Start the School Year With Strategies For Kids With Sensory Processing Issues

Sensory processing can create unique issues around this time of year.  Regardless of whether a child received summer services or not, things in the classroom change in September, and change is not always easy for these kids to handle.  Here are a few suggestions that could help your child make the transition to a new class easier:

  • visit the new classroom, even if it is in the same building as his old classroom.  If this is not possible due to regulations or availability, then visit the school grounds if possible.  Drive by the school on the way to another destination.  Make it a familiar place.
  • allow your child to wear familiar clothes for the first few days.  If nothing fits, then buy the most comfortable or desirable (truck themed tees, anyone?) new things and get some summer wear in before school starts.  Children with sensory processing issues can usually handle only so much novelty, so do what you can to minimize the novelty of new things and maximize opportunities to keep some things the same, at least at first.  This could extend into old backpacks, favorite foods in familiar flavors stored in familiar containers.  You may not have to do this strategy for very long, but it can really make a difference that your child cannot even explain to you.  Things just feel comfortable….
  • be positive but understated in your enthusiasm about returning to school and the new things to come.  A child who has sensory processing issues can struggle to modulate their emotions and become overwhelmed very quickly.  Always acknowledge their concerns honestly and reflect a positive outlook, but watch their non-verbals closely and know your child’s signs of TMI.  You may not think that you were too loud, spoke too long, or talked too frequently about how much fun he will have. If you see him get disregulated, it could be coming from poor modulation in response to the cumulative sensory load.  Exception:  Children with clear low arousal issues, that need more intensity to orient and attend to sensory information.  Unfortunately, they can also be poor modulators, starting out low and ending up overwhelmed.  If you have a child like that, dancing on that tightrope is what you do all day, every day.  You know who you are.
  • prepare for the first day of school by using familiar routines, including mealtimes, naps and bedtime routines.   You could think of these as the bedrock of sensory stability.  When children cannot count on them, it shakes the foundation they really need for good sensory processing.  All the therapy ball activities and trampoline work will not be effective if the essential thread of the day is inconsistent and unpredictable.

Have a wonderful end to the summer, and a great school year!

By Cathy Collyer

I am a licensed occupational therapist, licensed massage therapist, and certified CBT-i sleep coach in private practice in the NYC area. I have over 25 years of professional experience in adult and pediatric treatment. It has been a joy to help people of all ages improve their ability to grow and thrive! Occupational therapists are focused on enhancing a client's functioning in everyday life. We are practical healthcare providers, interested in teaching, adapting actions and environments, and building a client's useful skills for living their best life, regardless of their challenges. I am the author of five books, including "Staying In The Room: Managing Medical And Dental Care When You Have DID" and "The Practical Guide To Toilet Training the Autistic Child". I lecture on many subjects, including sleep, trauma, and development. Contact me to learn more about how I can help you achieve YOUR goals!

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