The way we process information in our environment can affect how respond physically and emotionally. Our senses include our touch, smell, taste, hearing, vision, as well as your proprioceptive system (uses your muscle and joints to know where our body is in space) and vestibular system (helps you understand where your head is in space as well as your balance and spatial orientation). Children may struggle to understand this sensory input from these senses and correctly react to it in a calm and appropriate manner.
If you picture our emotional regulation skills to a cup, each event occurring to the sensory system during the day fills the cup: not finding the second shoe, running out of their favorite cereal, substitute teacher, raining and having indoor recess, getting in trouble in class, ice cream at lunch, and a doctor appointment after school. The cup is now full. The next event happens to be that mom says you cannot have a snack before dinner. This simple “no” sends the system into meltdown.
Is this because the snack is so important? No. It is because that is the one thing that spilled over the top. This is very confusing to caregivers because the event that causes the meltdown is relatively small and insignificant.
The goal of Occupational Therapy is to try and regulate so that the cup does not spill over the top or stay full. As a caregiver, it is important to understand this emotional regulation and be patient with the child and the one item that spilled over the top. Here are some helpful tools and tips to use at home when this may occur:
- Use a calm voice and speak in short commands such as “first/then” statements (EX: “first shoes, than outside” or “first dinner, then dessert”. It’s easier to process shorter commands when children are having an outburst.
- Allow for sensory breaks throughout the day to manage the level of the cup. These could include sitting in a secluded area, swinging, running laps around the house, whatever is best suited for the child to maintain the attention and let the sensory system re-group.
- If your child is overstimulated, meaning their sensory system has too much input and their cup is overflowing, deprive them of the sensory input. This means bringing a child to a quiet dark room without toys, or you may have star lights on the wall or white noise. This will help reorganize the system and calm the child down.
Source: “Practical Treatment Strategies for Children with Sensory Processing Disorders” by Victoria Couture, OTR/L
Source: “Making Sense of Every Child: Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners Through Sensory Integration” by Stephen Viola and Alicia Noddings file:///Users/callietoaso/Downloads/Making%20Sense%20of%20Every%20Child.pdf