Alert

If you are visiting this page to register for the sensory processing difficulties workshop, please read the below information and click the section 'training for parent / carers' to register. 

What is sensory processing?pexels-photo-7005405.jpeg

We all receive and process sensory information continuously throughout the day. For most people this is not a problem but for some children this can cause difficulties with behaviour and concentration, as well as carrying out everyday activities. 
 
Each of the sensory systems is responsible for providing us with information about the world around us. Sometimes these systems work too well and too much information is taken in, overwhelming your child and making them avoid certain situations (e.g. covering ears when noises are too loud). Sometimes they don’t work as well as they should and in those cases your child is likely to seek more of the sensation (e.g. spinning round and round to feel the movement).  Sometimes this is known as being hypo- sensitive or hyper-sensitive.

Every child has their own profile and like us can vary on a daily basis in how they respond to different sensory experiences.   What they may be able to tolerate one day, on an other day may be overwhelming and how your child responds to sensory stimulation is an indicator of what their nervous system requires.  Every child is likely to have a mixed profile, being hyper in some senses, whilst hypo in others.

We all process and respond to sensory stimuli differently. We do not all share a like for the same foods, we do not all like loud music or enjoy the same fragrances.  This is no different for children with sensory processing difficulties, however their profile is often more extreme.  It important to understand a child's unique profile in order to support them appropriately at home and in their educational setting. 

There are several ways that a person can be affected by how they process sensory stimuli.  How we process sensory information effects how we are able to participate in everyday task and activities. For your child this can mean problems paying attention in class or problems coping with things like going to the dentist etc.

Our 7 sensory systems

  • Auditory Processing -how we hear sound            
  • Tactile processing- how we experience touch
  • Vestibular processing -how we feel movement
  • Proprioception -our body awareness
  • Visual processing -how we see things
  • Gustatory processing - our sense of taste
  • Olfactory processing-our sense of smell 

The most successful intervention is to manage rather than change your child’s sensory needs and this 24 hour approach is crucial. It helps to keep a diary of your child’s typical day so you can identify triggers and responses to situations.

  • Identify your child’s sensory strengths and differences
  • Modify the task your child is struggling with
  • Develop strategies to help your child manage their own sensory needs
  • Have a sensory tool kit to  help with self-regulation. Make it fun and meaningful for your child and allow them to choose the items
  • Adapt the environment with low arousal, create a safe space, provide ways to communicate if the environment is becoming too much.  Think about the home and educational setting
  • Adapt your expectations as a parent or carer and decide on priorities/ targets.  Be understanding and realise some situations may be too much, make adaptions so your child can engage
  • Teach coping strategies
  • Ensure your child has regular sensory breaks and time for movement. Go to the park after school if you can
  • Prepare for any new or difficult sensory experiences/ environments in advance

Because the world can be overwhelming and unpredictable, some children engage in self-soothing behaviours known as 'stimming'.

What does it look like?
Stimming is a set of stereotypic behaviours such as rocking, spinning, pacing, jumping, flapping hands and repetition of words and phrases.

Why do children stim?
It can help block out other stimulation. The stimulation also helps to regulate a poor functioning central nervous system and the repetitiveness helps the child feel in control. It can also help your child to concentrate on the task at hand.

Is stimming important?
Yes. Because of the benefits, it is important to let your child stim and provide them with opportunity to do so. In fact we all stim in some way. If you have twiddled you hair, tapped your feet or bitten your nails, then you have engaged in stimming.

  • Sensory tools can be integrated into your child’s day,  they provide different degrees of deep pressure touch and proprioceptive stimulation
  • Sensory tools consist of things like ‘chewy’s, move and sit cushion, wrist weights and weighted jackets/blankets 
  • Consider what tools are needed, are they for calming or alerting your child?
  • How often does your child need these sensory inputs?
  • Who will implement them and supervise use?
  • Can your child participate in the selection and use of these tools?

