I am not sure at what point, if there is a point, our son The Sensory Seeker started to have Sensory Processing Disorder. I am not sure if anything caused or triggered it or if it is something that has just always been there. But I thought I would try to share some of his early experiences to see if anyone can identify with it – and just so you can get to know him better.
The Birth of The Sensory Seeker
The Sensory Seeker was born at 35 weeks Gestation with just gas and air using Wrigley’s forceps and a whooping 7lb 1 oz. He was also rather long and I believe that the hospital just thought that the dates were wrong. I had had contractions from around 31 weeks but told to get bed rest. I have a needle phobia so at no point did I have the steroid injections. I was also breast feeding my toddler and once this happened I had to try to really limit his feeds. In fact it was the middle of the night when he came in for a feed that my waters started to break. First a trickle but then there was no doubt as they poured out. We went to the hospital and The Sensory Seeker was born a few short hours later. Born at five thirty in the evening we were both discharged from the hospital the next morning.
The Sensory Seeker’s Weight Loss
At home The Sensory Seeker was feeding fine, but was very sleepy. I had been given no information on him coming before the 37 week full-time dates and felt that something was not right. By day 3 when the midwife came to check that he hadn’t lost more than 10% of his birth 3 he’d actually lost 13% (down to 6lb 3ozs) and we had to go straight back to the hospital. Despite constant badgering to formula feed my son I expressed my milk and fed him by first syringe and then cup – which meant I had very little sleep. We did get sent home at one point but it wasn’t long before the weight gain wasn’t satisfactory enough we were sent back in. He was put on the Billy bed (UV light) and was treated for jaundice. His blood sugar levels weren’t right either but they were the opposite way they were checking for so apparently it was ok, I later learnt that his blood sugar levels were an indication of an infection but everyone was too hung up on the fact that I was tandem feeding.
His weight continued to stay low and his jaundice worsened so they added a top to the billy bed which meant that he had to have his eyes covered. It was really hard not to just be able to cuddle my sick baby too, with the only time I was able to touch him was when he was feeding – this was every 3 hours by cup. He made a tiny bit of progress and was able to move to first a normal cot, and then a side-cot attached to my bed. The whole time I was still expressing, cup feeding and feeding my other son when he came to visit. His bilirubin levels then reached an acceptable level and we were able to go back home.
The Sensory Seeker’s Infection
And then it happened. One day when he was 3 weeks old and I went to change his nappy there was just this awful puss oozing out of his belly!! Luckily there was a clinic running across the road and the midwife saw us straight away who said to take him straight to the hospital. No-one really said anything to me but a cannula was put into my tiny baby’s arm immediately – and he was pumped up with 3 different types of antibiotics. We were sent to another hospital and there he continued the IV antibiotics and returned back to his birth weight at last. His weight has been fine ever since.
I am not sure if these early experiences have been the cause of his sensory issues or whether he would have had them anyway. But I do think it shows that from the off he has always been a fighter. A strong little man.
For children with Sensory Processing Disorder parties are a whole different ball game. I am so proud of how far my Sensory Seeker has come with coping with them. In fact I would go as far to say that at the last party the parents who do not know him would never have thought that he has any additional needs at all. There were signs there (a bit of spinning on the floor and ok maybe the rubbing a cookie on his head) but nothing that couldn’t be put down to a quirky five year old. Of course the problems can change from child to child with Sensory Processing Disorder, and the same child at different times, dependent on whether they are seeking or avoiding, and which areas affect them.
I asked for advice from the experts of Sensory Processing Disorder – that is parents and those who have SPD themselves, through Facebook groups and Twitter, on how to prepare your child for a party and how to plan one yourself when consider the child with Sensory Processing Disorder.
You need to consider whether the child is an Avoider or a Seeker
Remember that your child can fit into both of this categories for the different Sensory areas, or at different times.
If you have a Sensory avoider they may not be interested in attending parties at all. They may be anxious before they even get there and then not even want to join in with the party. The Avoider may not eat, want to leave their parent’s side and become easily upset. They may not like the noise, colours, the crowds, the stimulations.
How to help an Avoider with Parties
Talk to the child about the party and what to expect in the days leading up to it. If possible show them visual aids to familiarise themselves with the venue, or read books about parties. You may need to take ear plugs/defenders and/or sunglasses to help block out the lights and sounds.
If it is not your party then make sure the host is aware of your child’s needs. If it is your child’s party then make sure you have means for the primary caregiver to stay with the child (helping with anxiety/safety and encouraging them to join in) and that you have enough help from others to ensure that the other guests can be looked after.
The Avoider may be upset at little things, so keep it simple. Make things quiet, avoid balloons, flashing lights, loud music/noise, just whisper Happy Birthday and have no singing or fuss, as it may be too much for the sensitive auditory system. A small party is easier to control. They may not eat so make sure you have the food they are most likely to eat. Give them a separate quiet room for them to go to.
May want all the stimulations – lots of balloons, colours, sounds, but over stimulate themselves. Or they may like the feel but be scared of the noise when they go pop. They may become over hyped up and excitable, want to touch everything/everyone, may be spinning all over the place and knocking into other people, jumping on balloons trying to make them burst.
My Sensory Seeker can get a bit hyper about when the party is as he has very little understanding of time. What we found worked is that he has “party clothes” and he now understands that we leave for the party after he has got changed into them. Luckily we have never had a problem entering a party as he is a Seeker – he loves the noise, the colours, and atmosphere, always wanting MORE, MORE, MORE. Now his patience and attention has increased he is able to join in with the party games, but a party that has structure is much better for him.
