Taking kids to stores is not always the easiest of tasks for any parent. It is even more difficult when our kids with special needs are faced with the ever bustling and busy outside world. On more than one occasion, many children, with or without diagnoses, are overstimulated by their environments. Everyone at the birthday party can tell that Nancy needs a nap when she starts to cry incessantly, is lying on the floor, and is kicking her feet. Nancy is overstimulated, needs to rest, and allow her body to recharge. Her body can no longer regulate what is appropriate behavior in the social scenario she is in because she is overwhelmed. The same occurs with kids who have difficulty with sensory processing, self-regulation, or emotional regulation. The difference between a neuro-typical child and one with the above mentioned challenges is that the challenged body is more sensitive, requiring less stimulating environments and more frequent opportunities to recharge. This is why it is essential as a parent to collaborate with your child’s therapists and carry over activities from therapy to home in order to find the best possible strategies for your child. Here are some calming or preventative strategies that could be helpful in busy environments:
- Chewing or sucking objects or food can provide extra proprioceptive input and release, e.g., chewy tubes, gum, sucking candies, beef jerky, candy necklaces.
- Compressions or weighted clothes provide extra firm input and feedback into the body that has been proven to be calming to the overstimulated body, e.g. SPIO shirts, vest, pants, weighted vests, weights in pockets, weighted belt.
- Fidget toys help release energy and provide proprioceptive input, i.e. silly putty, stress balls, Digiflex.
- Pushing the shopping cart or carrying a heavy item (non-breakable) around the store can provide heavy work and calm the body.
Betsy Flager is a writer for the Parent to Parent column. She talks about how parents are often judged when their child with special needs has a meltdown in public places, being met with “the look” that speaks volumes although no words had been uttered. Unfortunately, people often judge a book by its cover. The average stranger responds differently to a meltdown from a child who has clear physical indications of specials needs versus a child who appears to be typically developing. Most of our kids with ADD, ADHD, and Sensory Processing Disorder do not exhibit their challenges physically and bystanders are not as forgiving in these situations. Betsy Flager offers tips to the bystander when they witness meltdowns:
- Do not start a conversation with the parent as the parent is preoccupied with their child.
- Offer to watch the person’s shopping cart.
- Step out of the way to clear a path for the parent and child.
It is important to be supportive to all parents and children around us. We do not know the kind of challenges this particular child or family possesses. Every day, kids with special needs are learning how to be a part of our society and meet the expectations that we create for them. It is our responsibility as a member of the community to be knowledgeable and help those around us.
- Written by Tatiana Gorsky, MS OTR/L