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Happy Travels with a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder

Throughout the year, you and your family are bound to hit the open road a time or two forTraveling with Sensory Processing Disorder one of a number of reasons. Many families may want to check out the scene in a new city. Others, will seek thrills at an amusement park or visit a family member that lives out of town. These trips can provide children with priceless learning opportunities and families with memories that will last a lifetime. For children with Sensory Processing Disorders however, these trips can be also be extremely challenging. Below are 6 tips and tricks to use in order to best support children who have difficulty processing sensory information on your next family vacation.

  1. Discuss what to expect: Talking about the specific logistics of a trip can help to ease your child’s anxiety about the ambiguity of what’s coming next. Similarly, it’s important to talk about what will be expected of your child while traveling. Here are some questions that your child may have prior to traveling. Think through each one and discuss them as a family before your next adventure begins:
    1. What is the mode of transportation (ie. plane, train, or automobile)?
    2. What will you see? Will there be a lot of people?
    3. What will you smell?
    4. What will you hear? Will it be loud?
    5. How much time will it take? What will you do to pass the time?
    6. How much space will your child have? Will there be time or room to play?
    7. What are the rules while traveling?
  2. Decrease the amount of extraneous and unfamiliar noise: Use noise cancelling headphones or calming music. Both strategies can help your child to calm themselves and more effectively process auditory sensory information, especially with the added stressors of travel.
  3. Prepare a backpack of travel essentials: Many adults pack a small carry-on bag with a few items that will help them pass the time. Items often include shoulder pillows, eye masks, ear phones and iPods; as well as a favorite book or magazine. For children with various sensory processing disorders, include some of the items listed below:
    1. Snacks, water, gum, or hard candies.
    2. Pack a heavy object to help your child regulate. A book or weighted blanket are great options.
    3. Bring a comfort object such as a blanket or favorite stuffed animal.
    4. Include fun activities such as mini board games, coloring pages, books, or playing cards
  4. Call the airline or tourist destination ahead of time: Explain your child’s sensory needs. Certain airlines, parks, and museums have special accommodations for children with sensory processing disorders.
  5. Preparatory Heavy Work: Before taking off for your trip, or during breaks in travel, engage your kiddos in Heavy Work activities. Tasks include animal walks, pushing or pulling luggage, push ups, or big hugs from mom and dad. All of these activities provide your child’s big muscle and joint groups with proprioceptive input. This input is extremely regulating for children, like exercise could be for an adult, and will help to calm your child for the next leg of travel.
  6. Expect some ornery fellow passengers: While it is unfortunate, you may come across someone throughout your travels who will have a low tolerance for kids being kids. Depending on your comfort level in doing so (or your ability to turn the other cheek), write out small note cards explaining that your child has a Sensory Processing Disorder and that as a family, you are doing the best you can to travel with minimal interruptions to the routines of those around you. You could even offer nearby passengers earplugs to help block out any extraneous noises.

The bottom line is that while traveling can be challenging, it can also be an extremely rewarding experience for everyone involved. With a fair amount of foresight and appropriate preparation, you can help to shape your trip into an experience of a lifetime for your whole family. Happy travels!

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

How to Choose a Halloween Costume for a Child With Sensory Processing Disorder

Halloween is a time for kids to dress up in fun costumes, however, this may be very uncomfortable for kids with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Kids with SPD may find certain clothing uncomfortable due to tactile sensitivities. This may range from kid-to-kid; some kids may prefer to wear loose fitted clothing, some may prefer to wear clothes that are tight, and some kids may prefer to wear soft clothing. It is best to explore which type of clothing your child prefers prior to picking out a Halloween costume. Halloween

Once you know which type of clothing best suits your child, you can then begin to find what Halloween costume will be most comfortable for them to wear.

Here are some recommendations to make your search for a Halloween costume easier:

  • Allow your child to be a part of the process of choosing a Halloween costume and try to incorporate their favorite things.
  • Never force your child to wear a costume.
  • It may be helpful to find costumes that are seamless and do not have tags.
  • Wash the costume prior to your child wearing it.
  • Allow your child to wear their costume prior to Halloween.
  • Masks and face paint may be uncomfortable for a child with SPD. It will be helpful to practice wearing a mask or putting on face paint prior to Halloween to see if your child can tolerate the feeling of having it on his or her face. If your child decides to wear a mask, allow them to remove it if needed. Also, if your child decides to wear face paint, make sure to bring facial wipes in case you need to remove it from his or her face.

