Article 4 - SNAP childcare
Sensory challenges in children's daily routine
We all have days where we notice our sensations more. When youre tired do you find busy and noisy environments too difficult? Or maybe you notice someone has put on a little more aftershave than usual and it’s a little overpowering, enough so that it seems to linger around you all day!
We can’t forget that everyone has sensory tolerances which is what these are. We all like and dislike different things, that why sensory processing makes us who we are.
For people with SPD it can also heighten their experiences therefore greatly impacting their daily routines. Let’s think about brushing our teeth. This is an activity we all probably do twice a day. Now for some children with SPD it can be a really difficult thing to do. Brushing our teeth is noisy, feels funny in our mouth, creates loads of feeling in our mouths, involves some rigorous movement and usually includes a paste that is flavoured. Any or many of these things could make it difficult for children to brush their teeth.
If children are hyper sensitive to auditory, smell, tactile or vestibular input they are likely to find it a difficult task to do due to being overwhelmed. There are many different kinds of toothbrushes and devices you can use to brush your teeth so don’t give up, there will be a way to support your child to brush their teeth.
Recognising the impact SPD has in the classroom.
Classrooms can be a very noisy, busy environment. All children thrive off different sensory experiences and therefore also learn in different ways.
It is important that educational settings like nurseries and classrooms are flexible in order to meet childrens needs with sensory difficulties.
Some of the ways a child may be impacted in a classroom environment could be relating to a constant stream of sounds, whether its students, teachers, chairs, technology, the weather, music etc all of these things for some people can be heard as the same importance meaning they are likely to become distracted and overwhelmed by auditory input quite easily. We might notice children covering their ears or putting their fingers in their ears or behind their ears as well as making noises, screaming, humming or repeating phrases at the same time.
Children who are constantly on the move or appear to be fidgeting could be seeking vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive input. It might be a child moves around a lot, finds it difficult to sit in one place, walks, jumps, spins, bangs the table while working or doing an activity. It’s important for these children to incorporate physical activity into daily routines. Maybe starting each activity session with a head, shoulders, knees and toes, or jumping, clapping activity or carrying books or toys to another room. If these activities are part of their day you are likely to notice a reduction in it impacting their learning.
Visually classroom can very easily overload students. There are usually lots of beautiful display boards around, bright lights, reflective surfaces or sunlight streaming in from the windows. All of these things can be painful for some children with spd so you may recoginse them squinting, covering their eyes or simply hiding.
On the other hand classrooms can also be incredibly distracting for visual seekers as well. Windows are great real-time TV’s and don’t forget the 30 other people in the same room, they are likely to be moving and doing things which can easily distract a visual seeker.
Smell is a big difficulty in most classrooms and nursery settings and one which is very hard to recognise and often forgotten about! We use many products in rooms which contain scents such as board pens, cleaning products, paper, activity resources like paint, glue, dough. On top of these don’t forget that we all have our own odour which will also be a mix of perfume, deodorant, shampoo, shower gel, washing detergent etc It is incredibly easy when in such a small space, like a classroom for someone to become overwhelmed with smells. This can be recognised in a reluctance to move in the classroom or by someone gagging frequently.
Read more details about how to recognise sensory needs on our website here.
Overcoming everyday challenges for children with SPD.
Whether it’s waking up in the morning, getting dressing, travelling on the bus or walking down the street – these activities are something which most of us just do. But imagine if you were hearing all the sounds in the room you are sitting in right now at the same volume, all the tiny little sounds that you might not normally even notice like the light buzzing, your computer whirring, radiators creaking, people speaking in the next room , how would that impact your concentration while reading this article?
Our senses are the basis to everything we learn and do so if we have a difficulty processing sensory information it will therefore impact us every day.
I’m going to give a few examples now of how it may impact someone being able to travel in a car and while walking down the street. If you identify with any of these characteristics and would like to learn more about these or our senses then you can book our workshops via our website shop.
When travelling in a car there the main difficulty is likely to be related to the motion. Our Vestibular sense receives messages about our movement in relation to gravity. When we are moving forward and backwards in a car this can create a lot of stimulation. Also in a car, as we as driving the views out of the windows change, the light may change, colours etc and this can overstimulate children who are sensitive to visual information. They may try and hide or block themselves from the window or squint or cover their eyes.
Travelling by car - If a child is processing too much vestibular or visual information they are likely to find car journeys difficult. When we travel in a car we do not gain a sensation of being grounded which is what this sense (vestibular) seeks. When sitting in the car a childs feet are usually off the ground and the car is moving forwards or backwards. Our vestibular sense works closely with our visual sense and can mean that the views from the windows can over stimulate the visual sense when it’s moving meaning a child may be sick easily while travelling or want to hide their head in a hood or blanket so they can’t see what’s outside.
If you recognise this might be a difficulty with your child try giving them a bit more security, a weighted blanket over their legs may work, try adding something for their feet to rest on so they aren’t dangling and use a window shield or sunglasses or even a top with a hood will help reduce the visual stimulation.
Read more details about how to recognise sensory needs on our website here.
How can you identify sensory processing difficulties in children with additional needs.
A couple of years ago I supported a young man who used to take his ear defenders off, walk over to the radio and turn the volume up so he could dance around the room. This young man easily fluctuated between seeking sounds and becoming overwhelmed with sounds and was pretty good at modulating this for himself. During the 7 years I supported him it was really important that the other staff who cared for him understood these characteristics and how to identify for themselves how to support him if he did find it difficult to regulate himself. This would rarely happen but when it did you could see it was truly distressing for him as well as for the other people around him.
A sensory processing disorder impacts 1 in 20 children, not necessarily with any other diagnosis, so that could be at least one child in a classroom, or one person on the bus with you. It is also very commonly link with Autism spectrum conditions, Dyspraxia, ADHD, Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Fragile X, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, Epilepsy and many more.
When we think about sensory processing we are referring to two processes, the first is that of ‘sensation’ a message being detected by the sensory system, and the second is that of ‘perception’ which is the brains function when the message is ordered and responded to in a meaningful way.
A SPD is when our brain finds it difficult to do that second part (perception) – that of organising and responding to the sensations received from the senses. All of the sensory organs work perfectly well (sensation), it is the organising of the messages into meaningful responses which is the difficulty for people with SPD.
Our senses are the primary way that we learn about our surroundings and respond to it, because of this you can see how a SPD can hugely impact peoples lives!
We are able to identify characteristics which relate to SPD in how children are responding to their surroundings. For example if a child covers their ears while still doing an activity I would suggest they are processing too many auditory messages at that time so they might be hyper sensitive to auditory information. However if a child enjoyed flicking reflective fabric in front of their eyes or spinning things I would suggest they are seeking visual information which would mean they are hypo sensitive to visual information.
These characteristics tell us so much information it’s important we take note of them so we are able to know how to support our children as they develop. Some people may refer to these characteristics as ‘stims’ aswell. A stim is a repetitive body movement which helps to calm or stimulate the body.
Learn more in the following few months with more articles about SPD or to gain indepth knowledge our FEEL IT workshop is aimed at parents, carers, all professionals and students.
Following on from this article in the months to come are 3 more articles each highlighting specific characteristics we may observe in children with SPD in
Everyday activities – travelling in the car, walking down the street.
In a structured setting - nursery or classroom.
Personal care activities – showering, brushing teeth and eating.
Written by Becky Lyddon June 2017