Back to School and Sensory Processing Disorder

The first day of school and a child with Sensory Processing Disorder.

It started this morning with the bouncing, she bounced from thing to thing. Thrashing her body on anything near, trying to hold her anxiety in. It took us quite a while but we got her through her visual map of everything she needed to do and have this morning. We got her safely in her car seat and could breathe a sigh of relief. Here we go. On the way we played the rhyming game the entire time. It focused, it calmed, it connected.

I pulled into the school overwhelmed by just finding a parking spot, thankfully Sensory Dad was along today and I didn’t have to think about it. We walked hand in hand down the corridor with Miss Sensory safely in between us. Since it’s hard to keep her near us in parking lots, as we tell her she needs to keep us safe. She does better when she’s in control and so we give her a job and she takes it seriously. Once we enter the doors you can feel the chaos surrounding the building. Her classroom is right around the corner and we quickly move that direction.

Only inside the classroom the chaos is more common, more present. There’s so many kids and parents, it’s hard to get around to even get to her cubby. She clings closer to us and I can tell she’s shut it all off. I can tell she’s overwhelmed by a room full of people, withdrawing inside herself. I can tell she’d rather run and find someplace to hide. I can tell she’s attempting to be ok with the noise level in the room, when inside her head it feels like someone turned the volume on high.

We are greeted by one of her friends’ older sisters who was excited to be her helper today. She asks Miss Sensory a million questions and Miss Sensory answers none of them. She tried so hard to help her, to get her to her desk and get her some play dough. But Miss Sensory couldn’t respond, couldn’t focus couldn’t find her way through.

I got down low and asked her quietly if she wanted pink or purple dough, she said pink. I was so glad to see her engage, answer a question and be excited. I could tell this was tough for her when no one else could.

I could tell that this isn’t just her being shy or scared or first day jitters. This is more. I could tell her nervous system was screaming for help and I can tell that most of the ‘typical’ world won’t be able to see that her nervous system challenges her to function.

It’s the first day of Kindergarten and my daughter has Sensory Processing Disorder. Sometimes for her it might feel like the world is going to crash in on her and it’s my job to see it happening and help her navigate through it. It’s like I’m her lighthouse. When the storm starts, I help her find the way home.

Back to school for sensory parents.  Parenting a child with Sensory Processing Disorder.

Back to School for Sensory Parents Day 4

Today is Day 4, of our back to school series for sensory parents.  In case you missed the previous posts, you can read day 1, day 2, and day 3.

Although today isn’t exactly for parents, a big part of being a sensory parent is advocating for our kids and bringing awareness for Sensory Processing Disorder.  Today is about teachers.  As parents we know that along with Sensory Processing Disorder can come some challenging behaviors.

TIPS FOR TEACHERS

As a special needs mom, I am so incredibly grateful for teachers who are always willing to learn and grow. First of all, I want you to know that I am not an Occupational Therapist, I am just a mom who happens to know a lot about Sensory Processing Disorder.

One study says that 1 in 20 kids have Sensory Processing Disorder (http://spdfoundation.net/files/9614/2430/1228/ahn_miller.pdf) that’s at least 1 child in every classroom. Another study says that as many as 1 in 6 kids have Sensory Processing Disorder. But, if you are like most teachers that I have talked with almost all of them are not familiar with Sensory Process Disorder. Here’s the important things for you to know.

First, let me tell you it’s real. I know because I live with it every single day. I know that it hasn’t made it into the medical diagnostics (yet!), but the everyday challenges that our daughter faces because she doesn’t process sounds, touch, movement, body regulation, muscle activity typically are constantly there. Even with extensive therapy.

Second, similar to Autism, every child that has Sensory Processing Disorder is completely unique. The saying for Autism could also apply to Sensory Processing Disorder, if you have met one child with Sensory Processing Disorder you have met one child.

Third, embrace the uniqueness a child with Sensory Processing Disorder brings to the classroom and add in classroom wide activities that will benefit every child.

Fourth, learn everything you can about Sensory Processing Disorder. Here are some great resources:
What every parent needs to know about Sensory Processing Disorder.
Kissing the Wiggles Good-bye. Help for sitting still.
What is a Sensory Diet.
Is it behavior or is it Sensory?
10 Calming Sensory Strategies for in the Classroom
Working with a Child that has Sensory Processing Disorder
How Sensory Processing affects kids in School

Parents if you are looking for printable handouts to share with your school please check out Angie Voss’s (Occupational Therapist) website for a lot of great options!

Make it a great year!

