If you’ve been reading my blog this year, you probably know that we’ve struggled with sensory issues with Jack. We didn’t know whether these struggles were related to his fight with cancer (treatment can affect many things) or if the issues had been less noticeable earlier in his life because he wasn’t under so much stress. He’s always been a sensitive kid – I can remember setting him down on the lawn outside our apartment at nine months old and his look of consternation when he realized he was surrounded by pokey blades of grass. He kept trying to crawl away and shrinking back from the sensation of the grass against his palms. Frustrated, he started crying and reaching for me. After that I learned that if we put a blanket down on grass, he wouldn’t leave it – no playpen needed.
When he wasn’t busy avoiding certain textures, he would sit and scratch his fingernails on others – which made me cringe. Getting Jack to eat solid foods wasn’t easy. He shuddered and gagged on so many textures. He also wouldn’t tolerate sticky or dirty hands and would hold them out and wave them at me while “uh uh uh”ing until I wiped his hands. This never bothered me – it was always easy to keep him clean because he would avoid being wet or muddy. It also never went away.
Later on, we noticed that he was sensitive to sound. He was easily startled and would cover his ears when a large truck passed by outside – even when we were cozily tucked into our house. He can’t STAND to hear me sing and will throw a fit until I stop.
He’s always had trouble with transitions, too. I don’t remember a time when I could just put a new pair of shoes on him – it’s always been a struggle. Coming home from a trip usually involved a meltdown, which we dealt with by sitting in a dark room together while I rocked and shhhhh’d him.
Many of these things have come and gone over the years and been fairly manageable. We just thought “that’s the way he is.” But earlier this year when clothing became such a problem that he was missing school, I realized maybe we needed help. We had him screened for sensory issues over the summer and there were several problem areas noted. We haven’t had a chance to follow up on the recommendations, though, due to Jack’s unstable health. Such is life, right?
When the offer to review the book “The Sensory Child Gets Organized” by Carolyn Dalgliesh came my way, I jumped at it. In between a zillion oncology appointments, I could get some useful advice that could help Jack in real time! Because while things like 504 Plans and IEPs will try to accommodate Jack at school, they don’t specifically address or help his sensory issues – only the fallout from them. I would love to PREVENT problems in the future.
First off, you should know that “sensory” children are dealing with a variety of issues – not just Sensory Processing Disorder. The book gives a great primer on what the various issues are and explain how they each impact children. Here are some statistics for you:
- 1 in 20 kids have Sensory Processing Disorder.
- 8.6% of kids are diagnosed with AD/HD.
- Anxiety Disorders are diagnosed in as many as 1 in 8 children.
- Currently, 1 in 88 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
- As many of 50% of kids with a diagnosis also live with a co-existing condition
- Most kids receive a sensory or special-needs diagnosis between ages 3 to 10 years.
- Many kids will not be eligible for special services and parents need help supporting day-to-day life at home.
Sensory issues are not unique to one specific diagnosis. This struck me immediately because even if Jack does not qualify for a SPD diagnosis, there is still the fact that cancer treatments are known to impact cognitive function – particularly information processing, memory, and organization/planning. We need help in those areas and the book addresses them immediately, explaining in the section titled “The Sensory Profile: Different Diagnoses, but the Same Core Challenges” that the following issues are discussed inside:
- Attention challenges
- Anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed
- Social and emotional challenges
- Low frustration tolerance and/or explosiveness
- Executive function challenges
Jack deals with all of these to some degree. And as his parent I struggle to help him deal with them in the appropriate manner, especially because I am stressed about other things so often. I’m sure a lot of other families deal with these issues, too – not only those who have diagnosed conditions.
This book has pictures and suggestions for how parents can (EASILY!) help their children focus on what is important by eliminating other sensory challenges that overwhelm their brains. I love this! I am not by nature a very organized person – I am easily overwhelmed by clutter and mess. With that said, I did find that some of these suggestions are things we are already doing to help Jack (and ourselves, frankly):
- Labeling toy bins so that he can quickly find what he needs without getting overly frustrated and giving up or throwing a fit
- Calming routines before bed – we read three books and snuggle before saying goodnight – if we don’t, Jack will thrash in his bed unable to calm down and sleep
- Picking out outfits ahead of time – this way he doesn’t struggle with the choice about what he “feels” like wearing
- Sorting Jack-specific food and snacks so that they are easy to see and accessible – he has his own shelf in the refrigerator
Things I want to do still:
- MORE labeling of bins and grouping of toys – according to Jack’s preferences
- Rotation of bins so that he gets a chance to play with different toys
- Visual instructions about the process of play (play, then clean up afterward)
- Build a quiet zone where he can calm himself and feel safe
- Buy tactile items – i.e. a bean bag chair and a mini trampoline – so that he doesn’t use our pets for this purpose
There are some fabulous suggestions for how to deal with homework, as well. Jack is easily frustrated and asks for breaks often, but we haven’t always been accommodating because we want him to hurry and get it done. But hurrying him tends to have the opposite effect – he gets more frustrated and ends up going slower because he’s overwhelmed. The book suggests building breaks into the homework time and offers ways to organize the homework load (i.e. do harder tasks first) and make it less stressful for the kids. I’m looking forward to trying these tips out this week.
And when I’m ready to delve deeper, there are exercises in the book to assess learning style, suggestions on organizations that may help, and even product recommendations. Can we say thorough?
If you want to check this book out, visit Carolyn Dalgliesh’s website to find out where to get your copy. And, hey, she has a Sensory Parenting blog, too!
For purposes of this review, I was provided with a free copy of “The Sensory Child Gets Organized” by the publisher, but all opinions here are my own.