Saturday, March 7, 2015

Using your Child's Sensory Needs as a Parenting Tool

Marc Landry (occupational Therapist) presented "Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder, Promoting Self-Regulation, Supporting Stress Management" at Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School on Friday January 24, 2014. I spent years trying to understand and help my son (John) with SPD…and I wondered if I could (maybe) miss the talk, save on the babysitter, and just stay home. I'm glad I didn't. Marc Landry is a great speaker….and he brought to light many things I've forgotten!

John has been attending Occupational Therapy for 6 years; it's helped him keep his sensory needs within a "normal" range…making our life at home much easier….that's my excuse for forgetting….
I've been using discipline to redirect misbehaviour. And what's wrong with that? Sounds good…except, is the behaviour really misbehaviour? I've been defining it as such….but I've forgotten that behaviour is a form of adapting and what I may call "misbehaviour" is just my child's way of adapting to his/her environment.

Interesting how things seem to fall together. I'm taking the the 52 Parenting Tools in 52 Weeks Challenge with Positive Discipline by Dr. Jane Nelson. January 19's parenting tool was "Listen". And I've realized that I've been reacting, correcting and trying to fix the behaviour without "listening" at all levels. I'm also reading (finally) the Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. Reminding me that I must "connect before directing"….but I'm "surviving instead of thriving"….

I'm grateful for those reminders. But before I lose you….I'll try to explain what I've forgotten and what Marc Landry helped me remember with an example.

One of the reoccurring "misbehaviours" and cause of "disharmony" in our household is 7 year old Kate's demeanour during mealtimes. Limbs and hair everywhere…..she can't sit still…she keeps getting up to give me a hug…, it's not cute….we're trying to teach her manners. Kindly reminding her about the importance of good posture will sometimes lead to a power struggle….Richard says she's improving….but I've been feeling like we're missing something….like we don't have the whole picture…how quickly I forget!

Kate has always benefitted from my knowledge in sensory processing and I've always felt like I've deflected what could have been possible problems by meeting her sensory needs…and that's the missing piece! I wish it was as simple as asking Kate what she needs and how we can help her stop fidgeting … but she won't answer with, "I need prioprioceptive input to stay engaged during dinner." Knowledge of sensory processes is a positive parenting tool for everyone! Since we've moved (house), many sensory toys have not been unpacked and Kate was the biggest user….She has always needed regular proprioceptive feedback, but monkey bars are gone, trampoline is gone…where's the bean bag? So Kate's misbehaviour is just Kate's way of adapting to her environment.

So where does Kate sit in the Sensory Modulation Continuum? She's Hypo-responsive…she needs to fidget to bring herself to a learning state. She has signs of low tone as she lethargically leans on the dinning table with her head falling into her plate….then she'll jump up and give me a hug to satisfy her proprioceptive need…..(To learn more about SPD, go to

So what do we do? We need to get the trampoline back, the monkey bars…..get Kate to monkey around before supper. Maybe, she needs to sit on an exercise ball or wrap heavy elastics around the legs of her chair, so she can fidget with her feet. Maybe, a bowl of fidget items on the dining table.

Sensory Processing (Disorder?) to the rescue again….

As your SPD Parent Host, I am always available to answer questions about your child's sensory needs. Please feel free to comment or fill out my comment form (on the right bar).

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects at least one in twenty children. Children with SPD don't process or experience sensory information the way other typical children do; therfore, they don't behave the way other children do. They struggle to perform tasks that come easier for other children. Consequently they suffer a loss of quality in their social, personal, emotional and academic life.

The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation is dedicated to continue their research into the knowledge and treatment of SPD, so that, as Lucy Jane Miller writes in her book "Sensations Kids", "the millions of sensational children currently "muddling through" daily life will enjoy the same hope and help that research and recognition already have bestowed on coutless other conditions that once baffled science and disrupted lives."