Weighted lap pads.  These are weighted small blankets that can be placed on your child’s legs when they are sitting at the dining table, when doing their homework or at their desk at school.  They provide a calming effect and help a child to relax

Weighted shoulder strap.  These are designed to sit around your child’s neck and again have a calming effect and can help reduce fidgeting

Weighted jackets  These are commercially available coats and more often gilets that have weighted sections built into the jacket.  They apply deep pressure and help with proprioception

Therapy/peanut balls  These are fun for your child and have sensory as well as physical benefits.  They can be used for both calming and alerting

Please see our YouTube video for activities you and your child can do with a therapy ball

Move and sit cushion  This is an angled seat cushion that can be used at home or school and is filled with air.  It promotes a good sitting posture as well as helping those children who fidget

Scooter boards   These are good for use at school where there is adequate space.  They are ideal for upper extremity strengthening, movement, motor planning and vestibular activities.  They consist of a sturdy plastic scooter board with handles that your child moves by laying on it on their tummy and propelling their self around

Body sock  This is a commercially available piece of equipment that your child puts on and has fun with either jumping, dancing or yoga.  They are great for proprioception, and provide a tactile and deep pressure experience

Please see our YouTube video for activities you and your child can do with a body sock    Video coming soon

  • Consider both timed and specific activities throughout the day and week as well as those quick supports to use ‘right now’
  • Establish a routine –remember it’s not just a quick fix but establishing a way of life
  • You may need to be persistent and try something a number of times to evaluate whether it works
  • Have choices like on a menu rather than following an ‘exercise programme’ so it is meaningful
  • Sensory based activities work best when incorporated into everyday activities- therefore developing  a ‘sensory lifestyle’
  • Activities that are valued (and meaningful) and that have a purpose will have more benefit and be more motivating
  • Try to make them fun!
  • The more involved your child is in the activity, the more sensory information they will get out of the activity

Supporting your child at home

  • Routine and visual timetables to show what is happening during the day
  • Keep a note of your child’s triggers for new unfamiliar activities
  • Provide a space for time out
  • Avoid visual and auditory stimulation that is not necessary
  • Consider how ‘busy’ your home is, light, clutter etc.

Supporting your child out and about

  • Whenever possible, consider additional planning for special events such as birthday parties, football matches. Is there a quick exit route if your child becomes stressed? Is there a special toy/routine/sensory tool that can be used to calm them? 
  • Consider when to carry out everyday activities. Is there a quieter supermarket, off-peak time or on-line shopping? Is there a quiet space available e.g. dining area? 
  • Consider wearing a backpack when in busy environments
  • Consider the wearing of snug clothing e.g. lycra undergarments
  • Consider the wearing of earplugs or music player with headphones
  • Consider using a fidget toy to distract your child

  • Sensory Stories are simple stories that teach those children with mainly over-reactive sensory photo-1583468991267-3f068b607ae1.jpegdifficulties to self-initiate sensory strategies to help them more successfully participate in everyday situations they find challenging
  • They are meant to be read regularly and can be used for challenging daily tasks such as getting a haircut or getting the bus to school
  • The story opens with a brief description of an area of activity
  • This is followed by a brief description of the sensory experiences your child may have when engaging in that activity
  • It is then acknowledged that these experiences may evoke a negative response
  • Then several strategies are described to help your child prepare for or cope with the activity
  • As the activity is further described, additional sensory strategies are suggested
  • Some final strategies are recommended for your child to implement after the activity is over
  • The story ends with a positive statement about the experience of participating in the activity
  • Coming soon video of child reading out their sensory story

Managing challenging everyday tasks – what you can do to help

Why is it challenging? 

Your child may not understand why their hands need to be washed or they may dislike the feeling of running water.  Some children cannot tolerate the strong smells of soaps or they be worried about the loud noise that hand dryers make in public toilets.

What can you do to help?