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Back to School for Sensory Parents Day 3

Today is Day 3, in our Back to School for Sensory Parents series.  You can read Day 1 and Day 2 for more tips!

If you’ve followed me for a while you know that my belief is that meltdowns are going to happen. They are just a part of this whole neurologically different life. I have accepted them as a part of our life and they will probably always happen.   YAY!

The great thing about school, is that it means that I have several hours away from Miss Sensory to recover and prepare for meltdowns. But those hours of bliss are sandwiched between the most difficult hours of our day.   I have to get Miss Sensory through a lot of necessary pieces to her day. Getting ready and getting to school. And then homework time and bath and bed time.

Just a reminder that in our house, Miss Sensory, holds all her meltdowns in at school and lets it all out only around us at home. Not all sensory kids are this way some are the opposite. I can only share from my experience but if you have a child that has meltdowns at school please leave any tips in the comments!

Morning Routine:

I don’t know how your mornings go but ours were often like dragging myself out of bed after a horrible night of sleep (thanks to Miss Sensory) and pushing snooze 20,000 times, I found myself stressed and saying, “We have to hustle!” over and over. You can about imagine how this didn’t really help decrease the meltdowns in the morning.

One of the best things that helped me prepare for school was taking Crystal Paine’s course Make over your Mornings. I was able to clearly lay out everything we needed to do in the mornings and make a plan for how to get it done. I was less overwhelmed and more prepared for the mornings.

On those days where she is completely off I pull out this handy visual schedule and simply point for the tasks that she needs to get done. The toughest part of the morning routine is not letting being behind schedule or late get to me. The key to keeping meltdowns at bay is often more to do with me staying calm at this point of the day.  

Prep for as much as you can the night before.

I think it’s a fine line between having your child get their things ready and you doing it for them. I generally take the morning prep and have Miss Sensory do the evening prep, but I don’t hold on to it that she has to do it. If she has a very off day, I do it without saying anything to her. Don’t be afraid to let go if you have to!

HOMEWORK TIPS

I’ve heard that kids either love homework or hate homework. We had optional daily homework last year, but chose to do it daily to keep up with routine.

Set up a homework station. A place at home that is the go to spot for homework daily. For us it’s our kitchen table. We are usually have a snack at the same time.

Gather everything that is needed for your kiddo.

Make it fun, have some themed pencils, fun erasers you name it.

Sensory products that can help: pediatric postural cushion, gum or crunchy snack, bouncy bands, weighted lap pad.

Reward: I’m a sensory mom, there’s no shame in my game. Miss Sensory is really motived with fun things so we use that as a reward. For example, if it’s tough we will do one side of homework and break for playing catch with mom or when homework is complete we will play a video or card game with mom or dad.

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Have a general plan for after school as set by your child, I mentioned this yesterday, let them decide at the beginning of the year when they will be doing their homework. Make it non-negotiable.

In the next few days we will be talking more about tips to help your child, before and after school routine and homework tips. Stop back to read the entire series.

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10 tips for back to school for sensory kids.

Back to School for Sensory Parents Day 2

Today is day two in our back to school series for sensory parents.  If you missed yesterday you can read it here.

As tough as back to school can be for us as parents sometimes, it’s even harder on our kids. The change in routine, the new schedule, the new teacher, everything is different. Which, for some of our kids can almost be like the perfect storm. In our house it usually results in after school meltdowns. During the school day she’s able to hold it all together and she stores it up just for us when she gets home. The days that an epic meltdown doesn’t happen after school are few and far between.

Back to school for sensory parents. Parenting a child with Sensory Processing Disorder.

We’ve learned a few things to help make it happen less often. But overall the game plan for afterschool goes something like, “Buckle up, let’s just get through it.” We also always say that, “It’s not a matter of if, it’s really just a matter of when.” Sometimes meltdowns happen right away when I get her in the car, sometimes it doesn’t happen until later in the evening. We still try to do everything we can to avoid or minimize a meltdown. All of these things throughout the day can affect her and it’s what we use to help her.

Go with what they will wear! CLOTHING: OH… clothing!! Who knew something so simple could be so challenging. Our goal with clothing is pretty simple. As long as she has CLOTHES on, we go with it! So, here’s what we do, I buy everything I KNOW she will wear and always make it so that I can return it. We test it out at home and if it doesn’t get worn in two weeks I know it can be returned! Here’s where we shop and a few of our favorite things over the past two years:

Shirts: Short sleeve t-shirts are a must!! I’ve had good luck with The Children’s Place, they usually have graphic T’s that she is excited about. Over the past year she has really preferred Nike dri-fit or Under Armour heat gear shirts (I usually find a few at the outlets) that are of the lighter weight fabric that breathes and helps her stay cool since she has challenges with temperature regulation.

