Very often I receive phone calls from concerned parents and teachers regarding a child who is disruptive during circle time, has trouble with transitions, is too physical and a "behavior problem".
Often times there are other factors contributing to certain behaviors.What may appear to some as a behavioral problem, can really be a sensory need gone unaddressed. For children who have atypical reactions to the sensory environment, the world can be a scary and challenging place.
These children gather information from sight, sound, touch, and smell like any other child; However, this information is not organized or processed correctly. As a result, the brain sends out an inappropriate response (i.e: "acting out").
By letting this go, or approaching it as a behavioral challenge, the child is not getting the necessary support he/she needs to remedy the problem. If and when this happens, the "abnormal" behaviors snowball into greater problems, escalating as the child ages. When the child is older, isolating, shutting down, low self-esteem, lack of friends and a negative attitude can be some reflections of overlooked sensory tribulations. To get a handle on this, early intervention and an OT's evaluation are a child's best options.
*While parents and teachers have found these tips below insightful, I cannot stress enough the importance of getting your child Occupational Therapy Services. We are only as good as our other professional domains.*
Signs to Recognize Sensory Issues
Children tend to know what sensory information they need. These behaviors may appear strange, but it is the child's way of making sense of his/her environment.
Popcorn-ing around the room
Hyposensitivity to touch
Inability to unwind/calm down
Constantly "on the go", unusual level of activity
Frequent touching of nearby objects; repeated movements (i.e: rubbing hands back and forth on the carpet)
Uncomfortable when exposed to any undesirable sensations (i.e: increased anxiety when hands get messy)
Refusal to hold objects
Banging into walls, furniture, pushing or knocking over objects
What YOU Can Do To Help
To the outside world it is disruptive and overwhelming, but children with sensory issues are forced to deal with something they cannot control on a daily basis. Making them feel worse than they already feel will not bring about change.
Make them aware of their bodies and their actions
Put words to movements and songs with dancing instructions: fast, slow, loud, soft, etc.
Have them wait for their turn and/or a certain amount of time before they get to play a game.
Notice how patient they're being, and reinforce the behavior by talking about how hard it is to wait sometimes (this will help them in the classroom)
Refrain from allowing them to jump from activity to activity. Explain to them that it is important to stick to whatever game they chose for a certain amount of time, and to tell you when they are finished. ("I'm finished, I want to do a puzzle next")
Provide the sensory pressure that they are seeking: these inputs calm their bodies down:
- Squeeze and push down on shoulders
- Big hugs
- Lifting or pushing chairs, tables, etc around the room
TAKE BRAIN BREAKS: In the classroom or at home. Discuss how sometimes our bodies and minds need a break, and after we take a break, we're able to function better. Enjoy the activity!
Examples of brain breaks:
10 jumping jacks
10 chair push ups
Pushing hands together 10 times
Touch toes 5 times
Stomp feet 10 times