It is more important that your child is comfortable in his or her Halloween costume, rather than what costume they wear. It will be helpful to know what type of clothing your child finds comfortable and what clothing they find uncomfortable in order to find the best costume for his or her needs.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonDeerfieldLincolnwoodGlenviewLake BluffDes PlainesHinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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What You Need to Know About Sensory Diets

  1. While it is called a “diet,” it’s not a FOOD diet, but it should be considered nutritional intake that your child’s body/brain need daily. Blog-Sensory-Diets-Main-Landscape
  2. Consistency is key and it is important to find a schedule that works for you. Work with your occupational therapist and teacher to develop a timeframe that works best. Do not overdo it if it does not seem sustainable.
  3. As much as possible, sensory diet activities should be completed around the same time each day.
  4. Many sensory diet activities can be adapted to be used across many environments in order to promote consistency i.e. at home, in school, while traveling.
  5. When appropriate, get other siblings and family members involved!
  6. Watch your child’s responses before, during, and after sensory diet activities and be sure to address any abnormal changes you see with your occupational therapist.
  7. The best sensory diet combines tactile, proprioceptive, and vestibular based activities.
  8. Just as no two children with sensory processing difficulties will present the same, no two sensory diets will be identical.
  9. As your child’s brain continues to develop, the sensory diet will likely eventually need to be updated in either types of activities or frequency.

Examples of sensory diet activities for each sensory system:

  • Proprioceptive: jumping and crashing on pillows, heavy work activities such as pushing a heavy laundry basket or helping carry grocery bags to put away, wheelbarrow walk or animal walks (bear crawl, crab walk), joint compressions.
  • Vestibular: log rolls, cartwheels, swinging, head inversions over the edge of a couch, yoga poses, rocking chair.
  • Tactile: messy play (shaving cream, water, finger painting), sensory bins (uncooked rice or pasta noodles, kinetic sand), exposure to novel materials (i.e. corduroy, velvet, sandpaper, sand, silk).
  • Auditory: participation in Therapeutic Listening program under the guidance of your occupational therapist, listening to calming music, listening to white noise, play exploration with various instruments or toys/books that make sounds.
  • Oral: blowing bubbles, use of straws, use of chewy tubes or “jewelry”, food texture exploration (i.e. creamy, dry, wet, lumpy), having a chewy or crunchy snack to provide “heavy work” to the mouth”.
  • Visual: activities such as “i-spy”, spot the difference picture games, and word searches, de-clutter the home environment, oculomotor exercises, dim lights and avoid fluorescent bulbs.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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Sensory Activities for Rainy Days

Every child needs sensory input to stay focused, regulated, and organized throughout the day, especially children who have sensory processing challenges. Every child has different sensory needs that need to be met each day and acquiring that input can be difficult when the weather turns rainy. Blog-Rainy Sensory Activities-Main-Landscape-01

Below are some fun and easy to do sensory activities that can be done with the whole family to ensure that your child is getting the sensory input they need:

  • Tactile/messy play is a great indoor activity for the child with tactile processing challenges:
    • Play doh/theraputty
    • Finger painting
    • Shaving cream
    • Create sensory bins of rice, beans, sand, noodles, etc.
    • Cooking/baking (allow the child to mix with their hands to explore new textures)
  • Heavy work activities and activities that provide vestibular input can be great to help regulate a sensory seeking child:
    • Obstacle courses
    • Blowing bubbles
    • Somersaults
    • Animal walk races
    • Using a rolling pin and cookie cutters while baking
  • For the anxious child or a child that has self-regulation difficulties:
    • Building forts
    • Listening to calming music
  • To increase attention, alertness, and address impulsivity challenges:
    • Freeze dance
    • Red light/green light
    • Simon Says

Be creative and have fun using these activities to brighten up a gloomy, cold day!

