Sensory processing issues are most commonly seen in people with Autism, but it’s experienced by other people, too. It’s important to support sensible sensory exposure in young children to help diagnose them and give them ways to cope as they grow, so we’re going to explore some simple activities you can try.
Many of us feel overwhelmed by sights, sounds, smells and more, but there are things we can do to help. Read on to find out more…
What is sensory processing?
Sensory Processing is the way our brains and bodies receive and understand what our senses tell them. It’s how we hear, see, feel, taste and smell things and how our minds process and understand them to create behavioural and motor responses.
It’s something we all learn from the day we are born and develops as we grow. However, some people have issues making those connections and processing their senses. Many people with Autism have sensory processing issues, whether under or over-processing, but it varies along the spectrum and throughout everyday life. However, it is not unique to those living with Autism – anyone can experience issues with it.
If you notice some of the following with someone in your life, they may have sensory issues:
- Clothing may be too itchy
- Lights may be too bright
- Some food textures may make them nauseous
- They may have poor balance
There are many more signs, but you may be able to determine if it’s a sensory issue by their reactions to the uncomfortable sensations. They may have tantrums when forced to wear certain things, keep their eyes closed or blink a lot in bright light. Alternatively, they may have aggressive outbursts or resist certain activities. Any strange behaviour or sudden mood swings should be assessed to see if there is a common trigger, but if you’re concerned, talk to your doctor.
How to help your child improve their sensory processing
Supporting your child’s sensory development can be done at home and help with their developmental goals. The method we’ll explore is called Sensory Integration therapy and is based on gentle and structured exposure to stimulation.
It’s important to note that an occupational therapist is the best and most appropriate person to administer the therapy, but the following activities can be done at home as reinforcement and support:
1. Working with Play Dough
This easy-to-make dough uses flour, salt and water to make a thick dough that can be shaped and coloured in any way possible. Making the dough and playing with it allows your child to experience a range of textures, from the initial sloppy mix to the thick formable dough. Working with these new textures can help them become more familiar and comfortable around them.
2. Have a breath competition
This activity works to strengthen the mouth movements and exposes them to different textures such as water, leaves, balloons and more.
The idea is that you race the get one item from A to B using only your breath. It could be a balloon from one side of the room to another or a leaf from one side of a water-filled bucket to the other.
3. Head to the playground
Playgrounds are great facilitators of child mental and physical development. They’re the places children often make friends and experience new things. Plus, many of them now include sensory developmental equipment, like sensory swings or tunnels which include all kinds of support, such as shadow-changing colour windows, musical panels, texture plates and more.
These tend to cover several senses for maximum impact – most often, sights, sounds and touch.
4. Food Sampling
New tastes and textures can be triggers for sensory outbursts, so it might be a good idea to have picnic-like or tapas-like lunches where you prepare and eat small selections of familiar and new foods.
Getting them involved in the preparation provides them with even more support, so consider things they can help make, like cucumber sticks, yoghurts, boiled eggs, crackers, cookies, rice pudding, jelly, and cherry tomatoes. Moist foods tend to be preferred for sensory sampling as they can be tricky with the textures, so make sure to include some dry foods and foods your child likes to offer some familiarity.
5. Get some fun lamps
Shaped lights and lava lamps are an excellent way to help with visual sensory processing. This is because they provide stimulation outside of the light and often come with adjustable light levels.
Lava lamps, in particular, offer additional visual stimulation as the lava inside is constantly changing shape. It therefore increases their engagement and length of exposure to the stimulant.
6. Get some good headphones
Noise-cancelling headphones are a great way to help a child feel more comfortable in new and loud situations, but they can also be used as a tool to expose them to new sounds in a gentle manner.
Playing sounds of nature through headphones or of crowds and new noises at a lower volume can help them experience these new sounds more comfortably. It’s less jarring, and they’re more in control, so you’ll be able to work out if the new noises can be a trigger.
Audio books may be helpful here, too, as voice actors often recreate the sounds from the page and add sound effects to recreate the story. They also support a child’s language development and help them with rhyming, speech and English skills.
Sensory issues affect many of us throughout our lives, so supporting the development of sensory skills and understanding from a young age will better prepare them for the future. These activities are easy to do at home and could help your child in the long run, so why not try a few and see if their sensory development needs further support?