Parenting a child with sensory issues has its own challenges. Children who are sensory-seeking can attract unwanted attention. Working with schools to accommodate your child’s needs can be difficult enough, but now you’re thinking of taking your child on a trip involving a train and/or airplane? Going to foreign countries adds an extreme amount of stress. Visiting a bustling, congested city when you live in suburbia or rural environments may send them, and consequently you, over the edge. You can overcome, or at least survive, the potentially overwhelming possibilities by using these simple strategies.
Let’s begin by discussing sensory issues. Children with sensory-seeking issues seek out stimulation. In a quiet area, they may create their own noise: raise their voices, laugh loudly, make sounds that can be considered irritating by others, and can make repetitive sounds. They may seem clumsy as they bang into walls or people. Looking “only with your eyes” can be next to impossible for them to accomplish. When they walk they may stomp or jump (one of the sources of Tigger’s nickname). Often they are little thrill seekers, jumping off objects, enjoying adrenaline-producing activities. Well, producing for them, anxiety for you quite often. They enjoy firm pressure, bear hugs, and being wrapped tightly.
With sensory processing kids have difficulty dealing with, and possibly interpreting, the stimulation they’re receiving. Light touch can drive them through the roof. The classroom can be a place of almost torture as their senses are assaulted by noise, visual stimulation, activity, as well as trying to filter through everything to focus on what’s in front of them. Certain foods create problems because of their texture, likewise with certain fabrics which can cause itching and perseveration. Putting a Band-Aid on my son can cause attention deficits throughout the day. Reactions to excess stimulation can make it appear that your child is unruly. Parents sometimes avoid public places simply because the stares and condescending looks from other adults makes them feel incredibly uncomfortable.
This issue has come up for me because in our major travels occurring this year we will be visiting some areas known for the way they assault every one of your senses. Tigger has sensory processing issues. While we’ve made major progress, we still face some challenges. Here are my travel tips:
- For sensory seekers, I suggest a travel survival kit. Your kit should contain small items of various textures. Take them to a place like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby (craft stores) and find small objects. Let them rub it on their skin, especially against their face, squish it, play with it in their hands. Ones that they are particularly fond of are keepers. Stress balls are fantastic because they can regulate the level of pressure themselves, and they can keep them in their pocket. They’re also very inexpensive. I also like small, flat, smooth stones often called worry stones. They can rub them with their fingers or rub them against their arms and face. A small stuffed animal can provide textural release as well as a secure feeling. They can hug it firmly against them. Knobby massagers are easy to take along as well, and, again, pressure can be regulated by them.
- When your child is beginning to show signs of stress, one of the best ways of immediately calming them is to say something like “Come here you!” playfully, grab them and give them a nice, firm bear hug. When you feel their body relax, release your hug, and then hand them one of their favorite items or suggest they use their sensory toy of choice if they still appear somewhat stressed. I do this by saying “I bet [using] your [insert item name] would be really fun right now.” A sensory-seeking child can also be challenged to do their best T-Rex impression, and remember large dinosaurs have to stomp their feet. If the area is suitable, challenge them to run to a certain spot not far away and time them. When they return bet they can’t beat their time.
- Try to find food that isn’t soft and mushy with a strong flavor. For sensory processing this can be difficult to handle in their mouth. Things like hummus can be used as dips for falafel, carrots, celery, etc. Or it can be mixed with meat and put on a pita. They still may not eat it, but by adding other textures you’ll increase the likelihood they will. Spicy foods are usually rough for kids who aren’t used to them anyway, but when there are sensory challenges on top of it, you can pretty much forget about it! Bland foods, if you can find them, will be a great help.
- Learn to ignore the looks. Yes, you may feel weird while your child walks around making odd noises or stomps their feet, bumping into walls, or dancing in the grocery store aisle, but that’s their way of dealing with stress. Onlookers may not approve, but unless it’s 3 AM on the plane they can kiss my behind. I’ve even been known to grab my son’s hand and skip down the hall/aisle while smiling broadly at all the weird looks. You know why they’re doing it, that’s all that matters. And a few seconds of your child using destressing techniques is worth the quiet and comfort everyone will experience shortly.