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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Explaining Your Child’s Behaviors in Response to Sensory Input

The way children take in and respond to sensory input from the environment may vary from child-to-child and day-to-day. It’s important to take into consideration that how children’s senses pick up information from the environment may influence their reactions and behaviors. Children might have a harder time taking in and processing sensory input to respond appropriately within the environment. Blog-Sensory Input-Main-Landscape

Below are several ways you can explain these sensory input reactions and behaviors to family, friends, and community members:

Auditory Input: Some children are sensitive to sounds (e.g. hand dryers; toilet flush; alarms). You might see these children cover their ears to certain sounds. Other children may not be as aware to sounds. You might see these children not respond to their name being called.

Visual Input: There are children who may demonstrate sensitivity to light by covering their eyes from bright sunlight or they may express discomfort by florescent lights. Other children might seek visual input by being visually attracted to TV/computer screens with fast-paced and/or flashy visual effects.

Tactile Input: Children may demonstrate sensitivity to certain textured clothing and resist/avoid wearing them (e.g. jeans; cotton materials; tags on clothing; tight socks). There are children who have a difficult time being in close proximity to other people. These children may feel overwhelmed and demonstrate over reactive behaviors when touched/bumped into (e.g. in crowded places; in line).

Oral Input: Some children might present sensitivity to specific textures or taste of food and avoid eating them (e.g. mushy/crunchy/chewy foods; sweet/sour foods; foods mixed together). Others might seek oral input to the mouth and put everything in their mouth (e.g. toys; finger; clothing).

Vestibular/Proprioceptive Input: Children might be hesitant and present distress when their feet are not on the ground or when they are spun in a circle. These children might avoid swings, climbing on the playground, riding a bike, or car rides. There are children who seek out a lot of movement and take climbing/jumping risks. You might also see children spin in circles to obtain additional vestibular input.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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9 Ways to Make Gym Class Successful for a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder

A class full of students in an open gymnasium can make for a very overwhelming experience for a child with sensory processing disorder. Echoing voices, shoes squeaking on the floor, whistles blowing, the smell of sweat and cleaning agents, bright colors and moving objects are enough to increase anyone’s stress level. Blog Sensory Processing Disorder Gym-Class-Main-Landscape

Throw in the demand to attend to instructions, learn new motor skills, and keep up with your more advanced peers. For a child with sensory processing disorder, this could potentially become a recipe for disaster.

Or, with the right structure and supports put in place, this time can be a regular opportunity for fun, growth, and learning!

Below are 9 suggestions to help children with sensory processing disorder feel successful in gym class and participate to the fullest extent possible:

  1. Provide the child with an out. Let him know that if the experience becomes too overwhelming he can let the teacher know he needs a break. The student could sit outside the room for a moment, take a trip to the restroom, or get a drink of water. Sometimes a brief break is all that’s needed.
  2. Be aware of the student’s particular needs and allow accommodations. If a student is over responsive to noise, allow the student to wear noise-reducing headphones. If a student has tactile defensiveness, avoid putting them on teams with jerseys.
  3. Break down new activities as much as possible. Teach one skill at a time and provide multiple modes of instruction.
  4. When providing instruction, ask students to repeat the rules or act out a scenario. It may be helpful to repeat important points and explain why the rule exists in order to be sure they are understood.
  5. Modify games or exercises as necessary. Students will be at different levels and physical activity can present unique challenges for those with sensory processing disorder. Provide simpler options when possible.
  6. Establish space boundaries. Using visual cues for personal space and working in small groups can relieve anxiety for those with tactile defensiveness. Visual cues may also be helpful in showing students where they should position themselves for games and exercises.
  7. Take extra care to maintain a positive environment. Emphasize the importance of sportsmanship and supportive language.
  8. Avoid bringing attention to a skill the child is having difficulty with in front of his peers. When playing games in large groups, it may be best to avoid placing the responsibility of a key position on students who are already experiencing increased stress.
  9. Provide feedback to parents. Let the student’s parents know what skills you are or will be working on so that the child can get in extra practice at home. This can be a big confidence booster for children and allow them to fully master skills with their peers.

Remember to keep it fun! Gym class is not only important for educating students on specific skill sets, it also lays the foundation for their attitudes towards physical activity in the future.

