When we found out the Ruby had sensory issues, it was overwhelming. I did not understand how she was experiencing the world, her communication was pretty low so I could not ask her. The hardest thing was I did not know what to do to help her. Ruby did not some of the big red flags of sensory processing disorder. She was not sensitive to a change in bath water, she could wear any type of clothes without complaint (some kids have a hard time wearing jeans for example), and she never covered her ears when there were loud noises. When I learned more about the sensory system I began to understand how it was affecting her. Things that Ruby struggles with due to sensory.
Has an intense fear of electronic things that make noise (vacuums, egg beaters, blenders, etc., but surprisingly not lawn mowers??). Although when she is afraid she still doesn’t cover her ears because of the noise.
When she is overly excited she will run around the room and jump, it’s like she doesn’t have complete control over her body.
Has a hard time organizing her body, which leads her to see the world in pieces rather than a whole, and is harder to engage.
May not always respond when I call her name (blocking out auditory sounds).
Chewed on everything, toys, stuffed animals, clothing, pens.
Can get visually overwhelmed and zone in on one thing to cope.
Doesn’t get dizzy (when Ruby is spun around she doesn’t get dizzy, which means her brain isn’t processing this information correctly).
Is under-regulated and needs sensory experiences to wake up her body to engage.
When Ruby was a baby, when she was really excited her hands would clench like this and her whole body would shake. It was cute, but I didn’t realize this was a red flag that she may have sensory issues.
So let’s talk about what it means to be hyposensitive and hypersensitive (read more about it here).
This is when kids are really sensitive to the sensory information their body is getting and get overwhelmed. Here are some examples
- Are clumsy
- Have a hard time with bright lights and loud noises
- Are distracted by background noises
- Don’t like to cuddle or to be touched unexpectedly
- Hard time with clothing that is “scratchy” or with tags on clothing
- Afraid of swings and playground
This is when a child is not as sensitive to sensory information and they want more, also known as sensory seeking.
- Loves to jump, climb, crashing into things, constantly on the move
- High tolerance for pain
- Has a hard time sitting still
- Loves spinning, intense movement
- Loves being tossed in the air, trampolines, jumping on furniture
The sensory system can be tricky because children can have sensory processing issues with one sense, or multiple senses. They can be hypersensitive with one sense and hyposensitive with another. And did you know that the sensory system can change too! It can be very confusing to know to do. Something that was helpful for us was to do some reading and work with an occupational therapist (OT), who understood sensory issues and helped us to know how to help.
We found that Ruby tends to be more hyposensitive, where she needs more sensory input to help wake up her body and get her into the right frame of mind to be organized and engageable, but not too much input or she would start to get more disorganized and all over the place. It is a hard balance. So what did I do? Worked on a sensory diet.
This sounds like a food diet, but it actually isn’t. A sensory diet includes specific activities to give a child the sensory input they need to feel “just right” and be able to pay attention and engage. For kids that are hypersensitive, these could be calming activities. For kids that are hyposensitive, these are alerting activities. With both types, heavy work is often recommended. Heavy work is different from cardio. Cardio would be running, heavy work could be push ups, carrying something heavy, sweeping, n and climbing on a ladder. The possibilities are endless. For more ideas on sensory activities, click here. For a tailored sensory diet, working with an OT to find out the challenges a child has with sensory and create a custom sensory diet is a great option.
The thing that hit me the most about a sensory diet was when the OT told me that implementing one now can make changes to Ruby’s sensory system and help her to integrate the input. Yes, that sounds amazing! It also gives her ideas of how to organize herself so when she feels dis-regulated she can know what to do.
One of the biggest challenges we had with implementing a sensory was to get Ruby to actually do the activities. Following directions was not a strong suit. So how did I get her to do heavy work? I implemented it in play. She loves playing with her brother Brandon and she loves physical activities. So, I got out a laundry basket and put Ruby and Brandon in it, then tied a rope and pulled them around the house. Needless to say they thought it was the best thing ever! Then, for the heavy work, I would have them take turns pulling each other. Heavy work! It was fun, working on her attention, and she was getting sensory input that she needed. And guess what, she would initiate to play the game again by bringing out the basket from then on! Love that intentionality 🙂
There are a million possibilities in a sensory diet, like crunchy foods, water play, swings, trampolines, jumping on the couch. One of the best things we have done for her sensory processing was to put up a swing inside our house. It is a swing that is connected by one rope at the top so she can spin and have a circular show or fast movement, whatever she needed. When we hung it up we saw her go to the swing about 40 times a day, swing a little bit and then do an activity. I really saw this help her with her attention and regulation. Being a DIY mom, of course I made the swing, which was not too expensive or hard to do. I also have a thick rug under the swing so she can have that sensory input on her feet as well. Oh and Brandon loves it too. I have found that he likes to go and swing when he is upset, and it helps him to calm down. Double win!
Understanding sensory processing has helped me to understand Ruby better, and empowers me to know how I can help. I am so glad there is so much information out there to give us direction and help our children grow!