by Mary Whalen
I’ve known plenty of kids who have been through speech therapy to help with a language delay, physical therapy for missing milestones, or occupational therapy for fine motor skills. But I hadn’t heard about sensory delays until my daughter was diagnosed.
What is a Sensory Delay?
Like with language and physical development, kids’ senses need to time to develop, and some kids take longer than others in different areas. Though kids eventually grow out of the delays, getting help can reduce stress on the child and parent and, apparently, help the child grow out of the delay faster. With my daughter, we were motivated to get help when her sensory problems started making our lives feel abnormal.
My daughter’s main problem was with getting dressed in the morning. I’m not talking about insisting on wearing the princess outfit because it’s her favorite. I’m talking about NOT wearing the princess outfit, even though it’s her favorite, and being miserable that she can’t. Because her sense of touch is a delayed sense, her clothes just don’t feel right on her skin. Her condition is called Tactile Defensiveness.
The other main issue for my daughter was feeling uncomfortable in her playgroup. Even at 3 years old, she would cling to me and often cry rather than join in with the other kids. Because she seemed comfortable in preschool and had many friends, I was thrown off. But after she was diagnosed with auditory sensory delays, it made sense. The noise and chaos of the playgroup was overwhelming to her, while the structure and organization of school was comforting and the predictability of her “close” friends felt safe.
Getting Diagnosed/Getting Help for Sensory Delays
Though I had mentioned sensory-related problems to my doctors over the years, my doctors were not the ones who made me aware of sensory delays. A friend who is a Kindergarten teacher encouraged me to check into Sensory Processing Disorder after babysitting my daughter a couple times. I didn’t think that Kiley acted like what I knew of an SPD kid, but there were some abnormal behaviors listed that my daughter had.
My doctor finally gave me some attention when I came into her office crying. She set my daughter up with an OT assessment, where her delays were diagnosed.
The time between my doctor visit and my daughter’s first treatment was almost three months. These were three pretty stressful months for me! The main thing that helped after we got an OT was brushing and doing joint compressions. I saw some YouTube videos on this but was afraid to try it myself until we got a therapist, and I wish that I would have just tried rather than wait.
Managing Sensory Kids
My daughter’s occupational therapist had some advice that might help any parent with a sensory child:
- Schedule – Make your schedule as predictable as possible. Make a picture schedule that you post, discuss each morning what the schedule for the day will be, warn the child when you are going to switch activities.
- Vary Stimulation – Vary the amount and type of stimulation. Do something low-key like drawing, but then switch to something energetic, like doing an obstacle course. Switch between activities that involve sense of touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight…
- Physical Activity – Do everything you can to make physical activity accessible. Sign up for gymnastics, get outside when the temp is not freezing, find things to do in the house…any kind of equipment that you can use like a therapy ball, a swing, chin up bar, tubing to crawl in helps.
- Squeezes/Pressure – Find the right level of pressure that your kid wants, and give it. My daughter wants medium pressure, not light or heavy. I squeeze her arms and shoulders often when I talk to her and legs and back when I lay with her.
- Rotating Swing – Since my daughter has some issues with her vestibular system, the therapist also suggested a rotating swing and doing other activities that have to do with balance. We bought a circular swing online for about $25 and hung it from a beam in our basement. It’s been such an easy way to get our kids to work upper body.
- Therapeutic Music – I overheard a couple moms at the OT place raving about how much therapeutic music has helped their kids. It’s music that’s modulated a certain way, and kids listen to it for 20 min a day or something. I think that it costs about $100 for the headphones and one CD, and you use our own CD player. You do need to have a therapist set you up with this.
- Eye Contact – Eye contact can be overwhelming for sensory kids. My daughter and I have a routine where I tell her to look at me, then we say together, “I….love….you!” It’s predictable and routine, and it’s short.
I am writing just from my limited experience, and I’d love for you to share any suggestions/share your experience in your comments or by contacting me.
Also, on my AH Moms website I created a group called Sensory Kids, where you can bounce ideas off other moms, even if your son or daughter has not been formally diagnosed with sensory issues.
My family is a member of the Creatively Caring Families meetup group, which welcomes all children at their events. They host community service projects that can be geared towards raising awareness about special needs children.
Mary is a technical writer and trainer who has a social networking website for moms who live in the northwest suburbs. You can contact Mary by leaving your comments or by visiting ArlingtonHeightsMoms.com.