Not only can the environment your child is in be a positive tool in helping them learn and grow, it can also be a stressful one. Being aware of your child’s surroundings is just as important as keeping them fed, clean and watched over. Let me explain…
There are many factors to consider in caring for a child with special needs. Depending on the need of the child, will determine the measures you will have to take in helping them learn, grow and adjust. It is found on the internet, the news and even recommendations from your doctor to explore the effects that food and supplements have on your child. Some foods trigger frustration, agitation and impulsive outbursts. It can trigger high energy levels and even drain your child of energy. It is a very important consideration to explore in helping your child function at their best. But there a few things that many people overlook when trying to help their child and their child’s behaviours that I would like to address here. Could it be Sensory Overload?
I want to talk about Temporary and Permanent Stimuli. What does this mean? While you are focusing on what is being put inside your child, I want to focus on what is going on around your child in their environment. I am not necessarily talking about allergies, although this can be an important aspect to consider. I am talking about stressors in your child’s surroundings that can trigger those outbursts, behaviour and agitation. We have these wonderful things called senses that we should be considering. There is Taste, Touch, Sight, Sound and Smell. We also have our Conscience that plays a large role in our moods and emotions.
For some of you, a diagnosis has already been applied to your child and you already realize that your child has a Sensory Processing Disorder. Great, you are ahead of the game! But for others, you may be in lieu waiting for doctors assessments and /or therapy to help your child. Your child may or may not have a Sensory Processing Disorder, perhaps a different diagnosis, but your child can still be affected by their surroundings while dealing with another type of special need. Or, perhaps, it could just be your child has reached their sensory limit for the day.
I want to first consider these: Taste, Vision and Touch. All three of these senses can be shut off quickly and easily if any one of them are bothering your child. If someone is touching your child and they do not like it, then you simply remove your child from the area so no one can make physical contact with them. If it is an article of clothing irritating your child’s skin, than you simply do not dress your child in that piece of clothing, or even that type of fabric. With taste, you can stop them from eating that food ever again, offer a mint, another food or a drink to counteract the taste (or texture) that is displeasing to your child. If the lights are too bright or flashing and your child is uncomfortable with this, then the child can close their eyes, put sunglasses on or cover their eyes with a cloth of some kind. These senses are considered to be Temporary Senses.
Now, let’s talk about Smell and Sound. These are what I consider to be Permanent Senses. These are the senses that you cannot easily escape from. If your child is smelling something that is triggering a negative emotion, reaction, or just really unpleasant, it is hard to get away from that smell. Sometimes just covering the nose doesn’t do the trick. Ever drive through the countryside and endure the awful aroma of manure? It is hard to make that smell stop, it travels through the air for miles and miles. What about sound? You would think that sound should be easily escapable, but it isn’t. If a sound is displeasing to your child, simply covering their ears doesn’t cut it. The sound still muffles, and you may be able to feel the vibration of the sound still. Sound also travels through the air for quite a far distance, finding it hard to remove yourself from it. Trying to play music through headphones may or may not always work, since the child may be needing complete silence. The music may just aggravate the situation. Even simply living in a busy, noisy part of town can be the problem. The hum of the noise going on in the surrounding neighbourhood could be too much for your child to handle.
Understanding these two concepts in your own home can help ease your child with their sensitive senses. Knowing what is easily avoidable and what is not, can give you a heads up for making plans to go somewhere, having guests over for a visit, and just everyday situations. Sitting in a doctor’s office where someone is wearing heavy perfume can be difficult. Understanding these concepts can help you prepare for situations like this, so you can take specific measures to reduce the effects. You may have no clue right now that an air freshener or candle in your home may be a trigger to your child’s behaviour. The lighting in your house is too dull or too bright and making your child feel frustrated. Be aware of these, take notice and try experimenting with this to see if there is something in your child’s environment that is effecting them.
In my home, I use only Scent Free Detergent and we use no air fresheners. My son prefers only soft fabrics, made of cotton, and will complain if something is not comfortable for him; and when I say complain, I mean he doesn’t let up. As well, my son covers his ears often if sounds are too loud. He has, now, learned to ask politely for things to be turned down, but that took time for him to become aware that loud sounds were blocking his ability to focus and function. But when he was a child, he didn’t know how to express what he was experiencing, so I had to pay attention to his reaction to things.
Conscience – Another aspect of your child’s surroundings that I want to address is Content. What program is playing on the Television set? What are the lyrics to the songs your children, or you, listening to? What are the topics of conversation discussed in your children’s presence? You may think some of this is above your child’s comprehension, but truthfully, it is influential. Your child may not fully understand the Content, but they are absorbing the message from it and they are capable of making sense of it. This could be triggering upset in your child, worry or fear, and then reflected in their behaviour.
Remember, it can be difficult for a child to express themselves clearly when something is bothering them. They may not have the vocabulary to, or they simply cannot understand why they are feeling uneasy. Take the time to pay attention, explore and experiment with your child’s surroundings to see if something may be affecting them. Simple steps that may just bring balance back into your family’s life.