What we do need to be careful is that he does not get too over stimulated. He seems to self-regulate himself now by doing things such as spinning on the floor. I still have to watch that he doesn’t invade other children’s space too much, or if he spins on the floor that there’s room and he’s not going to trip people up. As I mentioned he has trouble visually seeing food he wants but cannot have. To be fair to him he has developed loads in this area and does no longer grab it, I do see him being more anxious/worked up due to it though. I also need to make sure that he does not put too much food into his mouth at once (stuffing). What food is available can be an issue but there’s usually something unhealthy that he will like (typical birthday food either sandwiches and biscuits or chips). He can be a bit messy and try to pile too much food on his plate. I just supervise him and make sure I take him to wash his hands (you could also take wipes but we are trying to encourage him to move forwards and feel he has an association with babies with them). Plenty of sweets throughout really help him as it gives him something oral he can touch and taste.
Planning a Party for a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder
Party Size and Location
When determining the party location you need to consider the time of year (indoors or outdoors), the number of guests you would like (think about whether the child will be under or overwhelmed and how many you can cope with), whether your child needs plenty of space to move around/a small quiet party – as well as your budget. Also will the other guests need someone to stay and supervise them? Are there any access requirements for the Birthday child or their guests? Also consider their developmental ages and abilities as to a venue’s suitability. If there is food included with the venue then does it meet the needs of the party guests?
Personally parties where the food is brought out when it is ready to be eaten suits us better, and it also means that Avoiders will not have the foods’ smells. Also we find cold food is better, as it is dry and not touching. Again you need to consider what the Sensory issues are in regard to the food on making decisions about it, such as whether it is hot or cold, textures and smells. Be careful when it is dished out – my son loves burgers and ketchup but when someone else put his burger in the ketchup he would not eat it.
Time, Duration & Calming down
Consider the time of day of the party, how long your child can handle the sensory input and somewhere/something to help calm them down afterwards. If the child cannot cope with stimulation for long consider having a shorter party. You may want a morning party because the child is anxious about the wait, or you may want a late afternoon party so that it is not long until bedtime.
To help settle down at the end of the party you could put on a film, have an area for playing with Lego, doing some craft or colouring: Use stickers and wax crayons to avoid sensory seekers eating the glue and licking the paint. Or the best calming device we have found technology! (DS or tablet). Or extra stimulus may be needed – such as an obstacle course, a dancing competition, lots of pressure/bear hugs/back rubs.
Party Entertainment & Decoration
The needs of the child with Sensory Processing Disorder are going to greatly determine what kind of party you have, what the entertainment and decorations is going to be like.
To engage the child and keep their attention, whether an Avoider or Seeker, utilising their interests is helpful.
“Does the birthday girl or boy have a love of something – anything… we had a London Bus party one year. Everyone got to take home a beaker, toy bus and pencil crayons.” RosyandBo
A Sensory Seeker is more likely to want music, bouncy castles, a place to run around, lights, balloons, lots of games (musical chairs/statues/bumps) – and so on. Consider the physical abilities of the child (fine and gross motor skills, physical abilities, spatial awareness, developmental ability to cope with losing).
Whilst the Avoider is more likely to prefer quite, calm maybe a craft party, with little stimulus. Use plain paper for pass the parcel to make it less visually stimulating and easier to understand which layer is being unwrapped. Use a small amount of tape so it is easy to undo. Keeping the music/passing short to avoid distractions/over stimulation.
Sensory Seekers want more more more utilise what they are interested in:
Dinosaurs, Superheros, Farm, Neverland, Cooking party, bouncing (castle or trampoline), swimming party, a scavenger hunt, art & craft – have a face painter. We sometimes find our Sensory Seeker does not want the feel of paint on his face or then has to rub it everywhere – we find a cheek or even better his arm suits his needs best.
For the Sensory Avoider how about a calm Movie party – with pillows and blankets laid out with a quiet film. Or a Colouring party with colouring in tablecloths or placemats, or just pictures. For more tips on a Simple Party.
Do you have any party ideas? Or more tips on helping with a Party with a Child with Sensory Processing disorder?
We make sense of the World around us through our senses. We process so much information – about the sounds, smells, textures, our position, what we can hear, how much we are moving, and so on, and then the brain filters out which bits of information we need right now. They then tell us how to respond appropriately. For example, if we take a sip of coffee that is too hot, the senses will tell us not to drink it, to move the cup away from us – what position our body is in, in order to do this. We develop preferences for things, as some sensory input works better for some rather than others. For example, some people may work better listening to music, and others prefer the quiet.
Sometimes this can be harder than others, and can depend on your mood. For example, you may find it harder to ignore that annoying sound when you are trying to concentrate on something difficult, and when you are particularly tired.
Those with Sensory Processing Disorder have difficulty with the brain filtering out the bits it does not need. The first thing to do when you suspect Sensory Processing Disorder is to keep a diary. Consider things to do with the senses – vision (sight), tactile (touch), auditory (hearing), gustatory (taste), Vestibular (movement & gravity), olfactory (smell) and proprioception (sense of body position, from information received through the muscles, and joints – force, speed and control).
Keep track of when things are good, and when things are not so good. Consider whether the sense may be experiencing too much of something or not enough. What things help to diffuse the situation and what things help in maintaining a happy balance? Make sure you think about the times of day – does it always happen in the mornings? Does it only happen after they’ve been energetic?
Sensory Processing Disorder can affect many aspects of life including hygiene, sleeping, diet, relationships, self-esteem, danger, health, and education. Sensory Processing Disorder never goes away but it can be managed by a good Sensory diet. The earlier it is detected the better. There are many different Sensory Aids available to help.
Seekers often do not sense the movement/noise/touch etc and therefore need to make it themselves, (this is because the brain tells them that there is not enough input from these senses). They may have trouble sitting still and being quiet, always fidgeting and making noises. They may lick or touch things – even if this is a health and safety hazard.