In the first post, I gave you a glimpse of what SPD looks - or feels - like in our family. I failed to mention that often times a person will have qualities from both the seeking and aversive lists, they are not exclusive of each other, although one list may be more prevalent than the other.
You might be reading this just to become more aware of SPD or gain a better understanding of it. You might be reading this because someone you know has SPD. If you are reading this because you or one of you children might have SPD, then you might like to know what has been helpful for other people with SPD. I honestly don't know if there is a way to "recover" from SPD or if a person just has to learn to live with it. In this post I will share with you what we've done and what has been helpful.
Please understand that the same things don't work for each person and there is much trial and error. I will do my best to remember what we've tried, what's worked, and what hasn't. Again, I am not an expert, but rather I'm a mom to three daughters, two of whom have SPD.
Being aware of what a child is doing and why they may be doing it is a key element in helping a child with SPD. Child B used to climb; in fact, she climbed before she crawled. If she could pull herself up, she'd climb. Yes, there have been times she's gotten higher that her own comfort level and needed help down. It took a while for us to notice that she climbed when she was over-whelmed or over-stimulated. If there were a lot of people in a room and she didn't have another place to go, she'd climb as high as she could. Once when she was covered in mosquito bites, she climbed to get away from the itching, although she didn't even feel the itching on her skin. Once we realized that she climbed under these circumstances, we learned to take a look around at what might be bothering her so we could address that need first. Now, as a 9-year old, she climbs for fun and enjoys it.
The basic list of what we've done, without getting into the specifics of why or what it has helped (because that would be a book) follows:
- A small plastic tub of beans for playing in (hands only, though the same could be done for feet)
- A small plastic tub of rice for playing in (hands only, though the same could be done for feet)
- Play with shaving cream or pudding or jello
- Water play in the tub and sink
- Lots of activity outside - running, climbing, swinging, hanging upside down
- We installed a chin-up bar that screws into a door frame. It's low, so we have to duck under it to go in and out of that room, but the kids use it as in gymnastics
- Gymnastics and swimming (if you have a boy, wrestling is another option)
- Doing activities in small doses, being willing to cut something short if needed (getting used to that expectation is hard, but worth it to help these kids)
- Letting the child wear what is comfortable, even when it's not what we wanted her to wear. (B wore sweats for a couple years, while C wore short skirts or no underwear under her pants. C was willing to give up sledding one winter when she wouldn't wear pants at all.) Avoid things that are "too loose" or "too tight", according to the child
- Using velcro-type shoes or crocs instead of shoes with laces, which put more pressure on the top of the foot
- Strong hugs (or light hugs)
- Rubbing the arms and legs with varying amounts of pressure
- Back and neck massages
- Ankle weights
- Weighted vest, blanket, lap pad, or heavy afghan
- Body sock, even if your child doesn't have an autism diagnosis
- Try different flavors of toothpaste and use whichever one the child tolerates
- Foamy soaps and lotions, regular lotions
- Candle or fragrance swatch to keep in the coat pocket (or your purse) for when odors are offensive - these kids can have a hyper sense of smell
- Keep ear plugs in your purse
- Line pockets with soft fabric
- Playing "pizza" (the child lies on the floor or bed and you roll them back and forth like the child is the dough. Lie the child flat on the back, press firmly on the forehead and work your way down their body (avoiding any personal places for obvious reasons), ending at the feet - like you're patting out the dough. "Spread sauce" by using a lighter touch than working with the dough, starting at the head and working your way down to the feet. Then ask which ingredients the child likes on the pizza. Add those ingredients like your just putting them on the pizza, touching them firmly each time you put an ingredient on. Then sprinkle the cheese by using wiggly fingers starting at the top of the head and working your way down to the feet. Roll the child away a bit, as if putting the pizza in the oven. Then roll the child back and pretend to eat the child. Kids love this and usually laugh their way through it.
- Carrying or pushing heavy things as a calming activity (filling and moving the laundry basket, filling the washer, and moving wet clothes to the dryer!) Moving books from one bookcase to another is another option. Pulling a wagon.
- Audio books or calm with headphones when it's OK to tune everything out and need to calm down
External resources we've used:
Speech therapy for annunciation and feeding concerns
Occupational therapy for desensitization (where we learned much of what's on the list) and proper muscle tone (not one of our concerns, but is common in SPD)
Wilbarger Brushing Protocol (trained at OT and continued at home, even still using)
Chiropractics and neuro-retraining
I strongly encourage a parent to include the child by asking the child what is bothering them, if they even know, and working with that. I explain to the child why we are doing a particular activity so they can learn what to do when they feel a certain way and self-regulate. We are still working on getting our sensory-aversive daughter (C) through this. I think it's much easier to meet the sensory needs of a seeker than an aversive child. After all, if someone needs something, providing it meets that need. If someone can't stand something, then doing it anyway is very offensive to the child and their tolerance is very low. It takes more time, more energy, more patience, and smaller chunks of therapy.
Be sure to encourage an praise your child every time you do something therapeutic that they tolerated. Recognize their attempt if they didn't tolerate it well. It's hard work for these kids (and you) and progress can be slow. Don't give up and don't let your child give up.
One of the most important things, in my opinion, for a parent of a child with SPD is to find other parents of children with SPD. It helps to be able to exchange ideas and lend/receive support from one another. It truly is exhausting. When B was a toddler, I found some Yahoo groups of other SPD parents. Being a part of those networks was critical for me at that time. My days were very lonely and frustrating, working with my daughter and wondering if there was something wrong with her or me because life was so different than it was when A was that same age. It's important to accept this difference as your own "normal." Wanting your child to be like non-SPD kids is only going to set you and your child, both, up for failure. God made them who they are and He doesn't make mistakes. You are a strong person and He trusts you to trust Him to help your child learn to live with SPD.
Next in this series:
Sensory Processing Disorder: Discipline
Sensory Processing Disorder: Recommendations