  • Provide visual instructions to teach and prompt the sequential steps involved in hand washing. This could be displayed at the sink at home or in nursery/school and a portable visual system used for when your are out and about
  • Use visual symbols for the process of handwashing
  • Add hand washing to a visual timetable at the relevant times e.g. after using the toilet, before eating, after playing at the park
  • Explain the importance of hand washing in a way which is meaningful for your child e.g. to keep our hands clean, to remove germs and bugs. This can be done through a social narrative or your child could research it themselves
  • If your child is tactile sensitive to the sensation of water running over their hands, teach them to fill the sink and soak their hands instead. If this is still not tolerable, alternatives include using a facecloth or hand wipe to wash their hands, or using a hand gel
  • Provide soaps with mild or no smell if your child cannot tolerate strong smells
  • Teach your child to dry their hands with paper towels in public toilets if they dislike the hand dryer. Toilet roll may have to be used if hand towels are not available. They may also need to be taught to put their hands over their ears or to use ear defenders if they cannot endure the noise of other people using the dryers

Why is it challenging?

Some children may have a fear of the noise of a toilet or bathroom or they could be worried about sitting on the toilet itself.  Often children with sensory problems may not actually sense when they are wet or soiled and sometimes this is referred to as interoceptive awareness.

What can you do to help?

  • Place a toilet symbol on your child’s visual timetable at regular times to establish pattern of going to the toilet
  • Give your child a visual card to request when they need to go to the toilet
  • Be aware of the signals that your child needs to go to the toilet and direct them using visual symbols so they associate the symbol with the toilet
  • Provide a visual activity system so your child can follow step-by-step the sequence of using the toilet. This can be placed on the toilet door or beside the toilet
  • Ensure the same visual system is used across home, education and when out and about
  • Dress your child in clothes which are easy to manage e.g. elasticated waste bands and velcro fastenings
  • If your child will only wee or poo in their nappy/pull-up, encourage  them to stand beside the toilet, or sit on the toilet, when doing pees or poos but still wearing nappy or pull-up. The nappy/pull-up can then be removed at a later date when they have become more familiar and comfortable with sitting on the toilet
  • Decorate the cistern with some fun stickers. Replace the toilet seat with a themed one chosen by your child
  • Explain why people need to use the toilet and stay with them if this helps them feel more comfortable
  • Demonstrate to your child that there is nothing to be worried about  by letting them see you using the toilet
  • Show your child the workings of the toilet to take away any fears they may have relating to where the water comes from/goes to, how the flushing system works and what it is that makes the noise when the handle is flushed or pushed 
  • Encourage your child to put the toilet lid down to reduce the flushing noise
     

Why is it challenging?

Some children my lack the understanding of why it is important to bath or shower or they make dislike the feeling of running water on their skin.  They may dislike the enclosed environment of the  bathroom and the smell of strong soaps or shampoos can be overwhelming.

What can you do to help?

  • Add bath/shower to your child’s visual timetable to prepare them for when it will happen
  • Set up a visual timer (e.g. sand timer, stop watch, alarm on phone) to indicate how long your child needs to stay in the bath/shower
  • Provide a set of visual instructions of how to bath/shower e.g. the body parts that need to be washed. Laminate and place on the bathroom wall
  • Use soaps, shower gels, shampoos etc. which have no or minimal scent. Alternatively, find a scent which your child really likes as this may provide a motivation to bath/shower
  • Play some of their favourite music to distract them
  • Add bubbles or bath bombs to make it more fun
  • Let them play with toys in the bath or wash their own doll for example
  • If your child likes deep pressure to their skin they may prefer to wash with a harsher texture e.g. body brush, hand mit. This can help to keep them calm and regulated in the bath or shower
  • If your child does not like the sensation of the water, increase their tolerance by very gradually increasing the time spent in the bath or shower 

Why is it challenging?

Some children may not understand why it is important to keep our teeth clean.  They may be sensitive to the sensation of their teeth being brushed or they may dislike the taste or texture of toothpaste.

What can you do to help?