Recognize that not all students with sensory processing disorder will have the same strengths and difficulties. Meeting a student where they’re at and finding their particular strengths to build on is the best way to set them up for success!

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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How Do Weighted Blankets Work?

Does your child have trouble sitting still for long periods? Is it hard for your child to pay attention in class or at home? Does he or she engage in frequent crashing, falling, or jumping? What aboutBlog Weighted Blankets Main-Landscape playing too rough with peers or siblings? Does he or she have a hard time settling down for bedtime and falling asleep? Does he or she exhibit anxiety in non-preferred or unfamiliar situations? If you answered yes to any of these questions, your child may benefit from the use of a weighted blanket.

Weighted blankets are designed to provide deep pressure input to a child’s muscles and joints. This deep pressure input targets our proprioceptive system. The proprioceptive system is our body’s sense of our position in space (in other words, where we are in relation to other people and objects).

A child who has difficulty regulating their arousal level and their movements is likely looking for a way to stabilize their nervous system. By providing the body with this deep, proprioceptive input, we calm and organize the nervous system. This allows for improved attention, a regulated arousal level, a decrease in excessive movement, and improved body awareness.

When beginning to use  weighted blankets, use a wearing schedule for the most effectiveness. If a child has the blanket on all day, his or her body will adjust to this weight and the proprioceptive system will become less activated. Instead, wear the blanket during times that the child typically has difficulty focusing, sitting still, or calming. Wear the blanket for no more than one hour at a time, with at least an hour off before wearing the blanket again. The weighted blanket could be worn in the morning before school, after recess, during specials, during reading or written work, before bedtime, or even during an activity that the child perceives as stressful (dentist appointment, shopping, etc.).

Weighted blankets should not exceed more than 5-10% of a child’s body weight. Consult with an occupational therapist for assistance with wear schedule and the amount of weight to use.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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10 Red Flags for Poor Sensory Registration

When most people hear Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), they tend to think of the child who cannot tolerate tags on clothes, covers their ears and screams at parades, and who pulls away from hugs at family parties. While these are all behaviors associated with SPD, they only align with one type. Blog-Sensory Registration-Main-Landscape

Hypersensitivity, or sensory defensiveness, occurs when a child has difficulty filtering unnecessary sensory input and therefore gets bombarded with a waterfall of input, overflowing his or her regulatory system. However, there is another side to the story that often surprises parents that I work with. Just like a child may be over-sensitive, they may also be under. Poor sensory registration, or hypo-sensitivity, is another common classification of sensory processing disorder and applies to children who do not absorb, or register, all of the input entering their body. They are therefore “missing out” on crucial information from their own body and the environment, which is used to make adaptive responses and learn.

Imagine a giant waterfall, filling a pool at the bottom to the “just right” level. Now imagine that waterfall has a giant strainer at the bottom, causing a tiny fraction of the water to pass through and barely filling the pool. While typically processing children naturally and efficiently take in information from the environment through their many sensory receptors and use this information to make adaptive responses, this is much more difficult for children who miss some of the information coming in. Using the waterfall metaphor again, think how much more water you would need to send through the strainer to fill up the pool. This explains why poor sensory registration is often (but not always!) associated with “sensory seeking” behaviors, as children attempt to obtain additional input so that they may better absorb it. These seeking behaviors can often be misperceived as having difficulty following directions or misbehaving, while children may actually be trying to “fill their pool.” Another possible presentation is that children might appear to “be in la la land” and are likely not noticing or absorbing the cues they need to respond appropriately.

While it is very important to identify poor sensory registration, it can be difficult to identify at times.

Below you will find 10 red flags for poor sensory registration, organized by sensory system, to help you identify potential sensory processing deficits in your child:

Touch (Tactile) Processing:

  1. Your child does not notice when his or her face has food, toothpaste, or other materials on it. He or she may not be registering that input and will not notice unless pointed out by someone else or by looking in a mirror.

Auditory Processing:

  1. Your child does not respond quickly when you call his or her name or needs to hear directions several times to respond. If a child does not have actual hearing impairment, being less responsive to auditory input can be a sign of poor registration of sound input.

