Is My Child Having a Sensory Meltdown?

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Maybe you’ve been there. When it comes to sensory meltdowns, I’ve been present for my fair share. I’m taken back to one particular episode my son was having. All the kids and I were at the convenience store waiting in line to pay for our gas fill-up and the Slurpees we had in our hands and he was having what appeared to everyone around us to be a tantrum. He was on the floor of the store, kicking and screaming and I wasn’t sure what to do with the Slurpees we were holding. I knew I had to get him out of that crowded store, but there were people ahead of us and people behind us and then, it happened…

“Isn’t your son too old to be having a tantrum? I never would have let my kids get away with that at his age.”

A lady who was a few people behind us in line piped up loudly to no one in particular. I wished the floor would open beneath me and swallow me up. I wish I could tell you that I turned to her assertively and told her that my ten year old was most certainly not having a tantrum and that his response was neither a reflection on him or on my parenting or that I had calmly handed her a Sensory Meltdown Awareness card, but my response was to turn beet red and stare straight ahead while I prayed for the line to move more quickly. After we paid, I got my son and other kids out of there as fast as I possibly could.

Sensory Meltdowns: Causes, Prevention, Signs, and Strategies. If you're parenting a child who has meltdowns, you have to read this!I wish that back then I had had the language and confidence to be able to turn to that lady and tell her that my son was not having a tantrum. That he was having a neurological response that caused a fight or flight reaction in his brain. That he needed compassion and help instead of judgment and condemnation.

What is a sensory meltdown?

A sensory meltdown is a fight, flight or freeze response to sensory overload. It is often mistaken for a tantrum or misbehaviour.

The main way to be able to tell the difference between a tantrum and a sensory meltdown is that tantrums have a purpose. They are designed to elicit a certain response or outcome.

Sensory meltdowns are a reaction to stimuli or something in the environment and are usually beyond the child’s control. A child will stop a tantrum when they get the desired response or outcome, but a sensory meltdown will not stop just by “giving in” to the child.

Another difference between tantrums and sensory meltdowns is that tantrums are often for attention whereas the last thing a child having a sensory meltdown wants is more attention.

Common causes of sensory meltdowns:

  • sensory overload
  • sensory underload (not really a word!), meaning seeking sensory stimuli
  • being in a new or challenging situation
  • change in routine
  • difficulty with transitions
  • inability to accurately communicate
  • lack of sleep
  • hunger or poor nutrition
  • thirst
  • dysregulation

How to respond to a sensory meltdown:

Control your own response – remember that your child is having a neurological response. You cannot help your child calm down if you are not calm yourself.

Talk as little as possible. Once your child is having a fight, flight, freeze response, their ability to access the part of the brain that processed language is essentially shut down. What works best is to say the say thing repetitively in a very calm, soft voice such as “let’s breathe”.

Remove the child from the environment to a place with very little sensory stimuli.

If possible, provide a sensory area for your child to go to with calming music, a soft or weighted blanket, noise cancelling headphones, chewelry, fidgets, a vibrating palm massager, and low lighting.

Use a calm down kit. Be sure to have practised while your child is calm so that the items and techniques will be familiar.

Help them focus on regulating their breathing. Blowing bubbles, blowing a pinwheel or placing their hand on their stomach to feel it rise and fall are good techniques to try.

What does a sensory meltdown look like?

Each child is different and no two meltdowns will look exactly the same even from the same child. Much of the sensory meltdown is due to a fight, flight or freeze response so that will determine some of what you see. Here are some of the things you might see in a sensory meltdown:

  • running away
  • whining
  • hiding
  • avoiding eye contact
  • curling up in the fetal position
  • covering their eyes or ears
  • screaming
  • crying
  • hitting
  • punching
  • pushing
  • biting
  • spitting
  • yawning
  • shutting down, not speaking, not moving

Preventing sensory meltdowns before they start:

While certainly not all sensory meltdowns can be prevented, there are things you can do to reduce the intensity and frequency of them.

Ensure that your child is always well hydrated by keeping your child’s water bottle filled and reminding them to drink from it often.

Provide healthy snacks often throughout the day.

Identify and avoid your child’s sensory triggers. As an example, if you know that your child is triggered by loud noises, use noise cancelling headphones for places that might be an issue or avoid times or locations where it may be too noisy or where sudden, loud sounds may occur. Keeping a sensory triggers log is crucial and can provide you with so much information. There is a Sensory Triggers Log included in the More Calm in the Chaos printable planner.

Be sure that your child is getting sufficient sleep. Being overtired contributes to meltdowns. If they are having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, you may want to try these sensory sleep solutions.

Teach your child techniques for calming and for self-regulation. I find that having an anti-anxety kit made specifically for your child and helping them practise with it is very effective for this.

