The Sensory Child Gets Organized
Chapter 1 How Sensory Organizing Worked for Me
Sensory Kids Need Special Solutions
Imagine your mornings at home with your child running more peacefully. You knock on the door, ask him to get dressed, and head down to the kitchen. He selects a shirt from one bin, jeans from another, and has time to run downstairs and enjoy a quick breakfast. When it’s time to head out the door, he grabs his backpack (packed the night before) from his backpack hook, grabs his shoes that are waiting in his shoe bin, and leaves for school.
In the afternoon, he comes home, has a snack, and pulls out a homework plan sheet that helps him map out a homework time/break time schedule. After getting through some of the hardest homework, he takes a planned fifteen-minute break in his room playing with his action figures. At dinnertime, he is able to engage in conversation and stay seated by playing dinner conversation games. After dinner, he runs seamlessly through the evening routine of a chore, finishing homework, packing his backpack, and enjoying some free time, finally making the transition to bedtime relaxing and calm.
If you are supporting a rigid, anxious, or distracted child, this scenario might seem like a fairy tale. I’m here to tell you, as a professional organizer and as the parent of a sensory child, that this can be your reality. It’s all about learning how to tap into simple systems, routines,
and visual guides to support and organize your sensory child: tools that can empower both your child and your entire family.
The numbers are staggering: thousands of young children are being diagnosed each year with anxiety disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), autism spectrum disorders (autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, pervasive developmental disorder–not otherwise specified or PDD-NOS), pediatric bipolar or mood disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or sensory processing disorder (a behavior profile commonly seen with kids who have these diagnoses). There is also increasing evidence that some environmental factors like Lyme disease and PANDAS (pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with strep) can trigger or exacerbate some of these neurological and behavioral challenges.
The treatment options for kids who present with these types of sensory issues are vast. Much success can come from a combination of supports such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral therapy, accommodations/supports at school, and medication. However, there is so much that you as a parent can do, as well. That’s where this book comes in. As a parent, how do you learn how to support your “sensory” child in the home and make your day-to-day living experience less stressful and more meaningful?
“Sensory” kids—including those with AD/HD, anxiety disorder, OCD, sensory processing disorder, bipolar disorder, and autism—often look at the world through a different lens. There are so many questions parents have when learning to live with and support these sensory kids.
• How can you develop simple ways to communicate and connect with your child?
• How can you learn to anticipate and deal with the seemingly simple activities that create a major challenge for your child?
• How can you create spaces in your home to help your sensory child feel comfortable and at ease?
These are the kinds of practical, everyday issues that your doctors or therapists might not address. That’s why I wrote The Sensory Child Gets
Organized: to help bridge the gap between essential clinical support and practical in-home solutions.
Through my experience as the parent of a sensory child and as a professional organizer, I know that sensory kids need special organizing solutions. Parents want to connect with their children, want to learn their “language,” and have peace at home. These Sensory Organizing techniques will show you how to use simple organization, structure, and visual aids in your everyday life to address some of your child’s challenging sensory behaviors. This book offers practical, easy-to-implement strategies that can be life changing for you, your sensory child, and your entire family. Our sensory kids are smart, perceptive, connected, and loving when they feel understood and supported, and this is our goal!
My Journey to Systems for Sensory Kids
My journey into the world of sensory kids and Sensory Organizing began in 2002, as my husband and I were learning how to live with and support our own sensory child. For our son, who was born healthy and happy, things seemed to take a sudden turn between eighteen months and two years of age. He started to show signs of some developmental delays, such as regression in speech and a new hyperfocus on certain activities and repetitive play. He also had explosive episodes, became overwhelmed with playgroups, and seemed to be much more internally focused. We then began the sometimes-frustrating process of evaluations, reports, and appointments trying to get a diagnosis. We were looking for answers. What is happening to our child?
At age two, our son began getting speech and occupational therapy support through Early Intervention. It was extremely helpful for some very specific tasks that were challenging for our son and gave him some critical sensory input that he needed. I remember being so overwhelmed with all the other difficulties during our day: getting him to take a bath, cutting his nails, preparing him for a change in schedule, getting him to sit through dinner, and taking him to a birthday party, just to name a few. Many seemingly simple tasks were anything but
simple. I was continually bombarding our speech and occupational therapists for information about how to support the way he was seeing the world, and how to make the days run more smoothly for him and for our new daughter, who arrived when he was two years old.
