More than 4 million children in the United States have sensory processing disorder (SPD), a condition which falls on the autism spectrum. Symptoms of SPD vary widely and may include food aversions, unexpected mood changes, sensitivity to lights and sound, speech delays, and problems with motor skills. If your child has been diagnosed with sensory issues, you may worry about how they will fare in a traditional preschool that isn't geared specifically towards kids with SPD. Luckily, there are numerous actions you can take to help your sensory-sensitive toddler thrive in an early childhood educational facility. Here are three ways to help ensure your toddler's school day goes well.
Serve a Healthy Breakfast
Experts agree that eating a healthy breakfast packed with nutrients like vitamin D and calcium benefits most children and helps them focus during school. However, it may be extra important for kids with SPD or similar conditions to eat breakfast at home, as some of these children have aversions to certain tastes and textures which make them hesitant to eat meals provided by the preschool.
Opt for a breakfast with a balanced blend of fiber and protein. Your child's doctor can help you figure out exactly how many grams of these specific nutrients your child needs. Eating a breakfast rich in both fiber and protein can help keep your child's tummy full until lunchtime, which is ideal if your little one attends a half-day preschool.
If your child attends a full-day preschool and needs to eat lunch or a snack at the school, you still have options. Try these ideas to help keep your toddler's belly full:
- Offer to donate snacks for the classroom, and choose healthy options that you know your child likes.
- Ask if your child can bring a snack or lunch from home.
- Bring a note from the doctor stating that your toddler has a medical condition that makes it difficult for him or her to consume certain foods.
Let the preschool know about your toddler's sensory issues. They may have additional ideas to help your child cope during meals.
Provide Medical Accessories
Some toddlers with SPD are overly sensitive to sounds, lights, and sensations, while others can only feel firm grasps or may find it comforting to bump into sturdy objects or gnaw on hard-to-chew, non-food items. Identify your child's sensory triggers and needs with the help of a pediatrician or occupational therapist, then determine which medical accessories can help your child survive preschool. Here are a few ideas that you can try with the approval of your child's healthcare professionals:
- Weighted vests or compression jackets for children who crave touch or pressure
- Sensory necklaces or bracelets, commonly called "chewies", for toddlers who find it comforting to bite, lick, such or chew on non-food items
- Hats, sunglasses, or earplugs for students who get overstimulated easily and cannot focus if things are too loud or bright
If your child attends a preschool with a dress code, he or she may still be able to bring some of these items because they are a medical necessity. Talk to the director, principal, or head teacher at the school prior to sending any of these accessories to school with your child.
Create Communication Aids
There is a connection between sensory disorders and speech issues. If your child finds it difficult to communicate during a sensory episode, send your child to school with communication aids, such as flashcards or photographs of specific items. Your child can keep these cards in a pocket, cubbyhole, or backpack so that they are easily accessible.
Some preschools may also allow your child to bring a small tablet or smartphone with a communication app installed. Policies vary, so check with the school before you send any electronic devices.
Your child with sensory issues can thrive in a traditional preschool with a little help from you and the teaching team. Before you decide against enrolling your toddler in an educational program, talk to the staff about your little one's condition. Together, you can create a safe, comfortable learning environment for your child.
For more information about preschools, contact a school like Sammamish Montessori School.