Dealing with Sensory Overload for Children with an FASD
By: Alexa McIndoe
Do you notice unexplained behaviors with your child? Such as, why they have to wear certain clothes every day, refuse to eat certain foods, bump into things, or have meltdowns in public places? All of these can be attributed to their sensory processes being over-responsive or under-responsive. The human body processes vision, smell, taste, touch, proprioception, vestibular, and sound. If your child has an FASD there could be parts of the brain that just can’t process some of these things where their body isn’t getting the necessary input or receiving too much input and experiencing sensory overload. If your child struggles with sensory processing here are some modifications you might want to consider. Every child is different, and what works for some might not work for others.
Children and people with an FASD may be sensitive to light. It’s best to find out what works and make modifications, such as using soft lights and colors in their rooms, using window shades or blinds to adjust the natural light, and encouraging them to wear sunglasses when outside. There are other modifications you can make for your child like appropriate lighting which is very important.
If children and people with an FASD have a sensory processing issue with smell they might need to avoid strong aromas. You can minimize added fragrances in common household products including laundry detergent, soaps, fragrance plugins or other air fresheners, candles, flowers, and other perfumes. Some people might enjoy calming essential oil diffusers, while others may need help clearing the air when cooking meals with strong smells. Finding the right balance can go a long way. Try a “guess that smell” game to help identify reactions on what works and doesn’t work.
Has your child been labeled as a picky eater? They might have a sensory processing issue with taste. Most often taste can combine with smell and if foods are too strong-smelling they won’t want to eat it. People with taste issues might stick to bland foods such as pastas and breads because other foods with stronger tastes may be too overwhelming for them. They might also need foods cut into smaller sizes. It can also be helpful to get the children into the kitchen, allowing them be more involved in meal preparation, setting the table, passing food family-style and cleaning up. This might encourage them to eat the food they helped prepare. Here are some more tips to help get past the picky eating.
Sensory process for touch includes a multitude of examples. If a child has a sensory process issue with touch that means their skin can be sensitive and will be easily irritated or that they have little to no threshold of irritation. Removing tags from clothes helps eliminate some of those irritations. Sizing of clothes is important, like shoes that pinch in the wrong spots, so be sure that your child’s clothes are not too tight. Another issue might be when a child does not like when their hands are dirty. Try to incorporate activities using things with different textures to let them know these sensations are okay. If they are having trouble concentrating they might even like using fidgets to keep their hands occupied and grounded. These things help them become more comfortable with textures. Check out some of the fun sensory play activities you can do.
Proprioception (body awareness)
Some people with an FASD have difficulties with proprioceptive processing. Proprioception helps the body know their spacial awareness. It helps us know where our limbs are, how to move them, and where they need to move towards. If your child has an issue with proprioception, they may be bumping into things or need extra support to ground them so they know where their body is. Some activities include jumping and bouncing. These activities make their muscles stronger and help build confidence. If they need a more grounded approach you can use a weighted blanket or add some extra weight in their backpacks for support. There are also other activities that help with proprioception like resistive input.
Vestibular (balance & motion)
The vestibular system deals with balance from our inner ear. This constantly helps us with our balance. If a child with an FASD is able to start and stop sudden motions in a calm manner, they have a good sense of their vestibular process. If they get dizzy or can’t stop their active motions they may need help to feel grounded (to the floor, not “grounded” like getting in trouble!). Some of the activities to help with vestibular processing include jungle gyms, swings, and balancing games. Figure out what activities work and integrate more as they progress. Try these other activities to engage your vestibular process.
People with sensitivity to sound can have many sensory overload issues. One thing that might help is to avoid loud and busy places. If you are out and about where it will be noisy, try using noise-cancelling headphones. Sometimes the child also needs to also prepare when it is about to get noisy. If you’re about to use the blender, vacuum, or other loud household items, try letting the child know ahead of time so they can go to another room or find a quiet place. Calming noises can help, such as listening to classical, acoustic, or soft jazz music. If they don’t want any sounds, try eliminating background noises by turning off the TV and closing the windows. It’s also possible for a child to feel the opposite of that and thrive during loud commotions. Find out more ways to adapt to loud noises and activities for your child.
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