Work on giving them an emotional vocabulary so that they can express their feelings more easily.

Ensure that your child is regularly accessing sensory activities that give them sensory input for all sensory systems. Heavy work activities are especially important.

Carry a small sensory toolkit with you with items such as sensory balls (you can easily make your own) and small fidgets.

Teach calming breathing techniques.

Use social stories.

Be sure to include some routines each day that your child can count on.

Give lots of lead-up and warning before transition times. Transition times are particularly difficult and are often the source of meltdowns if not properly handled.

These Sensory Meltdown Awareness Cards are perfect for handing out to increase understanding and cut back on judgment in public.

Looking for more help in parenting a child with sensory processing disorder? Join me for a free 5 part email series Sensory Solutions and Activities and get your Sensory System Behaviours Easy Reference Cards.

weighted blanket for sleepSleep Solutions for Children with Sensory Needs

How is behaviour affected by your child's sensory systems?What Does Behaviour Have to do with Sensory Systems?

Sensory Play with Bubbles

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Blowing bubbles is a calming activity for children. As well as being calming, there are many other benefits to blowing bubbles. Sensory play with bubbles can involve all the sensory systems.

Sensory Play with bubbles including ideas for sensory input for vestibular, proprioception, auditory, visual, oral, olfactory, and tactile sensory systems.These suggestions give ideas on how to use bubbles to involve many of your child’s sensory systems:

Visual Sensory System Bubble Play

Make observations together. Ask your child questions such as “do you see the rainbow inside?”, “what colours do you see?”, “which one is the biggest?”, “how many bubbles can you count?”

Blow one bubble and watch together to see where it goes. Track it as it flies through the sky and see where it lands or when it pops.

Vestibular Sensory System Bubble Play

The vestibular system can be engaged through bubble play by running after the bubbles, making giant bubbles with large movements such as large circles and figure 8s. Here’s a recipe for making giant bubbles.

You can create a lot of bubbles at one time for kids to chase by using a bubble machine.

You can also blow bubbles along the ground or point a bubble machine towards the ground and have your child stomp them out.

Oral Sensory System Bubble Play

Make art and stimulate the oral sensory system at the same time by doing bubble painting.

Develop those oral muscles by blowing bubbles using different tools. Experiment with seeing how the impact of blowing softer or harder has on the size of the bubbles.

Practise gaining oral control by trying to stack bubbles on top of each other and create a bubble tower.

Another good way to increase oral sensory input is by using a bubble snake to blow the bubbles through.

Tactile Sensory System Bubble Play

Put the bubble mixture in a large tub and have kids explore with their hands, sponges, kitchen utensils, and scoops.

Catching bubbles is a good tactile sensory play activity.

Blowing bubbles using your own hand as the bubble wand is also great for tactile input. Kids can do this by dipping their hand in the bubble mixture and either blowing through their fist or by making a circle with their thumb and index finger and blowing through that.

Olfactory Sensory System Bubble Play

Use scented bubbles such as these calming lavender scented bubbles to engage the olfactory sensory system. You can purchase scented bubbles or make your own.

Proprioception Sensory System Bubble Play

Blowing bubbles is a good activity for stimulating proprioception. Give your kids different tools for blowing the bubbles with. Some ideas:

  • socks (blow bubbles through the sock)
  • mesh tubing
  • spaghetti strainer
  • wire whisk
  • pipe cleaners bent into different shapes
  • seven straws taped together in a circle
  • hula hoop for giant bubbles
  • fly swatter
  • empty toilet paper or paper towel roll
  • bubble wands
  • drinking straw

Another way to use bubble play for proprioception is to have your child imitate being a bubble themselves. Have them “fill their body up” with air, shape themselves into a bubble, then pretend to float away.

Auditory System Bubble Play

Have your child try popping the bubbles with different techniques such as clapping the bubble between their hands, poking the bubble, stomping on the bubble, or slapping the bubble to see what each sounds like.

If you are looking for other sensory activities for kids, join me for a free 5 part email series Sensory Solutions and Activities and get your Sensory System Behaviours Easy Reference Cards. Calming Lavender Scented Bubble Recipe

Squishy Mermaid Sensory Bag

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My girls’ love of all things mermaid borders on obsession. Last year, they all got those Fin Fun Mermaid Tails (which incidentally are pretty darn cool!) and they have spent many an hour swimming around, flipping those fins and pretending to be mermaids. As soon as I saw this glitter at the store, I knew that I could use it to make a mermaid sensory bag and a mermaid sensory bottle. It screamed mermaid fin to me.

Squishy Mermaid Sensory BagMaking this mermaid sensory bag couldn’t be easier. With just a few items, you can create a sensory experience that your child can squish and poke and knead and press.

