Sensory Challenges & Early Intervention

early intervention and sensoryAre you concerned your child may have sensory issues?

Is your child misbehaving or is it something more?  In some incidences, if sensory issues are present, the behavior may the way in which a child reacts to their environment. Sensory processing disorder can be very complex and very individualized based on the child. For children with this diagnosis, Early Intervention provides a valuable resource for parents in helping their children.

At teli our Pediatric Occupational Therapists, Speech Language Pathologists, Physical Therapists and Developmental Specialists have had extensive experience with sensory concerns and are excellent resources to help.  Parents are worried and want answers.  To support these families, our staff has identified some of the most common questions that parents ask and importantly, provides answers to help.

Q: What red flags should I look for if I am concerned my child has sensory issues?

 A: At teli, as part of understanding the many facets of children with disabilities, we listen to parents and hear them describe frequent meltdowns, inability to get out of the house, a child who doesn’t like to be touched, or over reacting to noise. These are just a few red flags of potential sensory difficulties preventing a normal happy life for a child and the family.

“Red flags” for Infants

  • Avoids or doesn’t feel comfortable being touched or cuddled by others
  • Struggles to suck from bottle or breast
  • Dislikes being placed in certain positions, such as lying back on a changing table, being held while taking a bottle, or lying on stomach for tummy time
  • Slow to develop movement such as rolling over, sitting up or crawling
  • Inconsistent patterns of sleep, wakes frequently, cries to go back to sleep or can’t self soothe.
  • Cries frequently, seems irritable, or has difficulty learning to self soothe/calm self, sometimes referred to as “colicky” babies.

“Red flags” for Toddlers

  • Hates to get messy, avoids touching or exploring certain textures, such as playdough, sand, water or foods
  • Picky eaters
  • Fearful of trying new motor activities, prefers things to be routine, the same and predictable
  • “On the go” all the time, seeks movement to the point that it interferes with daily life
  • Tantrums when it’s time to end an activity and move on to the next
  • Cries or tantrums in large groups of people such as Mom and Me class, birthday party with lots of children or family holiday meal

“Red flags” for Preschoolers

  • Avoids playground equipment including swings, slides and merry-go-rounds.
  • Has loose joints, fatigues easily, appears clumsy or sits with legs in a W.

It’s important to realize some of these behaviors may be normal and happen on occasion however, if they become more frequent and begin to interfere with the daily life of your child then it’s time to get help.  Start by talking with your pediatrician about your concerns and rule out any medical problems. Then ask for a referral for Early Intervention Services to include Occupational therapists, who are trained to address sensory difficulties.

Resource:  Debbie Fekos, Occupational Therapist

Q: How can Early Intervention help children on the Autism Spectrum.

A:  As a parent, you know your child best. You know when something just doesn’t seem right.  Has your child has demonstrated some of the red flags noted in the Q/A What red flags should I look for if I am concerned my child has sensory issues?  Take care there is help!  And getting help for your child early is an important step! Early Intervention support can provide the necessary assessment and therapy that your child may need to address their challenges.

What kind of help does Early Intervention provide? Treatment for a child on the Autism Spectrum may vary based on their unique needs and age. At teli , our multidisciplinary staff includes Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists as well as Developmental Specialists to work with your child. Early intervention services are provided free of charge, in your home and may include the following certain features:

  • Structured, therapeutic activities provided by teli’s highly trained professional therapists with expertise in autism therapy.
  • Focused therapy in the core areas of social skills, language and communication, imitation, play skills, family routine and motor skills.
  • Opportunities to interact with typically developing peers.
  • Active involvement and coaching of parents in their child’s care.

Hope for the future… Early intervention is essential for a strong foundation of learning for a child on the Autism Spectrum.  If you are concerned about your child, a health care provider can help! Early Intervention Services can help your child achieve the developmental milestones to enable them to reach their full potential.

Resource:  Kim Morrow Developmental Specialist

Q: How can I better understand what triggers my child’s sensory issues?

A:  In Early Intervention, teli therapists, work with families who have had questions about their child’s over sensitive or under sensitive reactions that may result in negative behavior.  Understanding exactly what is causing the child’s behavior is important. What “triggers” your child’s reactions can depend on the which, or how many of the five senses are impacted. The following are some of the reactions which may indicate Sensory Processing Disorder.

  • Touch – A child who pulls away from a light touch or a child who seeks intense physical pressure to the point where running into things is not painful to him or her.
  • Taste/Oral Sensation – A child who reacts negatively to the introduction to new textures of food or a child who always seeking out things to chew on including his or her fingers, hands, and other non-food objects. A child could also be very sensitive to flavors, decreasing his or her willingness to try new foods, or under sensitive to taste, requiring high flavor, spice, or seasoning in order to experience a flavor.
  • Sight – A child who demonstrated an oversensitivity to light by covering his or her eyes in brightly lit environments or an under sensitivity by seeking out very bright lights, fast moving screens, or bright colors and busy patterns.
  • Sound – A child who may react strongly to an outdoor noise such as a mower or street traffic by covering his or her ears, crying, or trying to escape from the sound. Alternatively, a child may not attend to a parent calling his or her name or may not seem to hear startling or loud noises.
  • Smell – A child who has a heightened sense of smell and reacts negatively to any new smell or the intensity of a smell. A child with a diminished sense of smell may require very strong odors to register their presence.

There are three major strategies to employ when working with children with sensory issues:

  • Remove the trigger –  Dependent on the sense affected, removing the cause of your child’s reaction can be a first step. For example, for hypersensitivity to touch, consider tagless shirts or closefitting clothing that reduces the rubbing of the cloth against his or her body.  If smell is an issue, remove the smell to which your child has a negative reaction.     
  • Gradual exposure therapy – Introducing sights, sounds, tastes, and textures gradually and on a repetitive basis helps the brain begin to adapt and the child to process the sensations more comfortably. Consider introducing Playdough to a child who is sensitive to touch and allow them to touch it and poke it, followed by a transition to shaving cream, and ultimately new food textures. Tone down or gently brighten lighting to begin to help your child tolerate modifications.
  • Provide safe ways to satisfy a sensitive need. – Identify a safe place with blankets and pillows for a child who craves touch. Consider a special “smell” jar which contains a calming smell for those children with intense sensitivity to smell. For a child with an oral craving, a chewy tube can satisfy their urge to chew.

Resource: Alex Beschorner, Occupational Therapist

If you are seeing some of the challenges identified above in your child’s behavior, you should talk to your health care provider.  Importantly Early Intervention Services are available at no cost to you!   Call us today 412-922-8322!

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teli provides therapeutic Early Intervention for children birth to 3. We're here to help every child reach their potential! Early Intervention