Sensory processing refers to how our central nervous system receives and responds to sensory input, which includes touch, taste, sound, sight and smell.
Each change of season brings with it a range of sensory input which can affect children in different ways. For some children, the transition to summer can be difficult, and this can lead to a series of challenging behaviours which can impact on their social engagement during the holiday season. With a little preparation and planning, we can support our children to have a sensory safe summer, and have a positive and fun experience during these warmer months.
As each child is unique, it is worth making note of your child’s sensory needs to be able to plan ahead. As not all sensory input can be controlled (for example an unexpected summer downpour resulting in soaking wet clothes and hair), it is also worthwhile trialling a range of calming strategies that can be easily accessible (perhaps squeezing a piece of blue tac or chewing some gum) that can be used to help a child self regulate when exposed to a particularly challenging situation.
Some common sensitivities to be aware of in summer include;
Children can be very sensitive to the sun and can find it hard to regulate their temperature appropriately. These children can also miss the internal cue that indicates ‘thirst’, therefore are prone to dehydration. In addition to the higher temperatures, the summer months can also bring increased humidity and additional brightness/glare, which can make a child feel very hot, sweaty, irritable and lethargic. Prevention is the key so keeping children cool, in the shade and well hydrated is a good place to start.
Tip: Support a child’s fluid intake by placing evenly spaced marks on a drink bottle to indicate levels that correspond with the time of day. For example, drink to the first line by morning tea, the second line by lunch etc. It is also important to be mindful of their clothing both during the day and overnight, with breathable, light fabrics being the most suitable, and encourage your child to wear a pair of high quality sunglasses with a neoprene strap and a wide brimmed hat or cap to reduce the glare. Ensure that the car windows have a suitable window shade to reduce sensory overload when your child is seated in the car.
Sunscreen is a necessary addition to any beach bag, however for some children, it is a part of the day that they would prefer to avoid. Try an unscented brand that does not leave a greasy residue on the skin and perhaps a spray.
Tip: Deep pressure can be calming and organising for children so before applying sunscreen you could try firm squeezes to the arms and legs, squishes all over their body with a cushion or firmly rolling a ball over their body, arms and legs. Additionally you could apply sunscreen using firm, even strokes and ensure that it is applied before any exposure to sand (consider applying before leaving the house.)
Summer play often consists of sand and water, both of which can be challenging environments for children with sensory processing difficulties to play in. They may become avoidant and display some challenging behaviour. A day at the beach or at a waterpark may seem like a lovely family day out but to some children, this can be a day filled with unpredictable and unfavourable sensory surprises. It is worthwhile making a note of when your child has a meltdown and consider what may be causing sensory overload. It can be something as seemingly insignificant as the stickiness of a melting ice-block on their fingers, the sound of the seagulls, drops of water on their skin or the smell of a particular flower that only blooms in summer.
Tip: Have a sensory area at home, such as a water table and a sand pit with hidden shells or colourful stones to help desensitize your child in a fun, safe, controlled environment.
Be a Detective:
We often help parents to identify whether a child’s challenging behaviour and responses is behavioural or whether there is a sensory component triggering the behaviour. Sometimes it’s not easy to tell however it is important to identify. It can be helpful to keep a journal of the daily routine and make a special note of any unusual or challenging behaviours your child displays. Include brief details about what happened before the event, during, and after. Keep the journal over a week or two and see if you notice a pattern. If you’re unsure or need specific strategies for your child, it is best to contact an occupational therapist who is specialised in assessing sensory processing challenges.
If you would like specific strategies or advice on how we can assist your child, feel free to contact Empowered Kids through our website or email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org