Pants: This is another one of our biggest challenge. I usually buy about 10 pairs when I find something that works. We have had really good luck with C9 leggings from Target and C9 Dance pants. They have seams that are soft and not scratchy!!

Shoes or no shoes… SHOES: Don’t even get me started on shoes. They are like tiny torture devices in our house. I talked about this a little yesterday and what our plan for this year is. We have concluded that keeping it exciting buying new every 3-4 months will help. She’s also really tough on shoes anyways so she will need new ones. Also, I am not worried about her learning to tie her shoes, she hates shoes with laces so I’m in no hurry either, and these kind go up to very large sizes woo hoo!

Stride-rite has been our favorite place to find shoes.   Our nearest one has a manager whom I’ve deemed the shoe whisperer since our daughter could walk. These are the shoes that we recently have bought in multiple sizes!!

Send something comforting with. A gift from us to wear: Necklace, bracelets and watches oh my! She loves to have something from us to remind her of us during the day.

To help in moments of distress and waiting. Fidget/Chewelry: this is our favorite product. I mentioned this yesterday as well, these bracelets (for added sensory impact, key ring removed) and they are great for something to chew on and fidget with during lines, transitions and circle times.

To make lunch time easy. Lunchbox items that aren’t too big of a challenge: here’s our favorites. Any of the Sistema lunch box containers work really well for kids that struggle with fine more skills!  They are easy to open and kids (and parents) can feel confident that they can open them!  This was something I was really worried about last year. Luckily I learned that if they can’t get something opened, the kids help each other or they can raise their hand and a lunch attendant will come.

Minimize the meltdowns. Transitions: In our car, by Miss Sensory’s choice we listen to the SAME song to and from school (comfort/calming). We also have a variety of thinking games we play on the way to school (I spy is a favorite, along with doing math problems and rhyming). After school, we do a snack in the car. We’ve had this same routine for… years! It’s kept us all calm, which is our main goal during transitions! Worst case scenario, she gets my phone for the quick few minutes and will play a game (distraction). Focus on what your child needs at the moment, ours needed very strict routine, so much so I often park in the same area!

If your school doesn’t do an open house, see if you can go in early and find where your child’s classroom is and practice everything. We are able to go to an open house night, practice using the locker, seeing where the nearest restroom is etc.

We also practice getting ready for school the week before school. So we will get up at school time and get ready (like we are going to school) and leave the house and drive to school, then we do something else. This helps prepare her for the first day.

Keep Calm. Anxiety: I don’t know about you but Miss Sensory has a lot of anxiety and all the typical tips for helping prep for school don’t seem to work. Our best response is actually to not tell her when something is coming up. I know that sounds horrible but I’m completely serious! This has worked really well for everything from surgery, celebrations, and trips. So we will actually be doing that for the first day of school, wish us luck J!

Social Skills Practice. We also prep for a lot of situations for school. We talk about what she needs to do if she doesn’t feel good, if she needs to go to the bathroom, if she needs help. What to say when you meet someone new. These seem like really basic things but I know that when she’s in the moment and her brain shuts off she isn’t able to communicate what she needs.

Visual Calendar is a necessity! We are lucky that we do get one from the school weekly so that helps me not have to do one every week. It will list out what days she has music versus gym. Otherwise, I would probably make one. Some teachers will do this and some will not. For breaks, I always make a schedule as well.

After-school Routine: Follow your child’s lead after school. We often have an agenda of our own as parents. We are ready to tackle, snack, homework, bath, dinner etc. But our child may have a different plan. We will often make a visual schedule after school.   I will say that some things are non-negotiable like homework and bath time and let Miss Sensory choose when we will be doing them. This helps her feel in control and makes everything run smoothly. I think this is especially important after she’s just finished a day of having to be completely out of control, which is another challenge for her. Often afterschool she really right away wants a snack and needs some chill time.  I giver her some space to do that.

What tips do you have for other parents for back to school? 

In the next few days we will be talking more about tips to help your child, before and after school routine and homework tips. Stop back to read the entire series.
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Back to school for sensory parents.  Parenting a child with Sensory Processing Disorder.

Back to School for Sensory Parents Series Day 1

The tough part of writing a post to help for back to school is every child with sensory processing disorder is so unique. There are things that help one child that may not help another. If you are new to Sensory Processing Disorder or would like to learn more you can do that starting here.