  • Include teeth brushing on your child’s visual timetable so it becomes part of the consistent daily routine for them
  • Provide a visual activity system so your child can follow step-by-step the sequence of teeth brushing.
  • Explain the purpose of brushing teeth through the use of a social story
  • Encourage your child to read about  the importance of brushing their teeth if they are able to do so
  • Ask your dentist or dental nurse for any useful resources explaining the importance of brushing teeth
  • Take your child to the shop to select their own toothbrush as this may improve motivation
  • Try different types of toothbrushes e.g. hard/soft bristles, electric, musical
  • Try different pressures when brushing your child’s teeth.  Some children who are tactile (touch) sensitive will prefer firmer pressure as this is often more tolerable, and sometimes calming. Others may prefer more gentle pressure
  • Trial using a clean flannel with toothpast on, or a finger brush
  • An electric toothbrush may help if your child if they has reduced hand strength. The vibration can be calming for your child
  • Consider other flavours of toothpaste as mint is often too strong
  • Use a visual timer such as a sand timer to show your child how long their teeth should be brushed. An alternative is to let your child listen to their favourite song when brushing their teeth and when the song has ended, they can stop brushing. This is often a useful distractor
     

Why is it challenging?

Some children may have both tactile and auditory sensitivities to the experience of going to the dentist.  It is a very sterile environment with noisy and unfamiliar equipment and some children cannot tolerate the unusual smells in dentists.  Dental appointments are infrequent so there is no opportunity to become desensitised to the activity.

What can you do to help?

  • Use a visual timetable  for the activity to show what will happen step by step at the appointment
  • Use photographs of the waiting area, dental chair, dental equipment etc. which can be looked at and discussed prior to the appointment in order to help prepare your child
  • Use a social story to explain why dental appointments are required and what will happen at the dentist
  • Developing a desensitisation programme may familiarise your child with dental visits and reduce any worries they have.  This could involve going to the dentist several times before the appointment without  having an examination. For example, your child may just go to the reception on their initial visit, then the waiting room on the next, then sit in the dental couch without any examination just getting used to the environment and equipment. This should then reduce anxiety levels when the time comes for the full dental appointment
  • It may be useful if your child has their appointment first thing in the day or later in the day to avoid sitting for a length of time in a busy waiting area 
  • Ensure your child knows how to express any pain and ask for a break e.g. raising hand or wiggling their feet
  • Allow your child to listen to music to relax and block out noises or use ear defenders
  • If your child dislikes the reclining chair, ask if they can be examined in a more upright position.  The dentist being positioned over them can be overwhelming
  • You could purchase simple dental equipment (e.g. mirror) and use regularly at home to desensitise your child or if your child is youger play 'being at the denstist' with pretend medical play kits
     

 

Why is it challenging?

Some children are  sensitive to the textures of different food items, causing refusal and aversions and sometimes children are sensitive to the taste of different food items. They may only like bland tastes, or only tolerate a small range of tastes, subsequently leading to a restricted diet.

Children with sensory differences like the predictability and routine of always eating the same food items. This may be particularly apparent at times of change or transition, or at times when they feel other parts of their lives lack predictability and routine. Eating the same restricted range of food, however, may be limiting nutritional intake and their health.  For some children the social demands associated with mealtimes may cause a negative association with eating. 

What can you do to help?

