While we experience our senses uniquely based on how our brains perceive the environment, a large part of the population can tune out what they need to and focus on what they want to. For example, you can focus on your conversation with a friend at a busy restaurant. You effectively ignore the background music and other discussions, the smells, and the movement around you to focus on your conversation.
For someone with sensory processing issues, this is a monumental task taking more energy and conscious effort just to listen. It’s taxing to the nervous system and can easily send one into stress overload and anxiety. If your child has sensory sensitivities and has difficulty regulating themselves, we have some tips to help them cope with sensory overload.
What is Self-Regulation?
Self-regulation is about managing emotions, behavior, and body movement in the face of challenges. The ability to self-regulate looks different for a toddler compared to a preteen, and it’s not an easy process at any age. For young children, it involves things like:
- Keeping track of changes in the environment
- Assessing how one is feeling
- Handling all of the information that comes from your five senses
- Focusing and paying attention
Children with autism sometimes have sensory differences, affecting their self-regulating ability. Essentially, their nervous systems get overloaded from taking in the world. When this happens, they may get anxious and start crying, or their anxiety might manifest as anger. Sometimes we realize this after it’s too late, but it’s better to prevent a sensory overload from happening in the first place. Putting structures in place in your home makes it possible to support all children in regulating their emotions.
Educate Yourself and Your Child
Use your compassion to invite your child to learn together about the impacts their sensory processing challenges have on behavior. You can work together to learn what triggers sensory overwhelm or what dysregulation feels inside their body. Working together to build understanding and equipping your child to address their needs gives you both the tools to keep learning and growing together.
Prepare for Sensory Challenges
By educating yourself, you are learning what it takes to prevent your child’s body and brain from becoming overwhelmed. Make a habit of being prepared for sensory overload. For some families, that might involve a grab-bag in the car full of tools to soothe your child’s sensory needs.
Changes in your daily routine present extra challenges for kids with sensory processing issues, so consider things you can do to keep meltdowns at a minimum:
- Keep your child well-hydrated and well-rested.
- Carry a stash of healthy snacks. Proteins like yogurt, cheese, and turkey, or crunchy snacks like carrots, crackers, and nuts are great for sensory-seekers.
- Bring crayons and a travel-size coloring book for younger kids.
- Bring their favorite comfort toys or blankets.
- Have an “escape plan” in case your child has a meltdown and needs a quiet space.
The Connections Therapy Center
The Connections Therapy Center serves families of children and adolescents with disabilities and special needs. We are a team of experts in behavioral sciences. As a team, we offer intensive hands-on therapy for children and adolescents, as well as informative and useful resources for families. If you are interested in learning more about what we can do to help your family, visit us online or give us a call at (301) 577-4333. Want to get more information on how to help your child thrive? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.