Our son was like many children whose presentation comes down to “a little bit of everything.” Because his symptoms present as a combination of many diagnoses, I developed a real appreciation for what families were living with when supporting sensory processing disorder, AD/HD, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, Asperger’s disorder, mood disorders, as well as strep-triggered tics and obsessive-compulsive disorder (PANDAS), and neurological symptoms (including attention problems, short-term memory loss, depression, mood swings, and/or learning disabilities) as a result of late-stage Lyme disease. I also began to develop a few key concepts to help my son deal with some of the challenges he faced, such as getting ready for school in the morning or doing homework in the evening.
Over time, I began to see the power of structure and routine for my son in helping him navigate his day. He was a visual learner (like many sensory kids) and we began to tap into visual supports to help him with simple tasks inside the home. When we gave him labeled clothes storage bins, he was able to put clothes away and pick out clothes for school independently and without frustration. This became life changing for us. We made a conscious effort to concentrate on what was hard for him, and then develop a system or strategy to support him in overcoming the challenge. By picking a few challenging behaviors at a time and coming up with simple visual supports and routines, we could help him slowly modify his behavior.
I also noticed how helpful it was to have his environment set up in a way that made sense to him. When he had a defined homework space, a visual homework plan with built-in breaks, and graphic organizers for difficult homework, he could be successful. The internal confusion could be countered externally with spaces that were clearly defined, had systems in place, and had visual supports incorporated. The impact of these simple changes was incredible. He slowly began to learn what systems worked well for him and when he needed a plan in place.
The power of structure and routine provided an additional benefit that I had not planned on—it also supported me! The sensory parenting experience for many involves a journey from denial to acceptance that can be a stressful and overwhelming experience, even for the most well-adjusted, typical adults out there. This stress is magnified tremendously if the parent has their own challenges around anxiety, emotional regulation, or distractibility and needs to learn how to help their child manage similar challenges. Sensory Organizing gives us parents the added gift of structure, routines, and visual aids that can support the process of managing life, our executive functioning challenges, and our overwhelmed days. When we support ourselves with simple organization, structure, and routines, we are infinitely better at supporting our sensory kids. Sensory Organizing can truly become a gift for the entire family.
When I started my professional organizing business a few years ago, I knew there would be a piece of this kind of “sensory organizing” involved. Because the need is so great, that “piece” turned into a separate business, and Systems for Sensory Kids (SSK) was born. Recognizing how many overlapping behaviors there are in many different pediatric neurological and behavioral disorders, I wanted to focus on those challenging behaviors that families were living with daily. There is no doubt that these kids are extremely bright and can be very successful in almost anything they do as long as they have a plan in place that supports their way of processing information and sets them up to do well. Success breeds confidence.
The main goal of The Sensory Child Gets Organized is to empower you and your family with a few simple, effective techniques that will help you and your child be happier, calmer, and more successful. I am not a doctor or clinician, and I never make a diagnosis. But from my own experience, extensive research, and working with so many other families, I know there is an enormous need for parent-based, practical solutions for the everyday challenges of raising a rigid, anxious, or distracted child. This book gives you a game plan for learning how to live with and best support your sensory kids at home which, in turn, will give them increased self-awareness and confidence. I also believe strongly in the
power of a team, and part of the team in supporting most sensory kids is going to be that essential clinical support from psychologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, pediatricians, neuropsychologists, and the many other professionals who work to support sensory kids. Early, consistent clinical support is so important in helping our kids reach their potential.
The most important team, and the team that will have the biggest impact, is the team at home. Our whole family thrived with these supports, and it has helped us all have a better idea of who we are, what works for us individually, and how we can best support each other.
Let’s Empower You to Learn Your Child’s Language
I know firsthand the power of learning your child’s language and translating that knowledge into tangible supports for everyday life. We know that our sensory kids are bright, creative, and long to be successful in their daily tasks. I will teach you simple ways to learn your sensory child’s language, as well as universal approaches to creating visual aids that will support current challenges.
By the end of this book, my goal is to have you seamlessly observing, prioritizing needs, and creating supports for all types of different experiences. Having the correct sensory supports at home, and available for out-of-home experiences, will have a dramatic impact. These tools will also help our sensory kids feel capable, successful, and well on their way to a clear self-awareness of their own strengths.
So let’s start learning a new language, educating your team at home, and Sensory Organizing!