Children with sensory processing issues simply don't receive sensory impulses the way most people do. Some kids get too much sensory input. These kids are usually quiet, avoid loud situations and may be bothered by scratchy tags or clothing. Other kids don't get enough sensory input. Occupational therapists sometimes refer to these kids as "sensory seekers," because they're constantly getting into things, touching friends and racing around a room. An out-of-control preschooler falls into the second category. Keeping these kids safe is a challenge because they seek thrills and don't always feel pain when they get hurt. A few simple strategies, though, can help calm children with sensory issues.
Many children with sensory processing issues are ultra sensitive to the environment. Noises, textures, smells and even the room's appearance can rev them up. Kids with sensory processing issues respond to quiet, peaceful rooms. Many teachers and occupational therapists use the following equipment and materials to create a soothing environment: headphones, exercise balls, bean bags and sand tables. Traditional classrooms are often decorated with primary colors, and walls are covered with posters. Experienced teachers reduce clutter on the walls and in the room, and choose a muted palette instead. At home, parents can limit noise and visual stimuli. Earth tones, plants and natural light are all calming. Avoid air fresheners and highly scented candles.
Preschoolers with sensory issues usually crave tactile stimulus and find it extremely soothing. Playing in a bowl of water, sand or cornmeal calms children down. Other options include warm play dough, finger paint and tactile balls. These children benefit from frequent physical contact and love hugs or having their shoulders squeezed. Weighted vests, blankets and other devices provide needed physical contact and help children with sensory issues feel more grounded. Children with sensory issues may also crave oral tactile stimulus. Chewing on gum, licorice or even a piece of surgical tubing may calm an out-of-control child.
All kids need regular contact with the outdoors and nature, but children with sensory processing issues especially need opportunities to release pent up energy. Frequent sensory breaks to play outdoors are essential. These children often love turning upside down or spinning. A mini-trampoline, playground set or even an indoor swing can provide the sensory input these kids need to calm down. Gymnastics and swimming classes are ideal options for the child who is ready for an organized sport. Team sports are often difficult for children with sensory processing issues.
Professionals trained to deal with sensory processing issues might recommend a brushing regimen or sensory diet to deal with sensory issues. These programs offer the additional support parents and children need. A pediatrician or school evaluation team often makes an initial evaluation for sensory processing issues and can refer parents to experts, often associated with a children's hospital or university.