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Awareness of Your Child’s NeedsI was a lucky parent. After “mandatory” 6 weeks of crying (somewhere between 6 weeks and 3 months), my healthy baby settled into a predictable routine and was easily soothed. She slept when she was supposed to, was a champion nurser and was not easily bothered by change of scenery. She grew up into a happy and very talkative toddler, adjusted relatively easily to a preschool environment and, in general, was an “angel child” in terms of her behavior and temperament. The terms “sensory needs” didn’t enter my awareness until she was about 4 years old.
One day out of the blue my 4 year old told me, I like biting myself. It feels good. To say that I was surprised was an understatement. I’ve never seen her display any “quirks” before – no thumb sucking, no biting. She also possessed a good attention span for a 4 year old and was able to follow multi-step directions with ease. I didn’t let her know I was surprised. Instead, I calmly asked, When do you bite yourself? That’s when it tumbled out of her, I hate naps in preschool. They make us lay on cots and they don’t let me read. I don’t want to sleep, and I am bored. When I am bored, I bite. This explained why I had never seen this behavior at home – the need to bite was related to her desire to stay “in touch” with reality and not to slip away into unwanted sleep. This made me focus more on my daughter need for touch which until then I considered perfectly normal.
Need for Touch
We all programmed to want touch, especially human touch, but, as with every sensory system, there is a wide range of normal when it comes to tactile input. Some kids are hypersensitive to touch and might object to specific textures, avoid being hugged and be very sensitive to temperature changes. Melissa at The Imagination Soup has a powerful story about getting to diagnosis for her anxious child who was over-sensitive to touch and finding therapies that worked for her sensitivities. Kara at ALLterNATIVE Learning shared her own struggles with tactile defensiveness as a child and an adult.
Smarty is on the opposite side of “normal” when it comes to tactile – she is a super-cuddly tomboy. She adores roughhousing games when she is held and tickled, and, at the same time, she is very cuddly. She loves going barefoot, prefers as little clothing as possible (not because she is sensitive to textures, but because she enjoys feeling objects with her whole body), enjoys messy play (sticky textures are exception to that), and pretty open to new tastes. It’s all wonderful, isn’t it? Well, not always. Since she is not super-sensitive to pain, scab picking has been an ongoing problem for us. We often had to bribe and threaten to keep her hands away from scabs and let her minor injuries a chance to heal. And then there is biting… Luckily, biting only seems to come in the periods of extreme boredom, so it’s almost like “a canary in a mine”. Last time it returned by the end of the year during a “challenging” second grade. It disappeared over the summer and so far we haven’t seen its return.
You Child Might Be Hypo-Sensitive If…
Sensory Processing Disorders has a great checklist for parents and caregivers. Here are the behaviors displayed by hypo-sensitive (under reactive) kids
- may crave touch, needs to touch everything and everyone
- are not aware of being touched/bumped unless done with extreme force or intensity
- are not bothered by injuries, like cuts and bruises, and shows no distress with shots (may even say they love getting shots!)
- may not be aware that hands or face are dirty or feel his/her nose running
- may be self-abusive; pinching, biting, or banging his own head
- mouths objects excessively
- frequently hurts other children or pets while playing
- repeatedly touches surfaces or objects that are soothing (i.e., blanket)
- seeks out surfaces and textures that provide strong tactile feedback
- thoroughly enjoys and seeks out messy play
- craves vibrating or strong sensory input
- has a preference and craving for excessively spicy, sweet, sour, or salty foods
This list doesn’t mean to label your child and not all behaviors might be applicable. In fact, our daughter is very gentle with pets and playmates. The good part is that you can deploy strategies to help your children overcome or compensate for their challenges.
Ideas for Hypo-Sensitive Kids
- Touch-rich environment. Our children should be able to enjoy different textures many times a day. For our 7 year old daughter, her “special object” is a soft baby blanket that she had since she was a baby, but she was thrilled to receive a big super soft fleece blanket recently as a present from her grandma.
- Hands-On Crafts. Your child is also very likely to enjoy crafts that are created directly with hands – finger painting, clay or playdough, finger knitting, sensory play.
- Exercise. Hypo-sensitive kids need more awareness of their body in space, and exercise is a great way to increase body awareness and burn extra energy. Swimming is great, since it also involves whole-body touch.
- Promoting self-awareness and problem solving. I highly recommend a book What to Do When Bad Habits Take Hold: Overcoming Nail Biting and More by Dawn Huebner. My daughter loved this book so much that she wrote down main points for herself and clearly spent some time thinking of how to take control of her habits. She hates to be on the receiving end of nagging and criticism just as much as we hate being on the giving end of it. I was actually quite impressed with how much she wanted to improve.
- Give those restless hands something to do. One of the challenges for Smarty is that she mindlessly “fiddles” with things while reading without being aware of what she is doing. Sometimes this results in things being broken or damaged. Her solution for this problem was creating a collection of “fiddle things” – she made herself a special rainbow loom bracelet with loose loops for fiddling, and she also has balls or “stress toys” that she “fingers” when she reads. She is holding one of these toys in the picture below – it’s a “swag” from one of many computer conferences my husband had attended – a set of connected cubes that can be folded into different shapes. Check out Project Sensory Shop for other ideas – this Hand Widget looks like fun to me!