By Amanda Morin
Kids with sensory processing issues can be over- or undersensitive to visual stimulation. This can make everything from studying to falling asleep a challenge. Here are some ways to help your child cope with visual sensitivity.
For kids who find bright lights painful or upsetting, dimmer lighting can be soothing. Consider using colored light bulbs or compact fluorescent lamps—the light is softer. You can also invest in a flexible multi-head floor lamp. You or your child can adjust the positions of the bulbs for her comfort.
If your child is oversensitive to sunlight, there are a few things you can do to limit her exposure. Get your child sunglasses to keep in the car or in her backpack. Talk with her teacher about moving her desk away from direct sunlight. You can also invest in portable shades that can be suction-cupped to car or classroom windows.
Some kids are undersensitive and need more visual input. Try using color systems to help her organize her belongings so it’s easier to find them. Provide bright lighting for her room and homework space. You may also want to consider investing in a projection night-light or lamp to help your younger child sleep.
Bright colors and “visual clutter” can overwhelm some kids. It can make it hard for them to concentrate or even become calm enough to sleep. Help your child keep her room neat and keep distracting posters and knick-knacks to a minimum.
Some kids with sensory processing issues find it hard or distracting to make eye contact. Telling your child she needs to look at you might make it hard for her to concentrate on what you’re saying. Try telling her she doesn’t need to look directly at you, but she does need to listen and show that she’s heard you. If seeing what you’re doing is important, ask her to look in your direction.
Some kids with sensory processing issues have trouble visualizing where their body is in relation to other objects. They may even have a tendency to bump into things or trip over them. If your child has these difficulties, you might want to think about how you decorate your home. Busy patterns on wallpaper or rugs can make it hard to see where things begin and end. Decorating in simple, contrasting colors can help. You can also use colored tape to highlight doorframes and other potential trouble spots.
You might come across these terms as you learn more about sensory processing issues (sometimes called “sensory processing disorder”). Understanding terminology can make it easier to talk to teachers, doctors and specialists about sensory processing issues.
Kids with sensory processing issues can be oversensitive to taste and smells, from cooking spices to minty toothpastes to scented shampoos. An occupational therapist can help your child develop coping skills. There are also activities you can do to help at home.
Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.
Bob Cunningham, Ed.M., serves as advisor-in-residence on learning and attention issues for Understood.
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