Having a child with sensory needs can be a real challenge. They may get upset by the position of their socks, the texture of their food, the noise levels in their environment, among countless other things that can occur in daily life. In the beginning, it can be a struggle to figure out what is happening to your child and you feel powerless before you know the root of what is bothering them.
But once you get acclimated, as with everything in parenting, you learn your child and their normal becomes your normal. And while every child is unique, we parents can often find at least a few things we have in common with each other on our journeys with our sensory kiddos.
1. You can now hear fluorescent lights.
They may have never been a blip on your radar before, but your child’s sensory needs have made you painfully aware of that irritating buzzing sound. For some children, the brightness or the noise they make can be bothersome. So now, you notice them everywhere you go.
2. Playgrounds are a whole new world.
Holding onto the ladder tight enough to climb it, the feeling of mulch or sand in their shoes, or the sensation of swaying on a swing can all be hard for kids with sensory issues. I never understood why my son avoided playground equipment as a toddler. He would squat in the mulch and play with that, never wanting to go near the shaky bridges or dark tubes that other kids happily climbed on. As I became aware of his sensory needs, it all clicked.
3. Phone? Check. Keys? Check. Noise headphones? Check.
If your kid is upset by loud or frequent noise, you know the value of a good pair of noise-muffling headphones. The first pair I ever bought was designed for children who hunt, to protect their ears from the sounds of guns going off. They were a lifesaver. The first time I brought a pair to a wedding, my son was able to enjoy the reception despite the loud music. Little kids dancing at weddings is one of my favorite things in life and seeing my child get to participate while smiling? All the tears.
4. You can name all the foods your child will eat because there are three.
It doesn’t matter how much sugar is in something or if it’s shaped like a dinosaur or a butterfly. If it’s not the right texture or one of “the” foods, you know your child isn’t touching it. This one can be exceptionally stressful for the parent because some children end up needing feeding tubes and extensive therapies and my heart goes out to you guys. Food aversions are a tricky, rough road — which is why nobody wants to hear the “eat it or starve” philosophy ever again.
5. You have frequent talks with your child about consent. Not even because you’re woke, but because your child is a toucher.
Some kids with sensory issues do not like to touch others or be touched. On the other hand, some are hands-y enough that you’re constantly reminding them to keep them to themselves. Hugging their friend? Totally fine. Hugging another child while that child protests? Not fine. Hugging a complete stranger around the leg or petting someone’s butt because their dress looks soft? Oh god, please stop. I’m so sorry! It makes for some awkward encounters — let me tell you.
6. You’ve asked your pediatrician about anxiety in toddlers.
Something you never even thought was a possibility for small children is now a frequent part of your life. Anxiety can pop up when your child anticipates a situation that doesn’t gel with their sensory needs. Every parent of a child with noise sensitivities is nodding their head right now and picturing public restrooms with loud flushes and even louder hand dryers. We all have had moments where we held it long enough to be at risk of a UTI just to avoid the fear your child has walking into the ladies room with you.
7. The fidget spinner craze made your eye twitch.
There is a bin of “fidgets” at school for your child to keep their hands busy when they need to focus or calm down. The spinner might not have been in your toolbox, but having fidgets of any kind become a fad — and subsequently a disruption — at school can end up being problematic for your kid and their ability to learn in the classroom, especially when certain things get banned and you then have to call an IEP meeting to get those items specifically written into the document because your child actually needs them.
8. You consider tagless clothes and seamless socks to be among the greatest inventions in modern history.
Some kids cannot handle the itchy feeling of a tag in the back of their shirt or having the seam of their sock move out of place. Finally being able to dress your kiddo for the day without having a wrestling match on the bedroom floor has given you more free time in your morning than you know what to do with. (Just kidding. You’re still running 10 minutes late everywhere, but it’s still nice not having a tag-battle meltdown.)
9. Automatic eye-rolls for anyone who comments about your kid still being in a stroller.
If you’re like me, you’re pretty sure your not-so-little guy is going to be in a stroller until he learns to drive. Some sensory needs can make the feeling of force very uncomfortable. Even short walks can be tiring or upsetting for certain children. So you put them in the stroller because that’s what they need, and it’s nobody else’s beeswax how your child gets from point A to point B.
10. All the weighted things!
Anyone who can sew is your new best friend. Weighted blankets, weighted lap bands, weighted vests — they’re all indispensable when your child responds well to weight and pressure. Lying under a weighted blanket can feel like a full-body hug and that might be just what your kid needs when it’s time to settle down.
Meeting another sensory parent brings out my biggest Katniss Everdeen three-finger salute because even though our struggles may be different individually, we still get each other. There is a sense of camaraderie that gives me the urge to wave when I walk by another parent whose child has a chewing necklace in their mouth. It’s kind of like honks exchanged between all those people who have Jeeps. Except we get better gas mileage.