Seeing Yourself in Your Child: Working with sensory processing disorder

The number one thing I hear from parents who have brought their child in for sensory processing disorder, is "you're describing me." Often, children with sensory sensativities have a parent with sensory sensativities too. I see this as a blessing.

Parents with sensory sensativities (either presently or as a child) can help their child by articulating their own sensativities, and, therefore, normalize their child's experience. They are also the perfect person to do the physical activities required for integration of "abnormal" sensory channels.

As someone who speicalizes in working with sensory struggles, I see children who are overwhelmed by their bodies and feel isolated as a result. For them, knowing that a parent is struggling to do the same "homework" activities or with the same experience creates a sense of connection - a bridge from the island of overwhelm to the land of safety and love.

A key tool for building this bridge is communication. Our children need to hear us verbally explain our experience in order to develop the same skill. Just like they needed to hear you say "mommy" 10,000 times before they learned to utter the word, they need you to name your emotional and physical experience of the world and why you choose the tools you choose in order to develop the same skill.

So what might this look like? I know a dad who realized, like his son, he is always bumping into things and seeks tactile stimulation. He also realized that he uses showers to regulate (i.e. relax and center himself). After hearing the importance of articulating, he began saying outloud, "I'm stressed. I'm going to go take a shower to feel the water on my skin because it relaxes me." He would also engage with his son as he chose regulating activities and gave voice to this by saying, "wow, I'm feeling spacey and disconnected, can I jump on the bed too?"

At first, your child might look at you like an alien has just asked to play with them. However, over time, you child will develop more awareness of what their bodies need and how to take care of themselves. They will also see you as an ally and be more likely to ask for help when they need it.

Here is a checklist to determine your sensory sensativities:

Adolecent / Adult Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist

Check off the following "behaviors" and sensory preferences if they are a part of YOUR life, and rate how often each applies to you, on a scale of 0-5 ("0" being NEVER, "5" being ALWAYS).

Sensory Modulation: __ __ bothered by clothes; certain materials, tags, seams, pantyhose, ties, belts, turtlenecks, have to wear shorts, skirts, or pants exclusively, etc.

__ __ bothered by "light touch"; someone lightly touching/rubbing your hand, face, leg or back

__ __ excessively ticklish

__ __ distressed by others touching you; would rather be the "toucher" than the "touchee", difficulty "snuggling" with your partner

__ __ have to fidget and "fiddle" with things all the time; change in your pocket, your keys, a pen/pencil, paper clip, rubber band, ANYTHING within reach

__ __ often touching and twisting your own hair

__ __ very sensitive to pain, especially as compared to others

__ __ don't seem to notice pain; get shots/cuts/bruises and hardly feel a thing

__ __ dislike the feeling of showers or getting splashed

__ __ difficulty going to the beach; the sand blowing on your skin or getting on your body

__ __ avoid touching anything "messy"; if you do, you have to go wash your hands right away and/or only touch it with your fingertips

__ __ can not wear new or "stiff" clothes that have not been washed or soaked in fabric softener

__ __ hate to be barefoot or hate to wear shoes and/or socks

__ __ frequently get car sick, air sick, motion sick

__ __ a thrill seeker; loves fast and/or dangerous rides, leisure activities, and sports

__ __ difficulty riding on elevators, escalators, or moving sidewalks

__ __ avoid amusement park rides that spin or go upside down

__ __ seek out fast, spinning, and/or upside down carnival rides

__ __ will often rock or sway body back and forth while seated or standing still

__ __ frequently tips chair on back two legs

__ __ restless when sitting through a lecture, presentation, or movie

__ __ constantly chews on ends of pens and pencils

__ __ smokes cigarettes

__ __ difficulty eating foods with mixed textures, or one particular texture

__ __ prefer foods with very strong tastes and flavors

__ __ prefer very bland foods, dislike anything spicy

__ __ has a diagnosed eating disorder or has major eating "sensitivities"

__ __ constantly biting nails or fingers

__ __ bites lips or inside of cheeks

__ __ frequently shake your leg while sitting or falling asleep

__ __ love to sleep with multiple or heavy blankets on top of you

__ __ seek out crashing and "squishing" activities

__ __ cracks knuckles often

__ __ loves crunchy foods (popcorn, carrots, chips, nuts, pretzels, etc.)

__ __ frequently have gum or hard candy in your mouth

__ __ has an "endless" supply of air fresheners, scented candles, odor masking sprays, etc.

__ __ becomes nauseated or gags from certain cooking, cleaning, perfume, public restroom, or bodily odors

__ __ identifies objects by smell, have to smell everything, judge whether you like something or someone by smell

__ __ becomes overstimulated / overaroused when people come to the house or in crowded places

__ __ very high or very low energy level

__ __ avoids crowds and plans errands at times when there will be fewer people

__ __ overly exited/aroused in group settings

__ __ hides or disappears when guests come over

__ __ substance abuse

__ __ drinks excessive amounts of coffee or caffeinated beverages

__ __ notice and bothered by noises other people do not seem bothered by... clocks, refrigerators, fans, people talking, outdoor construction, etc.

