3 Ways to Serve Kids with a Sensory Processing Disorder
Roughly 1 out of every 20 kids has a sensory processing disorder (SPD) – and that’s according to the most conservative studies. An SPD affects the way the brain processes external stimuli. They may become overwhelmed by all stimuli engaging their senses, or they may have an aversion to one particular sense.
Now, I’m quite obviously not a medical professional. If you want more information on SPDs, there are dozens of studies and articles available online.
I’m concerned with how you practically love and care for the children in your ministry who get overstimulated. Because there are so many varieties of the disorder, these are broad stroke recommendations – but I hope they serve you in your ministry.
1. Ask Questions
If a parent shares with you that their child has a sensory processing disorder, ask all
the questions you can. What is the nature of the disorder? Does it affect all of the
child’s senses or just one? Is there a particular behavior you should watch for that
indicates the child is overstimulated? What have they found to be the most effective
means of calming their child?
Take notes. I mean it. Service times are busy and unless you have an exceptional
memory you will probably not retain much of the conversation. So, write it down.
Also, ask for their parents’ contact information (even if you already have it) and ask
permission to reach out with questions on how you could serve their child better.
2. Make Accommodations
Depending upon the nature of the SPD, you may be able to make accommodations
within your ministry. For instance, if you have a child particularly sensitive to sound,
consider providing ear plugs or even headphones.
I once had a kindergarten boy who always chose to sit against the back wall. He
wasn’t the least bit anti-social – but the large group time was too much for him. I
tried for the longest time to bring him closer to the group until I realized he was
sensitive to sound. It was quieter in the back – especially during worship. So, I let
him sit against the back wall and either I or a volunteer would sit back there with
him. I thought I was including him by making him sit closer. I wasn’t. I was making it
harder for him to engage.
Don’t treat every child the same way. I know it sounds crazy to put it that way. But
your kids aren’t the same. Love them – as best you can – according to who they are.
3. Create a Space for Them
Children with sensory disorder tend to act out when they become overstimulated.
Even if you’ve done everything you could to accommodate their sensitivities in your
service they may just need to step away from it for a moment and calm down.
So, if you’re able, we recommend creating a space dedicated to calming sensory
activities. If you don’t have room to dedicate an entire space, have a handful of bins
full of sensory toys you can pull out at any time.
Here are ten toys we suggest.
Giving your children with sensory processing disorders the space to calm down – be
it before the service even begins or when the service is well under way – is an
incredible way to love them. It may be that they miss out on a bit of large group or
small group. That’s okay. They’ll feel loved and they’ll remember how you cared for
them where they were.
I’m not an expert on this. There are so many great resources out there if you want to learn more about sensory processing disorders. But I hope this has given you at least a couple of steps you can take towards loving the kids in your care well.