October is Sensory Awareness month. As a way to raise awareness about sensory processing difficulties, we asked one of our wonderful families to answer some questions about their journey with their son, Will. We would like to thank the Jennings family for taking the time to help others understand sensory processing difficulties by sharing their story.
When did you start to notice sensory difficulties with Will?
We began noticing that Will had sensory difficulties when he was around 18 months of age. Will would melt down at the sound of the hair dryer or vacuum. He refused to touch certain textures, such as frosting on a cupcake, applesauce, or finger paint. He would be anxious in crowded or noisy places and would spin in circles. He had a lot of feeding difficulties as well. He was a very choosy eater and would only eat dry or crunchy foods.
How did you decide to come to Leaps and Bounds?
When Will turned three years old, the therapy he was receiving through First Steps ended, and we knew he needed to continue occupational therapy. When he didn’t qualify for services from our school district at the time, his teacher at his school, Zion Lutheran, referred us to Leaps and Bounds, and we are so thankful she did!
What has your learning process been like in understanding sensory processing and how it impacts Will?
After his neurologist identified Will as having sensory processing difficulties, we knew we needed to become educated on the topic. We did what we feel most people would do first, and went straight to the Internet. After Will was evaluated at Leaps and Bounds and we received feedback from the intake therapist, we learned so much more! We were then referred to the Leaps and Bounds website where we found out about the recommended reading, “The Out of Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder,” by Carol Stock Kranowitz.
We purchased and read this book, and would highly recommend it to parents, educators, and others who work with or are related to a child coping with sensory difficulties. After we learned more about sensory processing, we had a better understanding as to why certain behaviors were occurring and why Will struggled on a daily basis.
What difficulties was Will/ your family experiencing when you first came to Leaps and Bounds?
When we first came to Leaps and Bounds we had some major social concerns for Will. He had difficulty with body awareness. He did not have a “personal bubble”. He would hug, squeeze, and almost tackle his peers, even if he had never met them before. He would be rejected by peers because of this. We had a lot of oral motor concerns and feeding concerns as well. We were also greatly struggling with auditory sensitivity concerns. Will would struggle with the organ or other instruments at church. He would have a melt down if we went to the Cardinals game or other events that our family enjoyed. This became a struggle for us as a family. We questioned ourselves. “Should we continue to take Will to these events so that he participates in opportunities that “typical” children get to experience, or do we just avoid them because of the anxieties and struggles that result?” It was also, and still can be a real struggle differentiating between which behaviors for boys his age are typical, and which behaviors could be a result of his sensory processing struggles.
What are some things Will is working on now?
Will is now a Kindergartner, which comes with a whole new set of possible challenges including fire drills, assemblies, and more. Will is continuing to work on his auditory sensitivities. He’s working on improving both gross and fine motor skills. Will works on proprioceptive exercises helping to improve his body awareness and control. He’s continuing to work on and practice social skills as well, especially in situations in which he doesn’t have complete control.
How has understanding sensory processing helped you parent?
Understanding sensory processing has allowed us to better understand our son and the behaviors he exhibits. By having a better understanding of sensory processing, we are able to better empathize with Will, and we can assist him in ways that are most productive.
What impact has Leaps and Bounds had on your journey?
Will has made huge gains since working with the therapists at Leaps and Bounds. He has gained a lot of confidence. Socially, he struggles much less, and he’s definitely more open minded about trying new foods. He has gained stronger gross and fine motor skills as well. Leaps and Bounds has helped us as parents by providing suggestions and recommendations so that we can help Will to the best of our abilities. The therapists are constantly and consistently providing feedback on Will’s progress and never hesitate to answer our questions. They have been so supportive of Will and our whole family. We know, and Will knows that the therapists at Leaps and Bounds truly care for him and celebrate his successes. We are so grateful to have Leaps and Bounds as a part of our journey!
What strategies has your family found helpful for Will?
Some strategies we have found helpful for Will include giving him some control and choice. For example, when going to an event that may be a bit noisy, we offer him noise cancelling headphones. He has the choice of using them or he can choose to just have them there for comfort. Giving him the choice and ownership alleviates some anxieties. We also prepare Will as best as we can when going to special events, family functions, etc. The more he knows about an upcoming situation, the better he tends to do. We have also used a sensory brush in which we have seen calming effects as a result. We have a sit and spin at home that we have him spin on when he feels the need. We also have a small trampoline, indoor swing and ball bit that he uses. These are not only lots of fun, but they are therapeutic activities for Will.
What advice do you have for other parents that are noticing some sensory processing difficulties in their children?
If you are noticing any sort of sensory processing difficulties with your child, we would advise you to take action sooner rather than later. Early intervention for your child is the key to future success and you must be proactive! You are your child’s number one advocate, so you also need to become educated on the topic. Yes, sensory processing is an obstacle, but look at this obstacle as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to learn more about your child and how his or her brain functions. How amazing is that?!