I’d never really heard much about sensory processing disorders until I mentioned that Costa displayed certain behaviors on Instagram. Still, there had been little signs all along. When he was just a baby, he would often cover his ears when there was loud music or bury his head if there were bright lights in a room. Subtle but consistent. As he got older, he would get more aggravated and triggered by certain things. And, once school started, it became challenging. Every step of getting ready for the day was unbearable. From brushing his teeth and hair to getting dressed, to wearing shoes, he would fight it all. Complaints of an itchy material or tag, his shoes not being tight enough, or the seam of the sock bothering him. And, depending on how tired or hungry he was, he would often spiral into a full-blown tantrum that could take hours for him to snap out of. I dreaded doing everyday things with him because I never knew how much patience I would have to muster up to get us through to the other side.
When things started getting pretty hard at home, Andre and I reached out to Costa’s preschool to see how these behaviors showed up during the day when we weren’t around. To our surprise, they had no idea what we were talking about. Costa wasn’t acting out, having meltdowns, or displaying any of these sensitivities at school. From his occupational therapist, I would later learn that he was working overtime during the day to “hold it together.” Then, at home, he let it all go because that was the place he felt safe. So, we were getting it all. Also, during this time, Paolo arrived, so there was a lot of change for Costa. Costa has always been sensitive and had big feelings. It was clear he was having a tough time managing all of it, especially with so much change going on. So, I started carving out “Mommy & Costa” time each day. Things like a walk around the block, just the two of us often had an incredible effect on his overall mood. He would calm down, be upbeat and happy, and could then usually move through the rest of the evening with greater ease. Also, a long warm bath often helped get him back to a better place.
On the recommendation from a good family friend, Costa, at age 4, began to see an occupational therapist at Sprout Children’s Therapy Center in Toluca Lake. The positive response from Costa was immediate, and therapy was something he looked forward to every week. Over the next year, therapy, at-home sensory strategies, and being more sensitive to his needs made a huge difference in the day to day with him.
I know how hard it can be as a parent to find patience and understanding with a child who is acting out all the time. Once we implemented some of the below activities and changes into Costa’s life, it became much more manageable for everyone. Trying out some of these activities could be a good place to start if your child seems to be experiencing similar sensory sensitivities.
Here are some things we implemented at home to give him the sensory input his body needs that he has responded well to:
Deep Pressure Input Activities: firm massage to hands and arms, big bear hugs, pillow fights, wrestling, making a kid sandwich between pillows, making obstacle courses for him to climb, and playing tug of war
Movement Activities: going for a walk, picking up and playing with blocks and tiles
Oral Activities: Using straws to drink thick smoothies, chewy foods, crunchy foods, warm foods
Touch Activities: Playing with hand fidget toys, play dough, putty, and modeling clay
Auditory Activities: Listening to slow, soothing music, wearing headphones to decrease environmental noise, using a low, soft voice when talking to him
Of all the brands we have tried so far, the below have been the ones he has liked the most:
And, last but not least, the beach. This is by far Costa’s happy place where any bad mood melts away. He could play in the sand and the ocean forever. So, we go a lot and it has definitely been one of the things that is helping us all get through quarantine and being couped up in the house.
For all of you parents going through something similar, hang in there. I know it is hard. Hopefully, trying out some of these things might make it a little bit better for you and your little one.