  • Do not try to persuade your child to eat specific food items. Continue to provide the preferred food items but leave other choices sitting on the table, giving them the freedom to try them without any pressure
  • Reduce anxiety at mealtimes by controlling social demands where you can. A calmer mealtime experience will develop more positive associations with eating.  Routine is important for example same seating arrangements
  • Involve your child in meal planning, shopping and food preparation. This will give them the opportunity to discuss and explore a more balanced diet.  Let them write a shopping list with you
  • Encourage your child to research nutritious foods. In school or at home, they could be given a list of nutrients to research in order to discover the benefits and what foods contain different nutrients 
  • Model your behaviour and eat together as a family when possible.  Involve your child and encourage them to help set the table and get drinks ready
  • If introducing new food items, try a desensitisation approach. This involves very gradually introducing a new food, giving your chid time to adjust to the new taste/texture and develop a tolerance for it. This should not be done at mealtimes as it can increase anxiety. Choose another time of the day instead and place it on your child’s visual timetable. These first steps in desensitisation should only involve looking at the food item and then gradually progressing on to touching it and smelling it. Your child should only be encouraged to taste it when they feel ready to do so. When they can tolerate the new food, it can then be introduced into mealtimes
  • Don’t be put off as parents/carers and slowly and persistently try different foods
  • Use positive reinforcement throughout, praise not only your child but other siblings
  • Offer at least one preferred food at every meal, amonst several other foods on the table for exposure
  • Allow your child to taste a food and spit it out in to a napkin or container if they are unable to swallow it
  • Do not try to hide more nutritious food into favourite food items (e.g. mixing fruit puree into ice cream or small vegetable pieces on to a pizza). This risks putting your child off that food item, thus further restricting their diet. Be open and honest when introducing new food items, and encourage your child to be involved in these choices 
  • Try a colour coded plate to visually demonstrate how much of different food items should be eaten in a meal

Why is it challenging? 

Your head is one of the most sensitive parts of the body and people often love or dislike their head being touched. For some children the noise and smell in the hairdressers may often.

What can you do to help?

  • Use a visual timetable to show your child what will happen at the hairdressers
  • Consider the hairdresser coming to your child at home
  • A mirror can be useful as your child can see what is happening at all times
  • Try going to the hairdressers at a quieter time.  Some hair dressers have their own children's area.
  • Have your child apply deep pressure through their legs or hands whilst they are sitting in the hairdresser’s chair. Encourage your child to sit on their hands whilst they are having their hair cut
  • Give definite time limits to the task; for example say ‘we will count down from then and then we will stop cutting’
  • Try earphones/earplugs to block out the noise of clippers/dryer etc.  Music in the background may help as a distraction
  • Use a hair dryer to blow away all bits of hair after cutting to avoid irritation on skin
  • Allow your child to fidget with a toy or squeeze a small ball etc. whilst they are having their hair cut.
  • Do your research and phone the hairdresser beforehand, so everyone involved knows what to expect. Maybe they have some tips they use and check with other parents for local recommendations
  • Allow your child to play with a toy style head and play at 'going to the hairdressers' with pretend play kits
     

Why is it challenging?

Some children do not like the feel of toilet paper or they could be fearful of sitting on the toilet.  Often children with sensory differences are  seeking out sensation from texture, smell or movement of their arms during the smearing action.  Your child may be seeking attention or wanting a reaction.

What can you do to help?

  • Try to work out why your child is smearing, is it medical, sensory or behavioural
  • Have your child seen by their GP to ensure there are no physical reasons such as pain
  • Replace toilet paper with soft flushable wipes
  • Teach your child the wiping process and use hand over hand at first to give them confidence
  • Ensure you child has a sensory rich experiences via other means such as therapy putty, play-dough, silly gooh and noisy putty
  • Distract your child using an activity which they enjoy when the smearing normally takes place such as music or singing
  • Avoid asking your child to clear up after themselves or making them feel they are in trouble as this may reinforce the behaviour and encourage your child to repeat it
  • Try not to make a fuss or draw attention to the smearing
  • Use a body stocking garment to prevent your child from accessing their faeces. Alternatively, using tight fitting undergarments or if the behaviour is occurring at bedtimes, a onesie, placed on backwards with the zip located at your child’s back will prevent them from accessing their faeces
     

Why is it challenging?

Your child could be anxious about going to nursery or school and often the ‘chaos’ in the morning and the need to do a lot of tasks involving sensory experiences can be overwhelming.

What can you do to help?

  • Try and do as much as you can the evening before, such as packed lunch, clothes laid out, school bag packed
  • Use a visual timetable for the morning plan with guidance for times
  • Try and stick to a routine during the week
  • Talk to your child the night before and reinforce the morning plan
  • Try a reward chart for when your child has done something on their own
  • As a parent/carer it may help if you can rise before them and get some of your tasks done so you can focus more on your child
  • Try and keep a calming atmosphere by minimising noise such as the TV or radio.  Try some relaxing music
  • Use a timer if needed so your child knows how much time they have for specific tasks
  • Make time for breakfast as this is a very important meal
     

Why is it challenging?

