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Helping our children who have sensory challenges . . . (part 1)

Many adopted and foster children struggle with sensory deficits and challenges. This is due to higher incidences of risk factors such as a birthmother’s difficult pregnancy (due to factors such as high stress, physical abuse, alcohol & drug use and inadequate prenatal care), difficult birth, and various types of abuse and neglect. Other forms of trauma that are contributing factors include early and extended hospitalizations (like long stays in the NICU), inadequate nutrition, absence of sensory stimulation and loss of a parent. Children who have experienced one or more of these risk factors that result in sensory challenges are often diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD. These types of stressors can have a direct effect on a child’s brain development, thereby affecting the child’s sensory systems.

Due to the risk factors mentioned above, adopted and foster kids experience sensory challenges in higher numbers that children from intact birth families. Their sensory deficits run the gamut from auditory (fear and/or aversion to loud noise); tactile (avoidance of certain types of fabric and material as well as the textures of certain foods); spatial (evidenced in physical clumsiness and lack of coordination.)

How can we help stimulate our child’s underdeveloped sensory system? This depends on what type(s) of sensory deficits a child may have. Initially, you may want to have your child evaluated by a qualified occupational therapist. For a child who has sensory deficits in the areas of physical coordination for example, (which involves balance and awareness of the “space” around him or her) here are some activities that can be helpful:

· Basketball (addresses hand-eye coordination and balance)

· Swimming

· Trampoline bouncing (addresses the child’s sense of balance)

· Any type of activity that involves tossing/throwing a ball back and forth with a partner--those large red playground balls are excellent for this.

In my next blog I will address how we can help our children who have sensory deficits in the areas of sound and touch (tactile). In the meantime, I recommend an excellent book called The Out-of-Sync Child, by Carol Stock Kranowitz. The author is an occupational therapist, and is highly regarded as one of the prominent authorities in the U.S. on children with sensory challenges and Sensory Processing Disorder. Thanks for reading!


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