For the past several years we’ve known that school may really be a challenge for Miss Sensory. In fact, we spent ages 2-5 basically focused on preparing her for Kindergarten. And it surprising went really well. You’ll get to read more on that later this week. So now that we’ve gotten a few years of school in, including full day Kindergarten we’ve learned a few things that I am hoping will help you and your child.

Today is really all about you dear parent… I know you want answers to help your child. But, the BEST thing you can do to help your child usually starts with you.

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Get involved. I know it’s hard with busy schedules but this is one of the best things that I’ve been able to do and even in the smallest amounts of time have really made a big impact on Miss Sensory.   It has also really helped me since she doesn’t share much about her day or time at school, when I spend time in the classroom or even at lunch I get to see what happens and can talk with her about them later. I also get to know her classmates which helps me talk with her. If I didn’t do this, I don’t think I would know anything about her day or who is in her class. She sincerely, thinks that I already know about her day and what happened sometimes. But most of the time, she just can’t tell me about her day.

Comfort to go. One of the things we started doing was having her wear a watch or bracelet that we gift to her so that she has something from “us” for while she’s at school. This has helped a lot. We use these bracelets (key ring removed, for added sensory impact) and they are great for something to chew on and fidget with during lines, transitions and circle times.

Make friends with the teacher, the principal, the social worker, and the paras. The biggest thing I’ve heard from other teachers is to share what’s going on. I’ve heard conflicting views on doing this and was conflicted in whether I should say anything or not, since, Miss Sensory holds it all in for school, I really thought about not saying anything. But, I have had many friends that are teachers that have told me they would rather know and be on the same page as the parents. I loved that. I have learned that teachers are for me, for us, for our child and not against us. I’ve heard way too many negative experiences and so far (I know we are really just starting out) we have had a really positive experience.

A greater number of the staff at school knows our story and knows our daughter. I am so grateful that they all take such care of her doing the day, so that I don’t have to worry. I certainly had plenty of worry before she started school!!! I promise it may seem like they aren’t trying or aren’t listening but they aren’t against you and if they are a good teacher they will sincerely try to do what is best for your child as well. Think Positive!!

Problem solve with the staff. Sitting still is still one of Miss Sensory’s biggest challenges. With all the sensory input throughout the day it’s especially challenging. There are a few easy things to incorporate into the classroom that can help. Weighted lap pad, bouncy bands, pediatric postural cushion these are tools that could be at your child’s desk.  I wrote an entire post on tools to help with sitting still here.

Pin point areas of difficulty and have a game plan ahead of time. If you follow me on Facebook you have read my rants on shoes. Most days, last year I didn’t know if we were going to make it to school on time or even make it there at all…. All because of shoes!!! This year, I’m going in with a new plan. That includes either requiring her to wear boots outside all year and she can change into tennis shoes at school or I will be carrying her to school in socks (I know it sounds ridiculous but much easier than the epic meltdowns to get shoes on), so I will be giving staff a heads up and seeing what they require for shoes.

Letting go. A big part of surviving the school year is more about me letting go. You know I’m a bit of a fashionista and it’s been a challenge for me having a sporty girl who hates dresses, but it’s something I’ve just let go of. So much so, that if she’s wearing flowers on her leggings and a polka dot shirt in mis- matching colors, we roll with it.

I feel like that’s more of what sensory parenting is about really, it’s nothing like what I thought parenting would be and it is all about adjusting and accommodating to what our kids REALLY need.

My best tip for you is to focus on what school is really about. The positives that your child is gaining, work to grow those positives and challenge your child to see them, as well. Be PROUD… BE PROUD of every accomplishment your child makes and even those that you make no matter how small. Celebrate those moments and treasure them, they help get you through the REALLY tough moments. Did you dear parent stay calm while your child was throwing their shoes at you this morning (please tell me that this happens at your house too)… high five to you!!

And a final word…For those of you who have kids who hold it all in at home and let it all out at school, I’m sorry that I cannot speak to that. It is an area I have not experienced, we have the opposite at our house holds it in everywhere else and saves it for home. I have experienced the meltdowns and violence at home and I feel that both are just as a heartbreaking. So to you dear parents, I know that it breaks your heart that school is so challenging for your kiddos, but I know that you can advocate and fight for your child and I know that it will feel like it is you against the school. I know your child may not tell you “thank you for fighting for the best for me” but from one parent to another, I encourage you to keep fighting for your child. Keep going and don’t give up.

May your this school year be your year to have less meltdowns and more joy!!

What’s your best tip to help parents during the school year?

In the next few days we will be talking more about tips to help your child, before and after school routine and homework tips. Stop back to read the entire series.

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