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Minimizing Sensory Overload In Kids With Special Needs

Kids with sensory sensitivities often have trouble enjoying everyday activities like play dates and school functions. Extreme sensitivity to noise, crowds, touch, textures, bright lights, bothersome clothing, and new experiences are often so overwhelming for kids with sensory problems that it can run their lives and the lives of their parents. When symptoms are severe enough to interfere with daily functioning, it is often referred to as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and can be co-morbid with anxiety disorders and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Find below some tips and strategies to help parents keep sensory sensitivities in check so kids can focus on growing, playing, and learning:

1. Earn Their Trust
Children with severe sensory issues often feel out of control and seem to be in "fight or flight" mode most of the time. Let your child know that you understand his issues are real and that you are working on a concrete plan to help minimize his stress and sensory overload. It may sound simple, but parents should do what they say and say what they mean, particularly for kids with special needs. This will help your child feel confident that you are in charge, that he is safe, and that you will be his advocate.

2. Manage Sensory Exposure
If your child has sensory problems, it is critical to stay ahead of known triggers to minimize meltdowns. For kids with hypersensitivity to noise, try giving them a quiet place at home they can go to when they feel overwhelmed and need a break. For older kids, it may help to give them a watch or timer so they know exactly what time a bothersome activity or environment will end. If your child has extreme sensitivity to certain types of clothing, go through his wardrobe together to determine which pieces are tolerable and which ones aren't. Be an advocate for your child by explaining to others what sensory problems are and how they can help minimize your child's distress. If possible, create small kits for dealing with sensory problems on the go so you're always prepared. Kits should include ear plugs for noise, sensory fidgets to keep hands busy, and sticky notes to cover sensors on automatic toilets and hand driers. You may also want to include some headphones and a music player with their favorite music or a book for older kids. Staying ahead of your child's sensory sensitivities by being prepared can go a long way in minimizing distress.

3. Schedule Silence
If you have a child who is hypersensitive to sensory stimuli, particularly noise and touch, he may benefit from scheduled silent time. Wake your child 15 minutes earlier in the morning to enjoy a favorite activity before school. Whether it be reading, computer time, or a game, make sure your child is quiet and undisturbed. Give your child at least thirty minutes of quiet time after school to rest and reset before bombarding him with questions or commands. Before bed, allow another 30 minutes of quiet time to unwind. Swinging and rocking are beneficial for organizing the senses, so quiet time can include those activities as well.

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