Materials needed:

  • resealable plastic bag (I used a sandwich bag size)
  • hand sanitizer
  • glitter
  • blue flower sequins
  • optional: duct tape (I think this turquoise glitter duct tape would be perfect)

For the glitter, you want to choose a mermaid-y colour. You could use this garnet colour or this aquamarine colour or this cool caribbean one or a pink or blue. You can also use a combination of a few colours of glitter. The key though is to use a lot of glitter. I used a quarter of a small bottle of glitter in each of my mermaid sensory bags.

Fill the resealable bag about half full of hand sanitizer. Add the glitter and sequins. Remove the excess air from the bag and seal the bag. Squish it around really well to mix in the glitter and sequins.

If you’re going to be using this sensory bag with younger kids, you will want to use duct tape folded around all the edges to seal it well. As with all sensory activities, adult supervision is recommended for all children.

Looking for more awesome sensory activities that are easy to put together? Join me for a free 5 part email series Sensory Solutions and Activities and get your Sensory System Behaviours Easy Reference Cards. Shark Sensory BagArctic Sensory Bag

The Busy Mom’s Guide to Juggling Multiple Appointments

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Running around to appointments is a reality for all moms. There’s the dentist, the paediatrician, the annual optometry check-up for each of the kids. For moms who have children with special needs, those appointments are multiplied at least ten fold. Occupational therapist, speech therapist, physical therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, medical specialists, geneticists, social skills classes, just to mention a few, all make for a very busy and potentially chaotic schedule.

The Busy Mom's Guide to Juggling Multiple AppointmentsAs the mom of seven kids and with five of them having special needs, I have learned a lot about juggling appointments with life. I have also found some secrets that have made my life so much easier. I hope in sharing them with you, I can help you save a bit of sanity and a lot of time!

These tips will make juggling multiple appointments and errands and classes and life run much more smoothly:

  1. Book the appointments for first thing in the morning. This will ensure that you will get in right on time and there won’t be any waiting. This tip alone will save you so much time!
  2. Ask if it’s possible for them to do their appointment confirmations via text or email. It used to feel like I spent as much time on the phone confirming the appointments as I did actually making the appointments in the first place. Since I switched to having them text or email me to confirm, it has saved me time and frustration.
  3. Have a designated appointment day every week. I have a set day that I leave open for appointments and running errands. I know that I will be out that day, so it’s easy to plan everything. In my life, one day isn’t enough for all the appointments, but it helps.
  4. Batch book. Set aside one time to book all the appointments for the month. This not only saves time, it saves mental energy because you get it all done in one sitting.
  5. Program all the relevant phone numbers into your smart phone (if you have one). Having easy access to the numbers makes it that much easier. I’ve even been known to batch book appointments (see #4) while sitting waiting at an appointment.
  6. Get to know the receptionists. Be extra kind to them. Bring chocolate. I am not kidding. The receptionist is the gate-keeper and if you want those early morning time slots or to be called first when they have a cancellation or to be given grace if you show up late to an appointment because another child’s appointment ran late, be extremely kind to the receptionists.
  7. Location, location! Try to find specialists who are on the same side of the city so that you can book appointments on the same day and not have as much travel time.
  8. Find specialists who are willing to come to your home. People are always shocked to hear this, but it is possible to find trained professionals in many specialities who will come right into your home. Not only will this save you time, your child will feel more comfortable and may do better. We did speech therapy for two of our daughters over Skype from right in our house.
  9. Input the appointments into multiple calendars. If I book an appointment in person, I put it into the calendar in my phone right there and transcribe it onto the paper calendar once I get home. If I book over the phone, I write it on my paper calendar and then transfer it into my phone calendar. Having the appointments in multiple calendars increases the chances you will remember. Using technology, you can also set up email reminders and alarms for yourself.
  10. Take pictures of important documents. My trick is that I take a picture of important papers so that even if I forget the originals at home (which I’ve been known to do), I can still show the picture of them at the appointment. Examples of things that I take pictures of: dental x-rays, regular x-rays, medical test results, diagnosis letters, audiograms, and prescriptions.

I hope this list of tips and tricks will help streamline your appointments and make your life as a busy mom just a little bit easier. You can also read my tips for surviving waiting rooms with kids for ideas for once you’re actually at the appointments.

Waiting Rooms: a Parent's Survival Guide

For more helpful tips for parenting children with special needs, join me for a free 5 part email series, Little Hearts, Big Worries offering resources and hope for parents.

Check out how other moms of children with special needs manage their time:

How to Win at Time Management When You’re a Busy Special Needs Parent | My Home Truths


How Visual Schedules Can Assist with Time Management Skills | Kori at Home


7 Tips on How to Make the Morning Routine Easier for Families with Teenagers with Autism | Learning for a Purpose