Post by: Dr. Jane Humphries and Kari Rains, Creative Educational Strategies and Services, Oklahoma City, OK
“Stop squirming!” “Sit still!” “Would you please stop touching everything!” Are these phrases you have said to your children or heard others say to them? Parents, teachers, and other caregivers are always asking, “What can I do with a fidgety child?” At a time when there are a multitude of different diagnoses floating around, each one comes with an expectation by parents and other adults to deal with and meet the fidgety child’s needs. Expectations for individual children can sometimes be quite difficult to meet in a group situation, as well as in the home. In group environments, at home, or at relative’s homes, access to ideas and funding to help is often limited. Though there may be obstacles to overcome, it is important for everyone involved with a fidgety child to understand some of the basics behind sensory processing issues in young children.
Behavior is how a child tells you something they cannot tell you in words. Children with sensory sensitivities many times display behaviors such as difficulty focusing on tasks, difficulty inhibiting their desire or need to touch objects and/or people, and engaging in constant movement and excessive talking. Some basic ideas that surround sensory processing issues are:
- Sensory processing is a neurological process.
- The brain gathers sensory information from the environment and then organizes that information to help our bodies respond.
- We use our senses to learn about what is going on around us and to interact appropriately in our environment. Through touch, hearing, taste, sight, smell, movement and balance, we learn to interact and organize the sensory information around us.
- We process the sensory information in our world simultaneously.
- When the sensory system is intact, the child’s accessibility to learn is on “go.”
- Sensory processing becomes a problem when it interferes with learning and daily living activities.
During a time when society is quick to label, we believe it is critical to recognize age appropriate behavior. For example, it is very normal for a toddler or two-year-old to touch everything…this is how they learn! However, an older four-year-old who has difficulty sitting on a carpet square during group time, to the point that participation is impossible, may feel like they are sitting on sandpaper and may not be able to sit for any length of time. It’s likely to be difficult for this child to attend to any or all group activities. Rather than labeling them as a “behavior problem,” simple strategies and ideas used on a consistent basis are suggested.
Children who struggle with sensory issues need a variety of strategies and guidance from caregivers. They also benefit from having something to fidget with. To assist a child having trouble sitting on a carpet square, use a bean bag chair or pillow to help. Sitting on the outer edges of the group instead of in the middle may help children who have fidgety feelings. Establishing physical boundaries by using big boxes filled with packing peanuts, beans or blankets help children learn spatial awareness. Blanket rides on heavy blankets or comforters also create a sense of movement and meet the needs of children who need to move.
Transitions are often difficult for the sensory sensitive child. Caregivers can help manage transitions with timers, posted schedules with movable pictures that provide a visual prompt for children to follow. Consistent signals, pictures, songs, or verbal cues given by adults can aid in successful transitions. Providing a variety of sensory fidgets to hold and manipulate include; a variety of textured balls, Touch-E Busy Hands TM , or small stuffed animals in baskets within the child’s environment allows opportunities for touch and fidget.
Finally, adults’ pre-planning a variety of jobs that children can complete is highly recommended. Carrying pre-made bags or backpacks with appropriate weight throughout the day or evening provide an anchor and sense of security. Holding and carrying, taking, and getting, and ultimately having movement as part of the sensory equation is what these children desire and deserve to meet their needs!
Know that dreaming up strategies and ideas will ALWAYS be on-going! Flexibility by adults and a willingness to seek out additional ideas is paramount when supporting fidgety children. What might work one day may have to be completely changed the next.
We welcome you to join us on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/cessfiddlefocus as we continually share ideas for fidgety children and adults!