Articulating Sensory Preferences / by Laura Kett

“I can’t wait until recess and tether ball…oh, I wonder who that visitor is here for… I wish I could go with them…oh, man, my pencil point broke off again – I was using it to balance while I tipped my chair back…kind of fun to roll the point back and forth on my desk…it’s making my fingers gray…I should wash it off…huh, there’s that hangnail…wonder if I can pull it off – oops, bleeding. These shoes are bugging me…I wish I didn’t have to wear shoes at school.  Yesterday we had a fire alarm…wonder if we will have one today.  I’m hungry. Oh, yeah, time for recess.  What? I can’t go out because I didn’t do my work?  Argh!  What?  I didn’t push him; I was just turning him around. Sorry.”

I’ve known many children who have similar thoughts and feelings throughout every day in school.  They are often not able to articulate what is bugging them.  Even if they noticed what would help, for example a change in seats, chewing gum, or shoe removal, it is against the rules…or disruptive to others.  They don’t have a bandaid to tape up that pesky hangnail.  They have a need to move and it’s constantly squelched.  They miss directions and later they act out.  Or perhaps they hold it together at school and act out at home.

The issue may not be purely sensory in basis – it could be that they did not have a good meal before school or maybe not enough good sleep.  They may “forget the rules” or have peers who “set them off.”  So many variables!  However, sensory issues need to be addressed both when doing the “detective” work of looking at causes of behavior and when considering strategies to help the child manage their behavior.

Imagine a comparable scenario for an adult.

“I hate being late to conferences.  Now I have to sit in the middle of the row and it’s crowded.  My neighbor is talking to her friend and I am having a hard time hearing the lecturer.  The Power Point doesn’t seem to match what she is saying – or I am on the wrong page.  Eesh, I am so chilly, wonder if they will turn the heat up.  I wish I had eaten more breakfast and I forgot my water bottle in the car.  I think I will leave early.”

Could this be you?  It could be me!  As an adult, though, we have options, right?  We could politely let the neighbor know that we are having a hard time hearing.  We could get up, move and find a warmer spot with more room.  We could get a snack from our bag and eat it (quietlyJ) anytime we choose, look at our phones, find some coffee or tea, use the bathroom without raising our hand – you get the idea, right?  We have more awareness of what is bugging us and what appropriate measures we can take to stay focused.  We can even anticipate going home and kicking off our shoes.  If we are not aware and do not use some strategies, we may start grumbling and sighing – in other words, our behaviors may deteriorate!

Being able to articulate our needs and having choices in how to mediate those needs makes a world of difference in helping us to be comfortable in our environment.  Observing your own sensory patterns and how you fulfill your needs will in turn help you in observing your own child and their preferences.  This is an important step in choosing effective strategies for helping your child to be comfortable in their environment.

April 6, 2015