Regardless whether your child is a seeker, an avoider, or a combination of both I would encourage you to take a look at the environments that your child lives in.
Whether you are at home, at a playground or a classroom organization is the key. That doesn’t mean a spotless house, although a general sense of order in visually calm spaces and can be very helpful to a child.
Use storage systems or shelves with doors.
By having items stored out of sight can reduce the visual stimulation from the environment. If your shelves don’t have doors, then purchase self sticking Velcro and a plain sheet of fabric (even an old bed sheet) to cover the front of the shelf. Just attach the Velcro along top edge of the shelf and hang the sheet over the front. This is an inexpensive and quick way to bring visual order. It may not be necessary for all families, but finding ways to keep your environment looking more orderly can make a significant difference for many children with SPD.
After managing the external environment we can add in small doses of regular sensory activities for the internal organization. This gives the child a general sense of calmness knowing that their sensory needs will be met before they get too big. Creating a regular routine around the child getting their needs met will prevent the chaos your child and family may dread. There is also the added benefit that your child will probably be less likely to get injured or suffer the pain of disapproval from others. It’s likely they will feel better about themselves when people aren’t making rude comments and your family may also feel like they can take a trip to the mall without if falling apart. The trick is to meet sensory needs throughout the day and before they are large the same way, having a snack can quell hunger in the afternoon.
Sensory snacks throughout the day will mean your child is less likely to have spikes in their seeking behaviors. There will be some variation and some days that hunger may be greater. In our sensory case you can adjust what you do based on the individual needs of your child.
Body massages, movement breaks, and physical play can help your child find an organization within the chaos. It seems logical for the children who are sensory avoiders benefit from having a predictable and in their minds safer sensory experience with small doses of input. We just can’t forget about the benefits of those smaller daily doses of input for our seekers as well. By creating an organization with consistent doses of input for the child that needs more you will find sanity in those small bites and life will become more predictable for both of you.
I believe that all children with SPD will benefit from inserting predictable, organized sensory input into their lives. An avoider will learn when to expect sensory input and this can make facing it less scary. Order gives them more control and this kind of child may start to take more chances and may surprise you with an increased tolerance over time. The sensory seeker will learn that he doesn’t have to go out and find the input in destructive or chaotic ways. They can anticipate small bursts throughout the day, which can hopefully help limit the numbers of times they he is crashing and breaking things or getting lost in public. Keeping the environment calm and making sure sensory hunger for input is fed with small sensory snack breaks can help your child learn to organize themselves and lead to a happier child and family.
Experiment until you find the things that work best for your family. Finding the combination that is just right for your child will be worth the extra effort.
Looking to continue the conversation of organization for the kids with SPD? Check out What is a Sensory Diet?
Read more about my sensory seeker son and kids with sensory processing disorder