Some children are scared of the dark.  Often children are over stimulated before bedtime or there may be too many distracting toys in their room.

What can you do to help?

  • A calming bedtime routine provides structure and security and is part of good ‘sleep hygiene’. If your child knows to expect the same thing every evening then they will reach a relaxed state quicker (e.g. bath, teeth, story, bed)
  • Avoid computer games and stimulating videos/use of the tablet just before bedtime as they alert the brain, making it harder for your child to ‘switch off’
  • Try some deep massage prior to bed time; you can use calming scented body lotions with your child such as lavender
  • Try a heavier blanket over your child when in bed
  • Try your child sleeping in a sleeping bag or swaddling your child in a blanket
  • Try different types of pyjamas, such as tighter or looser fitting pyjamas to see what your child prefers
  • Check seams for loose threads or labels which may irritate your child’s tactile system
  • Consider a bed tent to block out distractions 
  • A small night light with a warm glow may help (but not bright enough to cast shadows) if your child is afraid of the dark
  • Have neutral colour on the walls. Try to limit the visual distractions in the bedroom i.e. busy pictures on the walls, toys and games stacked around room
  • Try dark blinds to cut down the light or black out curtains
  • Reading a nice story before bed may help to relax your child
  • Make a small space for your child to sleep in – some children like their bed pushed against the wall so that they can push their bodies against a wall, perhaps with a large teddy or extra pillows pressing against their other side
  • Try placing the mattress on the floor if your child is afraid of heights
  • Ensure an organised bedroom – try to keep it clean and uncluttered to help reduce distractions
     

 

Useful equipment websites

Several interactive questionnaires are available for use produced and written by the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Children’s Occupational Therapy team.  They provide useful age specific information to help you and your child.

For parents and carers in Lincolnshire there is the opportunity to attend virtual training on how to support your child with sensory differences.

The training is online using the resources on this webpage which we hope you find helpful and is followed up by a 2 hour long workshop on Zoom.  The session is led by a behavioural specialist and covers the main sensory systems, how they impact children on a daily basis and what practical strategies, modifications, adaptions and equipment you can use at home to support your child.  It does not aim to give a diagnois for your child.

By sensory processing difficulties we mean;

  • Sensitivity to certain sensations such as loud noises, smells, the feel of their clothes or another person’s touch. Common sounds may be painful or overwhelming; the light touch of a shirt may chafe the skin, and these experiences interfere with the child’s ability to engage in daily activities
  • Avoiding these sensations through certain behaviours
  • Lacking awareness of/not being sensitive enough to certain sensations such as food around their mouth, movement and body position. Being unable to tell where limbs are in space or not being able to engage in conversation or play
  • Actively seeking sensations through behaviours such as chewing non-food items, fidgeting or being generally on the go

Prior to attending the session you are encouraged to look and try some of the resources on this website, including the interactive questionnaires.

As part of training, you will be required to commit to following strategies discussed and to complete a 12 week diary as part of the evidence that you have tried these at home.

The aim of the diary is to help you understand some of the triggers that cause the behavioural responses in your child's typical day, what strategies you have tried and what has worked well or not so well.

The diary is attached here and can be printed off for ease of use at home.   You are also encouraged to share this with your child's educational establishment if they are struggling at nursery/school.

The dates for the training are

  • 24 May 2022 at 10:30
  • 26 July 2022 at 10:30
  • 30 August 2022 at 10:30
  • 3 October 2022 at 10:30
  • 29 November 2022 at 10:30
  • 13 December 2022 at 10:30
  • 17 January 2022 at 10:30
  • 14 March 2023 at 10:30

Please visit our training section for the details to book via Eventbrite. Please read the terms and conditions and the privacy statement on Eventbrite before proceeding with your booking.