By Andrea Doumar, OTR/L
Tips and Suggestions from an Occupational Therapist
If you, your child, a cousin, student, or loved one experience sensory challenges, you may start to see the way it impacts their daily routines and interactions with others. Sensory Processing not only focuses on the five main senses, but also two other ones. The two other senses are the vestibular system and proprioceptive system. Sensory Processing is often seen in toddlers and school aged children, and it is becoming more and more talked about. There are also adults that are dealing with sensory processing challenges that have often been missed or labeled as only anxiety. The child that grew up as having different “quirks” or always being “clumsy,” could have been struggling with sensory difficulties that were just unknown at the time.
Sensory Processing in Adults
As a child, teachers or doctors might often say a little “quirk” is something that the child will grow out of; however, if it is a difficulty with regulating the sensory system it is not going to be something that is easily grown out of. In turn, this can impact an adult’s daily life and interactions with others due to the difficulty in regulation. Occupational Therapists can be of assistance to help find healthy coping strategies or modifications to daily routines.
Adults with Sensory Processing Disorder may become easily overstimulated or overwhelmed from different daily interactions. These can be manifested as:
- Work clothes are a bothering material or have an itchy tag
- Difficulty managing relationship with peers or coworkers
- Overwhelmed walking around a mall or crowded store
- Uncomfortable giving/receiving hugs
- Loud music is bothersome
- Sensitive to different smells or tastes
- Poor Handwriting
This is a simple list; however, examples from this list can make it difficult to build relationships with others, which in turn impacts an adult's daily routine and work. Simple activities, such as going grocery shopping can be stressful for an adult with Sensory Processing Disorder.
Tips and Suggestions
Finding a good doctor, Occupational Therapist, or health therapist is beneficial to learn about healthy and positive alternatives to dealing and coping with sensory difficulties. A doctor or a health therapist will be beneficial if the Sensory Processing Disorder is also linked with anxiety.
An Occupational Therapist (OT) can create a sensory plan and give suggestions to provide your body with calming or stimulating techniques during daily routines. Finding a good balance of engaging and calming exercises or activities is important to meet the needs of your system. An Occupational Therapist would be able to identify which system may need additional input throughout the day. Further Suggestions may include, but no limited to:
An OT may also recommend a Sensory Diet or help assist you in creating a specific schedule. Having a routine/schedule that is well planned can also lessen any feelings of anxiousness.
Establish a Routine
Find the routine that works for you. The less sudden changes in the routine, the less you will have to worry about. Having a clear yet simple routine can be beneficial. Also, if you are a person who creates “To-do lists,” then modify that schedule. Do not rush to do everything all at once. Space it out and give yourself breaks. Whether that means sitting down on the couch and hugging a pillow or sitting in silence in your car. Take a mental break for yourself and a pause to give your body time to adjust before doing more tasks.
Having things pre-planned instead of a last minute plan can help reduce some of the anxiety that might appear before going somewhere. Of course not everything can be pre-planned, but try your best. If you plan on going to a theme park, museum, or even something small like a mall or grocery store try to plan on going at times or days of the week when they are most likely to be less busy. If something like parking causes more anxiousness and stress before leaving, map out where you will park and a route to the specific location.
In addition to pre-planning large events, pre-plan small things such as the mall or grocery store. If you are going with a grocery list and you are familiar with the store, try to map out the easiest route while in the store. Grab similar items or items that are in the same aisle at one time rather than going back and forth multiple times. If you are going to the mall, look on their website to see where the store is so you can park closest for an easy way in and out to avoid getting lost and being around the large crowds for extended time.
If parking and driving to new places also causes issues in your daily routine, bring a friend as support or ask them to drive. This way some of the wait of trying to find parking is reduced or you have a friend there with you for support. A strong support system is important.
Mediation or Listening Programs
Some therapists may recommend listening programs as well. Soundsory is one type of listening program that can be used by both children and adults. Mediation has also been becoming more popular to pause and reset.
Understanding your body and sensory needs
If you know a certain texture like velvet or polyester may be a trigger to making you anxious or uncomfortable, then avoid buying clothes of the material. Look at the labels before buying items.
If you are feeling anxious about going somewhere the next day, prepare your body the night before. Keep the night simple and easy with comfortable clothes, food, and lots of water. If it is not the day before, the day following the stressful event or day, take that day for yourself to regroup. Everyone needs their own sensory breaks after being overstimulated.
Some people can be overstimulated or stressed by too much noise or loud sounds going on from outside. If this is you, there is nothing wrong with wearing earbuds or airpods to reduce some of the noise. Of course noise canceling headphones may work well on a crowded train or subway, but being somewhere like a mall or grocery store where you will still need to interact with the cashier or attendant, then just try earbuds to reduce some of the outside noise.
As a reminder, this is not specific medical advice and should always consult with a physician