Sensory Needs


In Third Grade at my kids’ school, they host a Wax Museum.  The students pick a famous person that they’re fond of and learn all about them, then dress up like them to teach everyone else about this amazing person.  My son Charlie is Chinese and blind, so at dinner we were all trying to think of a famous Chinese person he could be, or a blind person… but he didn’t like any of our suggestions. 

Then the next day in the car he said, “I decided I’m going to be Abraham Lincoln.”  I said, “Oh, that will be cute!  He was a great person.  We can get you a tall hat and a beard!”  He was quiet for a few minutes and then asked, “Are there any famous people that didn’t wear clothes?  Or hats, or beards?”

Funny?  Yes.  But also a little sad.  Charlie has sensory issues: if it was up to him he would be in his underwear with a blanket wrapped around him 24/7.

A few years ago I learned for the first time that kids with difficult beginnings have brains with neurotransmitters that aren’t connected like those in a typical brain.  Because of this, they very often have sensory issues.  When I did a little research I was led to believe that kids with Sensory Processing Disorder were either Sensory Seekers or Sensory Avoiders, but I have since learned from lots of personal experience, that you can definitely be both.

When Charlie feels safe, there are loud and chaotic environments that he doesn’t mind-- arcades, school cafeteria-- but when he is feeling nervous, they will send him over the edge.  He will either shut down or become extremely obnoxious.  He is already an anxious boy and my job is to help him feel safe no matter what, so I have to be in tune to his mood as well as the environment.  I need to be aware if he is a little off, and figure out what may have set him off.

He also has ADHD and requires a ton of sensory input to help his brain focus and calm down.  If he starts chewing on his shirt, I know he needs gum.  When he starts to spin, I offer him the Bilibo.  If he is rocking, I ask if he’d like to swing (we have a swing in our kitchen doorway).  If he is driving everyone crazy, I tell him to go jump on the trampoline for ten minutes and set a timer.

Also, with his limited vision, his other senses are heightened; so he is hyper-aware of smells, sounds, temperature, etc.  It can seem like he is super sensitive and/or difficult with his requests and complaints, but once he is regulated and his sensory needs are balanced and met, he is (usually) calm and cooperative.

Sometimes if he gets home from school out of sorts, I have him search for pennies in a bin of rice.  At dinner, he can choose to sit on a wiggle seat or put a five pound bag of beans in his lap.  Often when given choices, he knows what he needs.  At bedtime, he loves a super hot bath and a hot water bottle to snuggle up with.  We wrap it in a blanket and call it his “hot water baby.”

Are we weird?  Absolutely!  But with these tools, we look a whole lot less weird and feel a whole lot more safe and regulated.  Figure out what your kiddo needs, and you do you!