How Can I Help My Preschooler with Sensory Issues?

Sensory processing is a term we hear often but that isn’t often understood. People who have sensory processing disorder (SPD) essentially have difficulty processing information from the five senses. Usually they have one or more senses that under or overreact to a stimulus, therefore making it hard to respond appropriately.

Sensory processing issues can manifest in a variety of ways including children who:

  • Dislike being touched or getting messy
  • Crave pressure, movement and tactile stimulation
  • Prefer specific food tastes or textures such as bland, spicy, dry or crunchy
  • Are sensitive to smells or seek out strong smells
  • Refuse to wear clothing with a certain fabric or fit or that have seams, tags or hems
  • Are bothered by loud noises or busy places

As adults, we can choose to avoid places, tasks and situations that are uncomfortable to our sensory system. Children don’t always have this option. And since preschool-aged kids don’t yet have the tools to regulate or communicate about their emotions, it can become very challenging for them.

While you may notice signs of sensory processing differences as early as the baby and toddler years, preschool is the perfect time to seek guidance and possible therapy to help support your child. Using a variety of techniques and coping strategies, you can aid your child in regulating their sensory input with the goal of making them feel safer, more comfortable and less distracted in the world.

Top ways parents and caregivers can help kids with sensory processing issues:

  • Make your home “sensory smart” – Eliminate known triggers such as clutter and create a quiet, safe space for your child to retreat to whenever he or she needs to calm down.
  • Invest in tools and aids – There are countless products designed to help children with sensory issues such as weighted blankets, fidget toys and chewable necklaces. Have a few on hand in a portable sensory kit as well.
  • Get your child moving – We all know the benefits of exercise, but it has been proven to be especially helpful for kids with SPD.  Find a local sensory gym or just get your kid running around outside or having a dance party.
  • Have a code word or signal – Work with your child to create a secret word or discreet hand signal that lets you know when they’ve had too much. This could help to divert some public meltdowns.
  • Find support – Connecting with other parents and caregivers is a great way to share stories and tips on how to better accommodate your child. Sometimes simply knowing you aren’t alone can be a big help.
  • Let it go – It’s easier said than done, but know that it’s OK to let your child self-soothe themselves with things that may look strange or out of the ordinary to others.

Parents of children with sensory processing issues also find that bringing in the aid of an occupational therapist can be a lifesaver. A pediatric OT can help preschool children with SPD with a therapy called sensory integration.

How sensory integration therapy works at Little Hands Pediatric Therapy:

  1. Your therapist will first spend time evaluating and observing your child. We will also speak with you, his or her teachers and other caregivers to get a complete picture of the specific issues your child seems to be experiencing.
  2. Next, a collaborative, play-based treatment plan will be constructed that will include movement activities, resistive body work and more.
  3. Lastly, since you and other caregivers will spend the most amount of time with your child, your OT team will train you on implementing an at-home “sensory diet” and other coping strategies.

The experienced occupational therapists at Little Hands Pediatric Therapy work with many children with sensory processing disorders and can collaborate with you to create a plan for your child. We will work with your family in the comfort of your own home in Loudoun or Fairfax Counties or via teletherapy if you are outside of our service area.

For more information about sensory processing disorder and motor delays, please read this article by our OT Lindsay Borda.