__ __ sensitive to loud sounds or commotion

__ __ easily distracted by auditory or visual stimuli

__ __ can not attend certain public events or places due to excessive noise Sensory Discrimination: __ __ can't identify objects by feel if your eyes are closed

__ __ difficulty finding things in your purse or pocket without looking

__ __ don't seem to notice if your hands or face are dirty

__ __ bothered by hands or face being dirty

__ __ loves to touch and be touched, has to touch everything

__ __ have a hard time feeling where a bug has bitten you or whether you are being bitten

__ __ difficulty heating food to the correct temperature, feeling if it is too hot or too cold

__ __ difficulty locating items in a cupboard, drawer, in your closet, or on a grocery shelf

__ __ difficulty with recognizing/interpreting/following traffic signs

__ __ difficulty judging distances about where your car is in relation to other cars, in parking spaces, or near a curb (fail miserably at parallel parking!!)

__ __ difficulty merging into oncoming traffic on road, rotary, or highway

__ __ get disoriented and/or lost easily in stores, buildings, hiking, etc.

__ __ can't sleep if room isn't completely dark

__ __ fearful of heights

__ __ difficulty concentrating on or watching a movie/tv show when there is background noise or distractions

__ __ difficulty remembering or understanding what is said to you

__ __ difficulty following directions if given two or three at one time

__ __ can not complete concentrated tasks if noises present

__ __ sensitive, or over reacts, to sirens, dogs barking, vaccuum cleaners, blenders, or other sudden/loud sounds

__ __ talks too loud or too soft

__ __ lethargic, hard to get going, appears "lazy" and unmotivated

__ __ become engrossed in one single activity for a long time and seems to tune out the rest of their environment

__ __ spend hours at a time on fantasy or video games and activities

__ __ great difficulty settling body down for sleep or waking up in the morning (did you even hear the alarm that has been going off for 15 minutes?)

__ __ has difficulty licking an ice cream cone neatly

__ __ difficulty with speech and annunciation

__ __ bumps into things frequently

__ __ often pushes too hard on objects, accidentally breaking them

__ __ difficulty judging how much pressure to apply when doing tasks or picking something up

__ __ difficulty identifying which key on your ring belongs to what

__ __ numbers and letters often reversed or backwards

__ __ difficulty telling time on an analogue clock

__ __ difficulty reading and understanding a map, bus schedule, directions

__ __ difficulty organizing and grouping things by categories, similarities, and/or differences

__ __ can't seem to find words in word search puzzles

__ __ unable to identify foods that have gone bad by smell

__ __ difficulty being able to smell dangerous smells, i.e., smoke, noxious/hazardous solvents

__ __ difficulty being able to smell when something is burning on the stove or in the oven

__ __ difficulty distinguishing different tastes and/or flavors of food and/or drink items Sensory-Based Motor Skills: __ __ difficulty learning to ride a bike or other "moving" equipment

__ __ clumsy, uncoordinated, and accident prone

__ __ difficulty walking on uneven surfaces

__ __ difficulty with fine motor tasks such as buttoning, zipping, tying, knitting, sewing, playing games with small parts, closing zip loc bags

__ __ confuses right and left sides

__ __ prefers sedentary tasks, avoiding sports or physical activities

__ __ difficulty with handwriting; hard to read, takes a long time to write

__ __ frequently bumps into people and things

__ __ easily fatigued with physical tasks

__ __ frequently misses when putting objects on a table

__ __ messy eater, difficulty with eating utensils, spills and drops food

__ __ knocks drinks or other things over when reaching for them

__ __ frequently drops items

__ __ has to talk self through tasks

__ __ hums or vocalizes while concentrating on a task

__ __ significant difficulty learning to tie a tie

__ __ difficulty with motor tasks requiring several steps

__ __ difficulty lining up numbers correctly for math problems and/or balancing a checkbook

__ __ difficulty learning new motor tasks...a new dance, sport or exercise activity, how to drive

__ __ lose balance frequently

__ __ significant difficulty learning to type the "proper" way Social / Emotional: __ __ dislikes changes in plans or routines, needs structure

__ __ may be described as "stubborn", "defiant", or "uncooperative"

__ __ cries easily, over things others usually don't, very "emotional" and "sensitive"

__ __ can't seem to finish anything

__ __ difficulty making decisions

__ __ rigid and controlling

__ __ prefers solitary activities, avoids groups

__ __ impatient and/or impulsive

__ __ difficulty with social cues and non verbal language

__ __ difficulty with authority figures

__ __ trouble relating to and socializing with peers and colleagues

__ __ a "sore loser"

__ __ strong feelings of anger or rage

__ __ easily frustrated

__ __ needs sameness and routines; needs to know what to expect

__ __ have panic or anxiety attacks

__ __ plagued by fears and/or phobias

__ __ OCD-type qualities; can't let foods touch each other on your plate, have to wear clothes a certain way, will only do ____, repetitively does ____, can not do _____ without doing _____, has to have ____ like ____

__ __ distractible and unorganized

__ __ hates surprises

__ __ difficulty seeking out and maintaining relationships

__ __ avoids eye contact Internal Regulation: __ __ difficulty falling asleep or getting on a sleep schedule

__ __ heart rate speeds up, and won't slow down when at rest, or won't speed up for tasks that require a higher heart rate

__ __ respiration too fast or slow for the appropriate state of arousal

__ __ over or under sensitivity to bowel and bladder sensations

__ __ over or under sensitivity to the sensation of hunger/appetite

__ __ irregular, inconsistent bowel, bladder and appetite sensations

__ __ difficulty with temperature regulation of body

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