We had a wonderful Coffee Klatch Tweetchat again this week! I appreciate the parents who join us with great questions and helpful tips. Our topic was,” Do you use a Sensory box? What do you put in a sensory box? Why do some individuals NEED items to bite, chew and fidget? How can we help kids meet their sensory needs to be successful students and happy campers?” If you do not find the answers you need in this post follow the links to my other posts on this topic.
Children with special needs very often have sensory integration difficulties. What can parents do to help their child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) cope? Some individuals cannot organize and respond appropriately to a multitude of sensory information that is entering their system. When a child’s sensory system is deregulated he may exhibit hyperactivity, poor attention, low arousal/energy, emotional outbursts, and will probably not be very social. To meet their needs, kids will develop coping mechanism some of which are not suitable for school for hygiene and health reasons. Other “habits” to cope may be a distraction to the child or to others.
You will see and hear kids resort to nail biting, thumb sucking, nose picking, hair twisting or tugging, and tooth grinding. Others will chew non-edibles like hair, pencils, shirt sleeves, paper… Some will find relief by fidgeting or engage in disruptive behavior. Many of these activities will lead to teasing by peers and this is the last thing parents want for a child who is already fighting to blend in. One goal that parents and teachers strive for is to develop good coping habits/strategies to carry through in adult life. How can you help children with sensory issues find good coping strategies?
Make a Personalized Sensory Box
Finding activities that are more appropriate and less harmful is the goal in all of this. Parents and teachers, with the help of the child’s occupational therapist, have to be proactive and find age-appropriate alternatives like the use of items in a Sensory Box. A Sensory Box is a proven strategy. It is effective, practical, and not expensive. Talk to your teacher often, evaluate the usefulness of the sensory items and meet again to discuss progress.
The best Sensory Box is a personalized sensory box (custom made to meet your child’s needs). Some parents have two custom made boxes, one for school and one for home. However your child’s home sensory box may look different than the school’s sensory box because in each environment your child’s needs will be different.
Remember that the items in your child’s sensory box might change as he grows and develops and his needs change. What worked once may not work anymore. Items get worn and must be replaced, therefore check the box often. Have a plan with the school on who will wash items that will be placed in the mouth. Always have safety in mind choosing only items that are approved for his age group.
IEP’s often include a sensory box among the accommodations suggested for a special needs child. One mom tweeted that her child’s sensory box was covered under the provincial health plan. One problem with this was that the items were NOT easy to switch, to customize for her child. It is worth looking into and with time probably items your child needs will be included.
Start using a sensory box as soon as the need arises. Be consistent and soon your child will learn to self-regulate. Using these strategies throughout the school years will form a good life skill. Habit training a child does take time and a lot of effort. Starting young is always best.
How do sensory tools help?
Disengaged students learn strategies to prevent disruptive behaviors and focus on their work by reaching in their Sensory Box. Distracted students are able to focus and become ready to learn, sit for circle time, share book/reading time while using the RIGHT sensory tool. All children need to learn good coping skills – a sensory box is the physical counterpart to the emotional skills.
When your child is upset this causes frustration, anxiety, stress or distress. Then matters worsen when he is placed in difficult situations or is surrounded by excessive noise and lots of activity. School is a stressful environment. Classrooms can be over stimulating with too much to process. Using Sensory Box items recommended by your OT will help your child cope with this entire sensory overload.
The mouth is an organizing center – sucking items can be very soothing and self-regulating. The pacifier is the first sensory tool ALL children use very early in life. An oral seeking child can often regulate better when able to chew as it helps them focus on that one sense. Allow and encourage respectful chewing or biting on a discreet, age appropriate oral-motor tool approved by teacher and OT. Know how movement helps many children? Chewing and biting on safe approved items does that also. The jaw muscles use pent up energy to help focus. Kid Companion Chewelry is great for kids who need oral stimulation. It helps organize the brain and reduces stress!
Tips on Choosing Items for the Sensory Box
Go through each of your child’s senses one at a time and you will get ideas on what sensory items will work best. Your OT may help you to do this. For example, for a child that is overly sensitive to touch, try different textures (rough, scratchy, smooth, slick, sticky…) and let him choose items also. Things that are unpleasant to us might be just what your child needs. Look for items he can squeeze and rub.
Items for sensory issues should NOT bring attention to the user or distract others. Have safe, age-appropriate items to allow the child to blend in. Our Kid Companions Chewelry is clipped to clothes, school bag strap, belt or worn like a necklace. Both ways the chewy pendants stay clean, are not dropped and are stylish so the child is proud to use it out in the community.
Not all items have to be bought. One wise, ever practical mom tweeted, “My child went nuts for new, super soft fleece. However once it was washed he did not like it anymore. So I bought a yard of fleece and cut off bits.”
I get confused about sensory stuff- Do I use things to calm, or to challenge?
Items that calm or items that stimulate are used depending on your child’s sensory diet, what your OT recommends. The needs of children change and some need alerting or calming at different times in the same day. Some parents or teachers have Velcro on the desk and “Velcro/attach” items to be handily accessible to touch, rub, regulate and calm or alert. Just the Velcro itself is good because it has THREE textures: the rough side, the cushy side, and the smooth outside.
Many sensory boxes contain something to chew or bite for oral stimulation and to alert the child and fidgets to calm and help focus. Pay attention to what your child naturally seeks out to soothe himself and/or experiment until you hit the jack pot.
What will the other students say about the Sensory Box items?
Sometimes other classmates must be explained why a child has to use these items and THEY may not have a “toy”. ALL must know these are NOT toys but needed tools. This can be tricky yet doable; I can hear the, “It’s not fair!” but it’s a great learning opportunity about life. If classmates are made aware that the items in the sensory box are needed like eye glasses or hearing aid it goes well. When discussing with the class about the necessity of the sensory box, the teacher could read to the class books like Sensitive Sam , Ellie Bean, the Drama Queen! How Ellie Learned to Keep Calm and Not Overreact and Picky, Picky Pete A Boy and His Sensory Challenges.