The author, Carolyn Dalgliesh, is not only a parent of a child with sensory concerns, but also a professional organizer by trade. She knows her stuff! Her ideas could help any child, but particularly those with sensory concerns.
The Sensory Child Gets Organized
Proven Systems for Rigid, Anxious, or Distracted Kids
by Carolyn Dalgliesh
Book image from Amazon.com
She started by organizing her son's life better to make the hard tasks in his day much easier for him to manage. She created "visual supports and routines" to help her child carry out daily routines without support after a while.
"There is no doubt that these kids are extremely bright and can be very successful in almost anything they do as long as they have a plan in place that supports their way of processing information and sets them up to do well. Success breeds confidence," Dalgliesh wrote on page 7.
Dalgliesh does a great job of explaining the world of a sensory sensitive child for the rest of us. I found her descriptions so helpful in better understanding their experiences. "One of the special things about sensory kids is that they process the world in a slightly different way. Whereas a typical child is innately able to prepare for and navigate daily life experiences, this can be much more challenging for sensory kids. When we learn to tap into some of their amazing gifts around visual processing, strong connections to specific interests, creative thinking, powerful imaginations, or channeled focus, we can begin to support their unique experiences." (page 9)
Some facts about Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD):
- about 1 in 20 kids has SPD
- SPD is diagnosed in kids who show developmental or behavioral challenges at a young age (page 11)
- "SPD is defined as a problem in the central nervous system's ability to process information from the senses (movement, hearing, touch, smell, taste, sight). This can affect the way the brain receives and integrates sensory information, making it hard to respond to many different experiences in an appropriate way." (page 11)
- SPD occurs on a spectrum - with mild to severe challenges.
- "SPD can affect social, learning and emotional development, attention, coordination, speech and language skills, gross and fine motor development, as well as how kids respond to all types of sensory input from their senses." (page 11)
- Many can be very rigid, having a difficult time with change or new environments.
- Emotional challenges they face can include that they have a hard time calming down when excited or upset, little things give out a strong reaction, and they sometimes have difficulties getting along with peers (page 23).
- "The constant struggle in performing everyday tasks leaves the SPD child prone to high levels of frustration." (page 24)
- They typically get more easily distracted by things other kids won't see or hear.
The author provides a great list of things parents should remember when parenting a sensory child on page 27. These include writing down the strengths of the child, letting go of guilt or anger - it's not a parent's fault why their child has sensory concerns. "What might work when parenting most typical kids usually will not work in the same way for sensory kids. It takes more conscious thought and preparation for daily activities to parent a sensory child." (page 27)
I love her idea that "parenting a sensory child is a marathon, not a race." It takes time to figure out what will work, adjust, and then readjust.
When finding what works, the author suggested,
"Your goal here is not to fix your sensory child but to understand where they are coming from, the situations where they connect and shine, the consistent challenges they have, and where supports might fit into their experiences." (page 30)
Dalgliesh's sensory processing organizing system is focused on figuring out where your child struggles most, and then putting in some supports and routines to help your child improve her experience in the world and be more independent.
A few great ideas for supports for kids with sensory concerns include:
- Creating a safe place that is quiet and enclosed for your child to escape and cool down. Tents, corner of a closet, bottom of a bunk bed, under a table, etc.
- Having an active zone inside the house is helpful for kids who need to move. Bouncy balls, trampoline, swings, big foam blocks, pillows, etc.
- Creating a "move your body bin" filled with jump ropes and other things that help kids move.
- Art, music, play, creativity work is helpful for kids in calming down.
- Rotating toys, taking things in and out of the play room so the child is not overwhelmed.
- Creating consistent daily routines are comforting to the child with sensory needs (page 102).
- Give them choices (page 119).
- Making a picture routine of what is going to happen, step by step what is expected is helpful for kids to learn their schedule of the day and be independent.
- To prepare for a new routine (like going back to school) try preparing ahead of time and practicing parts of the day three weeks in advance.
- Have a "portable chill zone or break spot" or bucket of things that the child can do anywhere to cool down.
- Getting somewhere early helps kids with sensory concerns to navigating what might overwhelm them, to feel comfortable before others arrive (page 157).
"Building in these active breaks after school or before an activity that will require focus is a great tool for many kids in managing distractible or anxious behavior." (page 89)
These tips for being in larger crowds with kids with sensory concerns are helpful for parents navigating a situation outside the home. Signs that your child might need a break and is overwhelmed with sensory needs: (page 158)
- disengaging from the group, alone
- louder than other kids, out of control
- moving from activity to activity
- very tired
- saying the party is stupid or kids don't like her
- very silly and not able to stop
- verbally aggressive, physically aggressive
Sometimes kids who are just needing extra help getting through a new experience or situation may show it in the wrong ways, such as getting rigid or explosive, trying to control something about an experience, etc. (page 159)
It's important to remember that kids with sensory issues are not trying to act out. They are struggling.
"Our sensory kids do not want to be difficult, get into trouble, have a hard time staying on task, or have challenges making friends and fitting in. They want to be liked, they want to have friends, they want to be calm and connected, and, most important, they want to be understood." (page 186)
Dalgliesh shares the hard truth that as a parent of a child with sensory needs, one must let go of the idea that other friends and family members will understand what it's like. Parents can advocate for their children and teach others about the struggles the child has, but nobody else will fully understand what it is like or what your child is going through. That is your job. (page 186)
Dalgliesh suggests seeing an Occupational Therapist for support could be helpful for those with sensory needs. The OT, according to another author Carol Stock Kranowitz, defines OT as "someone who helps children with motor and behavioral challenges to learn skills to support their personal, social and academic development." (page 211)
The author ends with numerous resources for families - books, Web sites, places to purchase things like disk seats (to help kids with movement issues sit still in their seats).
Overall, a wonderful resource for parents and their children experience sensory concerns. I highly recommend this book. The pictures in the book help parents to see what might work best in children's bedrooms and play rooms, as well as shows techniques for creating routines and structure for kids.