Visual Processing:

  1. Your child has a particular difficulty finding objects in a drawer, toy box, or other storage space, even when the object is very visible. They may have visual perceptual deficits related to poor registration of visual information.
  2. Your child may perform writing, coloring, or other visual motor tasks in a way that appears careless and not notice their errors unless specifically pointed out. They may be having difficulty noticing the difference between good work and poor work.

Body Awareness (Proprioceptive Processing):

  1. Your child may have difficulty navigating through hallways without leaning against or rubbing their hands against the walls. This may be their way of compensating for decreased body awareness to help them understand where their body is in space.
  2. Your child may have difficulty maintaining upright posture, whether slouching in a chair, w-sitting on the floor, or leaning against a wall when standing.
  3. Your child may use excessive force when giving hugs or using objects (e.g. breaks crayons, throws balls too hard).
  4. Your child may prefer sleeping with very heavy blankets or prefer to keep their coat on indoors. This input gives them the weight he or she needs to better perceive where his or her body is.

Movement/Gravitational (Vestibular) Processing:

  1. Your child loves intense movement (i.e. spinning, rolling, or going upside down) and can do so for a significant period of time without getting dizzy or nauseous.
  2. Your child may appear clumsy when moving about and lose his or her balance unexpectedly.

Of course, as with any set of red flags, one or two red flags does not qualify for a sensory processing disorder. However, if quite a few of the sensory registration items above resonate with you, and if any of these items significantly interfere with your child’s daily functioning, it would be helpful to set up an evaluation with an occupational therapist.

Occupational therapists are specially trained to identify sensory processing disorder through parent interviewing and clinical observation of your child. If a disorder is identified, an occupational therapist can work with you to create a sensory diet, or prescribed set of sensory activities, to help your child get the input he or she needs to feel organized and calm to better learn and grow. They may also teach you strategies to help your child better attend to the input that is entering their body.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Sensory Tips for Crowded Holiday Spaces

The holidays are a festive, fun and exciting time to celebrate with family and friends; however, they also bring about a plethora of sensory stimuli everywhere you go! Between the sights, sounds, smells and crowds our senses are overloaded with the spirit of the holiday season. For some people, particularly children with sensory processing difficulties, this time of year can cause stress, anxiety and uneasiness. blog-holiday-sensory tips-main-landscape

In addition to increased environmental stimuli around the holidays, typical routines are thrown off due to breaks from school and travel plans. Children with sensory processing difficulties benefit from a schedule that is predictable, so they know exactly what to expect and how to plan for new or different sensory experiences.

Below are 8 sensory tips to help make the holidays and crowded holiday spaces more enjoyable for your whole family:

  1. Prepare your child for the various events that he will experience over the holidays including specific parties, shopping events or travel. Give explanations of where you are going, what you will do there, what he may see, hear or smell. This will help him to know what to expect at these different places without being worried.
  2. Practice! Before going to various holiday events or places, practice. Stop by the mall with your child for a few minutes a few times before the holiday season, spend time at family or friend’s houses that will be visited over the holidays or visit the airport a few times ahead of your travel day. Giving your child an opportunity to experience these places when they are not as crowded will help him be successful during the busy times.
  3. Use a visual calendar that identifies daily activities over the holidays so your child feels comfortable with their winter break routine. Review each day’s events prior to leaving the house, so your child can better prepare himself for what to expect.
  4. Review pictures or videos from the previous year’s holiday events to remind your child of the sights, sounds, smells and crowds he will experience.
  5. Be prepared! During over stimulating situations your child may benefit from sensory strategies such as headphones, ear plugs, sunglasses, weighted objects or a favorite toy. Be sure to be prepared with these items during crowded holiday events. These strategies will help decrease the intensity of environmental stimuli.
  6. Be proactive! If you see your child becoming upset or overstimulated, find a place to take a break from the situation (bathroom, car, quiet hallway) and help him calm down.
  7. Arm your child with strategies ahead of time to help him through a situation where he feels he is becoming upset or overwhelmed. Strategies such as deep breathing or counting to 10 may help decrease anxiety. Encourage your child to let you know when he feels he needs a break.
  8. Talk to family members and friends about the difficulties your child may have and educate them on how they can help.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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