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Sensory Smart Tip: Make transitions easier for the child with sensory processing disorder, or SPD, by providing a clear picture of what comes next.  

To children with sensory processing issues, transitions from one activity to another that other children handle easily can seem abrupt and unpleasant. What seems to us to be a fun shift in activities may be, to them, like slamming on the brakes and or making a sharp turn that causes them to feel disoriented. To transition a child, first, get her attention. Call her name and tell her that you’re going to switch activities soon, and give her a time frame for completing the switch. For an older child, it may be “in fifteen minutes you need to do your homework…” For a younger child, it may be “when you’ve gone down the slide three more times, we’re leaving the park.” Keep your voice inviting and warm but firm.

Remind the child of the positive aspects of the new activity. If you’re going to the dentist, say, "Don't forget that that the dentist has that box of terrific toys to choose from when the appointment is over." If it’s a dreaded activity, remind her of the rewards that await her when she's finished with it: a sense of accomplishment, points for having done chores, pleasure at seeing the results of a clean room, a completed book report, etc.  

To help him switch gears, the child with sensory issues may well need some sort of calming or focusing activity. Climbing some stairs, marching, stretching, having a nonsugary snack, doing jumping jacks, or engaging in a fun little shuffle race (shuffling provides a lot of good, strong input to the legs) may be what he needs to regroup and gear up for the next activity on the agenda.  

If the child resists a transition and protests, think of it as an old car making creaky noises as it starts up in cold weather. Don’t give the resistance too much attention, but do give her some time to “get in gear” and adjust. Ask yourself, does this have to happen instantly or can you take a few more minutes? Plan for extra transition time, because the more patient you are, the easier it will be to diffuse her anxiety about the switch. As you observe her carefully, you’ll see which transitions are the most difficult for her and be better able to prepare her. Use calendars and clocks, even with young children, to give them a sense of what’s coming up.  

Remind her what’s involved with an activity (“You’ll have to dress warmly to go on our walk together”) and talk to her about possible accommodations for her concerns and sensory issues (“No, we can’t make the walk only 5 minutes, but you can keep your hands in your pockets instead of wearing mittens, and remember that if you rub your head before you put your hat on, the tightness doesn’t bother you so much. Yes, we’ll take the dog. No, you can’t get candy at the corner store.”) The more prepared she is, the less anxiety-provoking the transition will be.

Check it out! 

The Time Timer ® provides visual confirmation of the passing of time, helping visual learners to grasp the concept of time and its increments.

"Our patience will achieve more than our force."--Edmund Burke, 18th century orator

Copyright © 2012 Nancy Peske

The information contained in this article is provided as a public service. It is for informational and educational purposes only. This information should not be construed as personal medical advice. Because each person’s health needs are different, a health care professional should be consulted before acting on any information provided in these materials. Although every effort is made to ensure that this material is accurate and up-to-date, it is provided for the convenience of the user and should not be considered definitive.

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