Some types of sensory behaviors are normal for toddlers. They learn by feeling and tasting objects, even if it happens to be the dog's tail. Extreme cases of sensory seeking could indicate a sensory processing disorder. It is important to have these behaviors evaluated by a pediatrician to rule out a problem, but don't panic because many methods of treatment are appropriate for you to initiate at home. Many of them are fun for toddlers, which is wonderful news for you, and your child isn't even likely to know you are working on the issue as you play. The goal of treating sensory disorders is to help your child use her senses normally and in a socially acceptable way.
1 Provide your child with a sand and water table, even if you cringe just thinking about the mess. Keep it outside when the weather permits to keep your house from filling up with gritty puddles. This gives your toddler the opportunity to satisfy sensory seeking in a safe and appropriate way with more than one texture at a time. While tasting things is beneficial for learning, try to keep most of the sand out of your toddler's mouth.
2 Let your child play with squishy substances. Play dough, clay, shaving foam and other similar items are good for sensory seeking because they allow your toddler to squeeze, mold and shape them in ways that satisfy her sensory needs, and what toddler doesn't like to create a mess? Put them on a cookie sheet to keep the mess from spreading to your toddler's hair, the walls and probably most other surfaces in the general area.
3 Give your child heavy items to move and lift. This might not sound like it's going to win you a parent of the year award, but heavy lifting helps your toddler's muscles learn to regulate sensory seeking and helps her sit still when needed. Moving chairs, carrying groceries, pulling the hose to the garden, pushing a full laundry basket and sweeping the floor are potential options. Don't just give your child a task and abandon her. Stay nearby to help as needed. These types of activities are best right before you need your toddler to sit down, say for dinner, because they help her body calm itself, perhaps preventing her from slipping from her high chair before you can catch her.
4 Go to the playground. Yes, playing outdoors is the answer! The different types of equipment available for her to play with and on satisfy many sensory seeking needs. Let her swing, ride animals attached to springs, slide, jump, climb and crawl. All of these activities help meet your toddler's need to be moving all the time, which many toddlers display as part of a sensory seeking disorder.
5 Use a sensory diet plan. This should be done with the supervision and recommendation of your child's doctor. At each meal, offer a variety of foods that have different textures. You might not like the mess, but letting your toddler play with her food is also helpful for satisfying her sensory needs. Just lay an old plastic shower curtain under her chair and have a box of wipes handy to keep the destruction contained. Some children respond better to several foods at once, while others are more willing to eat if they only have one food at a time. Follow your child's cues at the table to determine which works better for your toddler.
6 Buy tactile toys. Some of these are available from manufacturers who sell products for special needs children. However, many traditional toys can also satisfy sensory seeking needs. Choose those with different textures, sounds and colors. Play mats, vibrating toys and riding toys are effective options. The noisy ones might make you swear you'll remove the batteries and those light up ones might give you a headache, but rest assured that your discomfort is your toddler's gain.
Items you will need
- Sand and water table
- Play dough, clay and shaving foam
- Tactile toys
- Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation: Home Activities for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder
- OT Connection: Sensory Integration Therapy
- Child Behavior Guide: What is Sensory Seeking?
- Sensory Processing Disorder: Sensory Integration Activities: Treatment That Works Skills That Matter
- Olin College: Sensory Integration Therapy
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