When your child shows poor attention, becomes easily frustrated or displays impulsive behavior, you might assume it’s a problem with misbehavior; however, sometimes these actions are signs of a sensory processing disorder, meaning your child has difficulty organizing the sensory information he experiences. Sensory play equipment allows children with sensory processing disorders to engage in sensory experiences through an exciting medium, and most children will build their senses without realizing their play is therapeutic.
Identify which senses your child struggles with. Some children have difficulty with vestibular movement, meaning their balance is impaired; swings are ideal sensory play equipment for these children.
Create a list of activities or equipment you should use to address your child’s sensory processing problems. Take your child to the park or playground and observe which activities he seems to enjoy. Include some of these games in your daily play.
Play catch with a heavy ball, take your child out on a bicycle or encourage him to climb a ladder on the playground. These activities help with proprioceptive senses by providing feedback to your child’s muscles and joints to promote coordinated and smooth movements. According to TherapyStreetforKids.com, proprioceptive activities help children organize all of their senses and are effective treatments for sensory processing disorders.
Help your child jump on a trampoline, walk through an obstacle course or stand on balance boards to improve vestibular senses. When these senses improve, your child is much more likely to engage in play with other children and show less anxiety, which will help reduce frustration or outbursts due to fear.
Encourage play through dry or non-messy media before graduating to play dough or finger paints for children with tactile difficulties. Place small objects in a box of sand and ask your child to find and pull out the objects. These activities help children who have to touch everything and those who don’t like being touched; through this play, children can either decrease inappropriate touching behaviors or lessen the amount of tantrums when they are touched.
Play with mirror or matching panels, which you might find on a sensory playground, or complete puzzles or mazes for children with visual difficulties. These activities also help improve concentration and reduce problem behaviors caused by inattention or distraction.
Encourage your child to explore musical instruments, such as xylophones or keyboards. Pleasant auditory stimulation promotes relaxation and helps your child calm down during a tantrum or other stressful event.
Take a walk through a park and point out scents to a child who is under-responsive to smells. Give your child scratch-and-sniff stickers that he likes or a favorite lotion if he is hypersensitive to scents; sometimes children who show defiant behavior, such as refusing to enter a classroom, just have a hard time with smells they find offensive.
Blow bubbles or encourage your child to chew a chewy tube if he craves oral stimulation. These actions promote calm and might reduce behaviors of inappropriate biting. Encourage your child to use chewy tubes or other chew toys if he becomes agitated, so he can use it as a method of self-regulation.
Providing your child with a “sensory diet” at school, home and possibly occupational therapy is the best way to integrate your child’s senses, retrain his nervous system to work properly and reduce problem behaviors.
Sensory processing disorders can lead to dangerous behaviors like hitting a peer or running out into a crowded street. Be cognizant around your child and teach safety behaviors in addition to sensory therapy.