Suppose that you are in my class and I am sharing some vital information with you. Now also suppose that I have dropped a spider down the back of your shirt, where he is to remain for the next hour. I assure you that he is not poisonous and that you should just ignore him. Are you really going to be able to do that? Are you going to be able to give me all of your attention and sit still? What if I promised you $100 at the end of the hour, if you sat still and could pass a test on the information? What if I warned you that failure to sit still and learn would result in a negative consequence, could you do it then?

Yet this is what parents and teachers are unknowingly doing everyday with children who have sensory defensiveness. We expect them to learn, behave and get along with others. And we try negative and positive reinforcements, that are either not effective or are only of limited effectiveness. And that is because behavioral interventions are not addressing the child’s problem.

So what can you do?

First, is to recognize that this is a real disorder. Understand that your child is experiencing the world differently. Their nervous system is often in a state of survival (fight, flight, fright or freeze). The resulting ‘behaviors’ cannot be successfully addressed through behavioral interventions, because these behaviors are occurring as a result of your child trying to survive and cope the best they can.

Second, get help from an occupational therapist who specializes in sensory processing. There are specific intervention programs that can be set up and carried out at home, including a deep pressure massage program with a soft brush and a listening program. If done incorrectly, these interventions can make things worse, so professional guidance is critical.

Third, initially accommodate their preferences. Buy the seamless socks, the soft cotton clothing, etc. Avoid the self-flush toilets. Let your child wear sound occluding headphones at loud events. Instead of a large birthday party, maybe an outing with one or two friends. As therapy decreases your child’s defensiveness, they will begin to expand their comfort with various experiences.

Fourth, incorporate deep pressure and heavy work activities into your child’s daily routine, as they tend to decrease defensiveness.
Bouncing on a hoppitty ball or mini trampoline.
Pushing a weighted box, laundry basket or large package of paper towels/toilet paper.
Create a large pile of pillows, cushions, etc. and hide objects beneath for your child to tunnel under and find.
Consider a body sox (Abilitations) for child to wear while climbing or rolling over pillows/cushions.
Try a small backpack when going out of the house with 5-10% of child’s weight inside. Fill with items that are calming for your child (books, favorite toy, blow toy, squeeze ball, etc.)