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5 Things Only Parents of Kids With Sensory Issues Will Understand

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As moms, we’re all too familiar with the meltdowns children have from time to time. After all, almost every kid loses it when you refuse to buy a candy bar or when you tell them it’s time to go to bed. For moms of kids with sensory issues, though, these meltdowns can occur much more frequently and for reasons beyond their control.

Believe it or not, children with sensory sensitivities aren’t as uncommon as you’d think. In fact, a 2013 study estimated that anywhere from 5 to 15 percent of children have sensory processing disorder. Yet many moms look at us with judgmental eyes when our child has a meltdown in the middle of a restaurant. Why? Because there are some things only moms of kids with sensory issues understand.

1. The Panic of Using a Public Restroom

Many kids react to loud sounds or strange smells. However, when your kid struggles with a sensory disorder, places like public restrooms are a breeding ground for meltdowns. Your child may panic as soon as they enter the bathroom and hear the hand dryers or start screaming and crying as soon as someone flushes a toilet.

Then, getting them to wash their hands after you finally convince then to move their hands away from their ears is a whole new challenge. Will you be able to find an acceptable water temperature? Will the soap’s smell bother them? Will someone flush a toilet or start a hand dryer while your child is washing their hands?

If you’re lucky, you’ll find a store that offers single-stall restrooms or have a separate “family bathroom” so you can take your sensory sensitive child to the toilet without a meltdown or two along the way.

2. The Beauty of Tagless Shirts

Many kids with sensory sensitivities also struggle with clothing to the point that some of them prefer to strip down anytime they’re at home. Clothing can feel constrictive, and things like tags or snaps can drive kids with sensory disorders up a wall!

This means that most moms of sensory-sensitive kiddos (myself included) spend hours searching for shirts without tags, pants without buttons or zippers, or, depending on the kid, even tops without any sort of graphics. Finding the right clothing can be a struggle, and you may even end up with lots of clothes that go straight into the donation pile after failed attempts to wear them.

If you’re already a fan of Target, though, you’ll love them even more after reading this: The company’s Cat & Jack line specifically focuses on adaptive concepts like no tags, soft materials, and even zip-off sleeves! The company’s goal is to make clothing that’s accessible to all children, including those with sensory sensitivities as well as children with physical disabilities and chronic health conditions. Seriously, it’s a game-changer.

3. Why Hugs Should Always Feel Like Squeezes

While some children with sensory issues are what’s called “sensory avoidant,” others are “sensory seekers,” meaning they actively seek out items and activities to soothe their senses. These kids adore certain forms of touch, like hugs or tickles.

When you’re the mom of a sensory seeker, you end up spending lots of time engaging in tight embraces (or “big squeezes” as my daughter says). You know deep pressure can help calm and soothe your child, and it’s not harmful to bury them in blankets and push down on their muscles — they actually love it!

4. The Struggle That Comes With Every Meal

If your kid battles sensory sensitivities, then you’re probably all too aware of the many issues that can come with every meal. The food will always be too cold, too hot, too soft, too crunchy, or… you get the point. Your kid probably eats a very limited diet and, in some cases, probably ends up having a meltdown if you try to put an unfamiliar food on their plate.

However, there are ways moms can try to adapt safe foods to fit in some new and different ingredients. Alane Boyd of BurgerFit has found ways to get her son Fletcher to eat vegetables without even realizing it! One of Boyd’s goals in creating BurgerFit was actually to tackle this exact issue. She says, “90% of adults and children do not meet their daily vegetable intake recommendation. BurgerFit can help change that.”

It’s worth a shot to try out some new recipes if it’ll possibly expand your child’s daily diet, amiright?

5. Why Swings Are a Godsend

Remember what I said about sensory seekers earlier? Well, they often love things like swings, trampolines and slides. These items help children feed their sensory cravings while also providing exercise and core strengthening, which for my kiddo is a win-win.

Swinging gives children with sensory issues a way to neutralize disruptions to their vestibular system. In other words, the back-and-forth motion of swings feels soothing and can calm a child with sensory sensitivities, which is why many physical and occupational therapists have special indoor swings to use during sessions. Jumping on trampolines provides a similar sort of sensory sensation, which is why small indoor trampolines have become all the rage with moms of kids with sensory sensitivities.

If you’re a fellow mom of a child with sensory processing disorder, know that you’re not alone. There are more of us out there who understand these five struggles (and many, many others) you deal with on a daily basis.

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Originally published: July 29, 2020
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