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Ways to Support a Friend Whose Child Has Sensory Issues

Ways to Support a Friend Whose Child Has Sensory Issues

It is easy to accidentally say or do something offensive when you are dealing with an unfamiliar subject, especially when it has to do with parenting. One issue that is frequently misunderstood by not only parents, but everyone, is sensory processing disorder (SPD). Most common in children, individuals with this disorder exhibit behaviors that might normally be construed as irritable or “bad parenting.” Given the developmental stage that children are at during this time, parents often appear as if they cannot gain control over their child’s behavioral issues. However, this is not the case. Parents of children with SPD are constantly working to better understand their child’s condition and how to best raise them. Here are just a few things that you can do as an ally to provide parents of children with SPD with the support they need.

Understanding SPD 
Sensory processing disorder makes it very difficult for a child to process and respond to information that comes in through their senses. They might be oversensitive to sensations that you perceive as normal. "Soft" clothing can feel uncomfortably rough, certain sounds are unbearable, and "normal" lighting might be painfully bright. You should always remember that a child with SPD cannot control these feelings and that situations you might consider to be normal can be overwhelming to them. Never assume that SPD is a phase, that a child with this condition is overreacting, or that what's happening is due to bad parenting. Parents of SPD children need support, not criticism. Understand that children with SPD require different levels of attention, and that their parents are on a separate journey to discover which strategies work best for their child’s needs.

Make Accommodations 
Children with sensory processing disorder often need special accommodations to function in their daily lives. This can include wearing seamless socks, watching TV and movies with a slightly dimmer resolution, and being in a sensory-rich environment if required. If you have a child with SPD visit your home or you are a teacher with an SPD child in your classroom, keep these accommodations in mind. You don't want to expose your friend's child to music that is uncomfortably loud or a television that is painfully bright when they come to visit, and you will want to give sensory-seeking children plenty of opportunities to stay engaged. Doing your part to help the child feel comfortable when in an unfamiliar environment will prevent them from feeling alienated and different. However, never forget to listen to the child’s parents. They are the final deciding factor in how to handle a child with SPD because they know their child’s sensitivities and how to manage them best.

Offer Support 
Sometimes, the best way to know how to help someone is by simply asking how you can help. Some parents of SPD kids are still exploring parenting strategies for their newly diagnosed child while others know exactly what to do but are constantly out of energy. Offer to help in any way you can and be open to suggestions and requests from the parents. 

Finally, it's easy to get upset with a child who is stressing out a caregiver, but you need to remember that a child with SPD cannot help what they feel. They aren't annoying their parents on purpose; they're either getting too much or too little stimulation and don't know how to handle it. It's hard for them, so don't shame them for feeling what they feel. A little compassion is sometimes better than any "expert" advice you can give.

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