Kids with Sensory Processing Issues: How Does it Affect Their Play?
If you’ve got a child with sensory processing issues, you’ll know that they either seek out or avoid certain things. Playdough, mud, paint and glue are all things kids love to play with. Your sensory seeker or avoider will respond to these in their preferred way: either wanting more and more, or refusing to engage with them at all.
As a parent, it can be hard dealing with huge messes created by your kids. On the other side though, you could be wishing that your child would try splashing in a muddy puddle or give finger painting a go. While I’m not an occupational therapist, nor a counsellor, I do have friends whose children have sensory processing issues. What I am sharing today, is their experiences and what they have found works for the mess/no mess issues.
How Sensory Processing Issues Affect Children’s Play
Sensory processing issues can impact significantly on how a child plays and what they interact with. That’s because sensory processing is related to the way a child sees the world. While there is a lot of different levels between, you can think of it as a scale. At one end, a child seeks out the touch, smell, sound, look or taste of something. They do this, again and again, enjoying and needing the feedback it gives them. At the other end, they avoid touching, tasting, hearing or even seeing something because, in a way, it causes them pain and distress.
It can be hard to watch your child continually covering their ears at everyday sounds. It’s equally as hard to see them avoid playing in the mud because they are afraid of touching it. There’s no quick fix when it comes to sensory processing issues though. However, there are some things you can do to support their needs, which I’ll list next.
Supporting a Child with Sensory Processing Issues in Play
If you have a seeker or an avoider, it’s important that you follow along with what they are comfortable in doing. This can mean standing back and letting them become covered head to toe in paint (our coveralls are brilliant for this). It can also mean staying with your child and watching others play on the swings or dig holes in the sandpit.
When it comes to helping a child with sensory issues to play, you can:
- Focus on their preferences and explore different ways of doing the same thing
- Role model using different materials: talk aloud about what you are doing, thinking and feeling
- Encourage small steps towards trying new activities
- Provide tools which would help your child be more comfortable to try a new activity – clothing, ear defenders, warm water etc
- Relax and let your child dictate the pace and what they are willing to try today: tomorrow is another day, after all.