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Co-existing with loved ones who have conflicting sensory needs

*Sensory processing* describes the way the brain reacts to sensory inputs.

And Sensory Processing *Disorder* (SPD) is when the brain takes in sensory information but has difficulty organizing it.


Those with SPD respond to sensory information differently than the average (aka “neurotypical”) person, which is why their responses may seem inappropriate to those around them.

The above graphic shows *some* examples of how SPD can manifest.


It’s important to note that one person can have a mix of responses based on the type of sensory input (e.g., sound/visual/texture), or based on the circumstance (the same person can respond differently depending on internal/external factors).


The difficulty coexisting with individuals who have conflicting sensory needs is sometimes tied to sensory seeking behaviors triggering sensory sensitive responses. But there are many ways conflicting needs can play out.


You can have a sensory seeker triggering a sensory sensitive person… you can have someone with mixed sensory needs triggering someone else with mixed sensory needs… you can even have someone who is sensory sensitive triggering someone else who is sensory sensitive.


The important point to note with this topic is that at the core of it… it’s all about working together to make sure everyone’s needs are met.


Now, before I move on, I’d like to note that conflicting needs can interfere with any relationship… but for the purposes of this series, I’ll be focusing on family relationships and strategies that can be helpful within the context of a family.


So, let’s talk about sensory triggers and responses...

In the first graphic above, you see a list of sensory TRIGGERS, particularly ones that are caused by others (as opposed to triggers related to the environment that others don’t necessarily have control over). In the second graphic, you see a list of sensory sensitive RESPONSES… like kicking, hitting, covering ears, shutting down, irritability, and anger.


What’s most important to understand is that the RESPONSES are the result of TRIGGERS.


Understanding this is what will make it possible for you to problem-solve rather than react with your own triggered responses.


When we have triggered responses as parents, we tend to use reactive measures or behavioral strategies to address the behaviors… like taking something away (negative reinforcement) or giving them something they want (positive reinforcement) to motivate them.


But these methods are rarely effective because the *underlying issue* is sensory, and if the triggers are not addressed, the behaviors won’t change.


For example…


Say a child is having a meltdown because they are overstimulated by their sibling who is being loud. If you threaten to take away screen time because they are melting down, that won’t result in a behavior change because the trigger is still there.


On the other hand, if you focus on the overstimulation, recognizing that it’s not within their control, and come up with ways to remove the trigger… like asking the child who is being loud to lower their voice because it is causing your sensory sensitive child distress… that is much more likely to result in a behavior change, i.e. the child no longer having a meltdown because they are able to self-regulate.


Ok, so let’s talk about strategies.

First, let’s talk about what you can do IN THE MOMENT. Your child is melting down, you’re getting overwhelmed and anxious. What do you do?


Well, you want to first start with yourself. It’s similar to putting an oxygen mask on yourself before your child on a plane. You need to first focus on yourself before you can help your child.


So… do whatever you can to calm yourself down and reduce your own anxiety in the moment.

Then, once you have your problem-solving hat on… you can go through the exercise in the second graphic. Identifying the trigger… and coming up with a solution based on the situation at hand.


When a sensory sensitive person is triggered, there are 3 ways they can get their needs met. They can escape the trigger… drown it out… or ask for an accommodation.


Escaping the trigger is the quickest way to address the sensory need… but it’s not always possible.

After that, drowning out the trigger is usually the second quickest.


But if neither of those are possible, asking for an accommodation is the next (and usually last) resort. This one’s the most challenging because it requires others to agree/comply.


But before the above strategies have to come into play, there is something you can do as a preventative measure...


Be Proactive.


Because before you even get to the point of someone being triggered, there are proactive steps you can take to ensure that everyone’s needs are met. And if everyone’s needs are met, the chances of anyone being triggered significantly decrease.


Proactive strategies part 1:

Proactive strategies part 2: Educate yourself


Understand SPD first and you’ll be better equipped to support your sensory kiddo.


The Out-of-Sync Child, written by Carol Kranowitz ( facebook.com/CarolStockKranowitz and on Instagram @ckranowitz), is the best book out there in terms of introducing SPD and getting into all the nuances of how SPD can manifest.


Highly recommend… also, it’s available on Audible and is a very easy listen.


Proactive strategies part 3: Educate your child, so they understand their own brains and bodies and are able to articulate their needs.


Start with sensory children’s books!

There aren’t many out there (yet), but the area within children’s literature is definitely growing!


The two sensory books I have written so far explain SPD from the child’s perspective, validate and empower sensory children, and give those children words to explain their needs. They also offer parents practical strategies to help support their sensory kiddos.


There are a couple of other sensory children’s books that I love as well.


Wiggles, Stomps, and Squeezes Calm My Jitters Down, written by Lindsey Rowe Parker (@wigglesstompsandsqueezes) and illustrated by Rebecca Burgess (@theorahart an autistic illustrator)


And Little Digger’s Big Garden written by Jill Woodward (@eat.read.play_sense) and illustrated by Sarah Nettuno (@nettunoillustrations) — this one is about sensory eating, a topic I rarely see discussed, so I especially appreciated finding this book.


THAT'S IT FOR THIS BLOG POST. If you have another sensory topic you'd like to see covered, let me know!!Proactive strategies part 1:

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