#58 - Navigating Sensory Challenges: A Guide for Parents

Feb 04, 2024
#58 - Navigating Sensory Challenges: A Guide for Parents


Hello, hello and welcome back to the podcast. For those of you who are newer to me, I’m Samantha Goldman, your host, and I’m a pediatric occupational and feeding therapist who loves to help parents and therapists FINALLY understand sensory processing, identify children’s unique needs, and navigate challenging moments with confidence both at and away from the table.


And that leads me to today’s episode.

The world of sensory processing can feel extremely overwhelming, especially when you’re just starting out on your journey. Maybe you were told your child has sensory “issues”, or perhaps you’ve started to pick up on those signs yourself. But you don’t really know where to go from there. It’s kind of like a puzzle with missing pieces - nothing all seems to connect.

In today’s episode I’m here as your guide, to give you a bit of a roadmap. I want you to think of this episode as a step-by-step guide for where to focus your learning. 


So what exactly do you need to know about sensory processing to confidently support your child?

#1: What sensory processing is


Many people have heard of sensory challenges,  but don’t actually know what sensory processing truly entails. To be able to understand the sensory challenges our children are experiencing, we first have to start here. For example, did you realize that sensory processing happens in 3 different steps? And that there can be challenges within any of the steps?


#2: The different types of sensory challenges that can be experienced


Did you ever think that sensory stuff is more than just sensory-seeking or avoiding? It totally is! People often talk about these buzzwords, but there's WAY more to the story. There are actually three types of sensory challenges. The first one, sensory modulation challenges, is what people usually mean when they say 'sensory issues.' But there's also sensory discrimination challenges and sensory-based motor challenges.


To really help your child, you've got to figure out exactly where they're struggling. Let me break it down. If you just notice they're avoiding things like finger painting because of the textures, that's one piece. But what if sitting is hard for them too? They might not be able to even get to the finger painting part because they can't sit up for long enough. So, before we tackle the paint, we might need to work on making sitting more comfortable for them. One of those is sensory modulation challenges, the other is sensory-based motor challenges. 


And it's not just about knowing these types exist; it's also about understanding how they work. For example, think of it like a sensory thermometer for modulation – it helps us know when their sensory temperature is too hot or too cold. When they’re too hot their feeling angry, out-of-control, or melting down. When they’re too cold, they’re feeling sleepy and sluggish. When you get how these things work, you're better prepared to handle sensory challenges when they come your way. It's like having a guidebook to navigate your child's unique sensory world. Cool, right? My inner geek is showing here!

#3: Our 8 Senses

Surprise! Did you know we have 8 senses, not 5? This may be mind blowing for those of you who are newer to your sensory journey. For others, this may not be new information.

But in addition to the 5 senses we all know and love - vision, touch, hearing, taste, and smell, we also have 3 hidden senses that rarely get talked about:


  • Our proprioceptive sense, or our sense of body awareness
  • Our vestibular sense, or our sense of head and body movement
  • And our interoceptive sense, our sense of what is going on inside our body


Now when everything’s going well, and our senses are working together, we don’t really need to pay attention to these. But when a child is having sensory challenges, these 3 senses can be sneaky culprits behind big challenges and meltdowns. But it’s really hard to support your child through these challenges, when you don’t even know they exist.

#4: Common signs and symptoms of sensory challenges


Do you find yourself wondering “is this even a sensory thing?” As a parent, it’s helpful to know common signs of sensory challenges for each of those 8 senses. Being able to recognize your child’s signs and where they are struggling empowers you to address potential challenges before they become hurdles. Recognizing these signs early is also crucial for early intervention and support. Instead of “waiting to see” and letting sensory challenges become more of a point of contention in your family, you can get support earlier and help your child enjoy life more! To help you out here, I’ve created an extra special freebie for you this week: It’s a checklist filled with common signs of sensory processing challenges! Go to drsamgoldman.com/sensorysymptomschecklist to grab your copy.


#5: Sensory’s impact on behavior, emotional/social skills, and motor performance


There are 3 big areas that sensory processing can affect for a child. And that’s behavior, emotional regulation and social interaction, and movement. So many parents of sensational children find themselves constantly asking WHY. Why is this so hard? Why do they do that? Well, when you understand the sensory system and it’s impact on these 3 areas, these unpredictable behaviors aren’t so unpredictable anymore. For example, sensory processing can be the hidden culprit behind leaning on parents at mealtime, dressing battles, and emotional outbursts. But you first need to understand the connection to take steps forward.


#6: Helpful strategies that can be uniquely applied to your child’s personal needs


Every child's sensory system is like a unique thumbprint, distinctly their own. It has its quirks, preferences, and needs, making a personalized approach essential. It’s not just about having a bunch of tricks in your sensory toolkit, but also to have reasoning behind why you chose them, and knowing how to fit them to your support child’s unique body and needs. And when stuff doesn’t go as expected, how to roll with the punches, and pivot as needed.


As we come to the end of this episode, I want you to know that it’s perfectly normal to feel a bit overwhelmed. You might be thinking how in the world do I make sense of all of this and where do I even begin? Parenting is a journey full of twists and turns, and understanding your child's unique sensory world really is a significant part of the puzzle.


And here’s where I introduce you to The Sensory Toolbox, my online membership for parents. It's not just a subscription; it's a guide through your sensory journey. For just $19.99 a month, you gain access to expert-led trainings that cover everything we've discussed today and more – from understanding sensory challenges to unraveling the mysteries of the hidden senses and mastering the art of teaching self-regulation to your child.


But when you join, I’m not just handing you a bunch of materials; I also give you a Get Started Checklist for your first 12-weeks, to to help you lay the foundation for sensory & feeding confidence as you begin your membership. So, as you sit there and wonder how to make sense of everything we talked about today, remember, you don’t have to do it alone. Go to www.drsamgoldman.com/sensorytoolbox to join us today! I can’t wait to see you in there.


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