they're a powerful strategy to help your child regulate.
4. Strategies for Oral-Motor Input
Oral-motor input is helpful for many sensory kids, but it's especially important for children who have speech delays or eating difficulties because of sensory dysfunction. You can easily introduce oral input with crunchy or chewy snacks such as pretzels, carrots, dried fruit and gum. Toys that involve blowing, such as whistles, bubbles and party blowers, are another way to get oral-motor input. Chew toys and teethers are also appropriate for older kids who need oral-motor input.