Monday, January 16, 2017

How Do You Talk to Parents about Sensory Sensitivities?

How Do You Talk Parents about Sensory Senstivities

After reading a thought provoking blog post from Christopher Alterio,OTR, on Deconstructing the myth of clothing sensitivity as a ‘sensory processing disorder’, it really made me think about how we talk to parents as pediatric therapists.  Not just about clothing sensitivity or other sensory sensitivities but about any concern that a parent comes to discuss with a pediatric occupational or physical therapist.  I strongly recommend that you read the entire blog post.  In general, the goal of the blog post is to “change the online narrative that unnecessarily pathologizes this issue as a ‘sensory processing disorder.'”  I agree with Mr. Alterio’s position in the post but it made me consider the changing job description of pediatric therapists that seems to be evolving.

We frequently read complaints about schools, Common Core and teachers placing some high level expectations on children.  What about parents?  We too have raised the bar of what we expect from our children.  It appears as if society wants every child to fit into a perfect, normal mold which is impossible.  Each and every child is unique with his/her own talents.  We seem to forget this all too often.  Parents quickly do go to the internet to search out answers for behavioral concerns.  And like Mr Alterio said, they are real concerns.

Parenting is a completely different job than it was years ago.  In households with two parents, frequently they both work.  In single parent households usually the parent is working.  This situation alone raises the expectations that are put on children.  Let’s compare a household 50 years ago to today:

Sensory motor experiences as a child years ago (where one parent or grandparent was home to take care of the child) – take a bath once a week, get dressed by yourself at a leisurely pace, decreased food choices, more unstructured free play, more outdoor time, less television time,  no computer/tablet/phone time, etc

Sensory motor experiences as a child today – take a bath every day or every other day, get dressed at lightening speed, increase in different foods and flavorings, little to no unstructured free play, decreased outdoor time, increased computer time,longer school day and increased homework.

Is it possible, that children have not changed over time but our expectations as parents are unreasonable leading to increased meltdowns, tantrums and sensory sensitivities that affect our daily routines more than years past?  There are of course a small percentage of children who do not fit into this category when it comes to sensory processing and these are the children who may need direct occupational or physical therapy services for a period of time.  But the parents of children whose days are disrupted due to sensory preferences and sensitivities can be difficult.  We are constantly in rush mode.  If you work outside the home here is an example of a daily routine that I am talking about –

Get kids ready for day care or school resulting in quick morning meals (if at all), dress quickly, make lunches, gather up all school supplies and get out the door.   “Johnny” doesn’t want to put his socks and what happens?  Chaos!  Tempers are short, Johnny is rushed and the socks might be uncomfortable.  You have to go so you grab Johnny a different pair of socks and try again.  Still no go – Johnny refuses to wear the socks, you are already late for work and the kids may miss the bus.  Forget it – Johnny goes to school with no socks on or you force him to wear the socks he finds uncomfortable and they bother him all day.  Johnny comes home from school tired out from the hectic morning, all day long at school and now homework expectations.  After homework, eat a quick dinner and off to the soccer field for a game.  Now Johnny needs to put on his tight soccer socks, shin guards and uniform shirt.  Again, running late maybe you help or maybe you change the socks.  Sooner or later he and possibly even you as the parent melts down due to fatigue.

I am sure some of the above story sounds familiar to many parents.  It may not be the socks, but shoes, a sweater, lunch choices, etc. Whatever it is, parents do need our help and expertise on childhood development.  It is almost as if this has fallen into the laps of pediatric therapists.  When you think of job descriptions, no one else looks a childhood functions, motor skills and life skills like we do as therapists. Sure there are pediatricians, nurses, early childhood teachers, etc who can help as well but they are usually inundated with child after child and can not take the time to educate parents on how to help their children either through verbal prompts, environmental modifications or schedule changes.

We do need to be VERY careful not to jump to conclusions about every concern a parent comes to us with since there are so many factors that influence a young child’s behaviors and motor actions.   We do NEED to help educate parents on how to make their lives and their children lives more fulfilling.

Please take the time to read the blog post, he offers some very good advice – would love to hear your thoughts.

The post How Do You Talk to Parents about Sensory Sensitivities? appeared first on Your Therapy Source.

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