Are you struggling to get your child with sensory integration dysfunction to don all that wonderful winter clothing that will keep him warm and safe when playing outside?
What is Sensory Integration Dysfunction?
We usually think of the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. We also receive information from our body position sense (proprioception), our balance and movement sense (vestibular), and our internal senses (interoception). In other words, sensory integration is the process of using our senses to:
1) Quickly take in sensory information.
2) Organize this information.
3) Use it for success in everyday activities.
Sensory integration helps children “make sense” of the world around them. Think of all the sensations you experience while dressing, bathing, walking or riding a bike.
Children are constantly taking in the sensory information around them and using these messages to learn, play and interact with the world. However, children with sensory integration issues have trouble processing the information from their senses correctly.
“Dys” means “difficult” or “disordered.” Sensory integration dysfunction may result in difficulty with visual-perceptual tasks and/or inefficiency in the interpretation of sensations from the body. A child with sensory integration dysfunction often has trouble with simply organizing his or her own body for movement and behavior.
Here are some tips if your child resists winter clothes:
1. Make winter clothing items more tolerable through desensitization and careful attention to textures and tightness. Many children prefer one type of scarf material to another, or prefer gloves to mittens or vice versa. With kids who have sensory processing differences, these preferences can be intense. They may actually be deeply distressed by the feel of certain clothing. Yet, you don’t want them to get frostbite because they’re underdressed for cold weather. Also, playing with snow will make any non-waterproof clothing wet and cold. Fortunately, there are many options available.
2. Sometimes, sensory kids can better tolerate clothes if they’re tight or, at least, if tight clothing is worn underneath looser clothing. Consider offering tight long johns, glove liners or tight and fingerless nylon “arthritis gloves,” and spandex caps or face masks (often available in bike shops or sporting goods stores) that give comforting input. These can be worn alone or underneath items such as acrylic hats and nylon snow pants.
3. Won’t wear gloves, mittens, hats or scarves? Hand warmer packets kept in the pockets can help keep hands from getting frost nip, at least when they’re in the child’s pockets. You might also massage the child’s head and hands before she puts on a hat or mittens. Light vibration from a hand-held vibrator or even a vibrating toy or toothbrush may work to desensitize the skin as well, allowing your child to handle the sensation of clothing against these parts of the body.
4. Your child may have dry skin that is making his discomfort worse. If he will tolerate lotion or oil that will lock in moisture, use it liberally, especially after a bath or shower when the skin is still warm and moist, as it is most effective at these times. You might consider making baths and showers less frequent to prevent dry skin, and think about adding an essential oil to the bath (but do not use lavender or tea tree oil with boys, however, as some research has indicated these oils act as hormone disrupters in boys).
5. Keep cheap accessories on hand. It’s a good idea to stock up on cheap hats, gloves, mittens, snow pants, and boots during the summer at second-hand stores and look for ones that are not scratchy (for instance, fleece rather than acrylic or wool), have minimal elastic (such as at the wrists), and which you know your sensory child can tolerate. If he is uncomfortable in a clothing item, ask him if he can express exactly what is bothering him. When you can, have extra dry clothing on hand in case he does get an article wet or loses it.
6. Try fleece. Keep in mind, too, that fleece repels water fairly well, so if he cannot tolerate nylon you might have him wear fleece.
7. Lastly, remind your child to drink water during outdoor activities to stay hydrated, which will also help prevent dry skin.
Stay warm and enjoy winter!
Submitted by LLA Therapy, which offers speech-language, physical, occupational, behavioral, and music therapy at its clinics in Fairlawn, Hudson and Medina. LLA is committed to guiding all individuals toward quality therapy solutions to improve the lives of their patients and their families in a collaborative, nurturing and supportive atmosphere. For more information, visit llatherapy.org