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Awards for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder

Too often, our kids focus on what they can't do instead of what they can do. Like all of us, they are subject to human nature: Our brains are wired to pay more attention to the negative than the positive. If we as parents and role models don't show our kids the importance of counteracting this tendency by consciously choosing positive thoughts, beliefs, and emotions, our children can become demoralized. We might not even know that they are feeling ashamed, inferior, or guilty. We may not realize they are thinking, "I stink at everything I try to do." At the end of the school year, when so many kids are receiving prizes, awards, and scholarships, it's important for us to remember that it isn't the ribbon or trophy, or gift card or check for college tuition, that is the real reward. Life is not a competition for some sort of material award. The real prize is being seen for who you are, a one-of-a-kind person with many strengths, and acknowledged and appreciated for your perseverance and efforts. Our kids often have to work doubly hard to do what is so easy for others. There should be awards for kids with sensory processing disorder.

Does your child deserve one of these awards? Or maybe all of them?

The Sensory Smarts Award for Self-Acceptance. It's hard to admit you're not good at something, or that you can't do what others can do easily and naturally. To be able to say, "I'm not good at handling noisy rooms, and I'm not good at matching and multiple choice tests" takes self-acceptance. Some people go their whole lives not being able to accept their weaknesses along with their strengths. If your child can acknowledge her strengths and weaknesses and have self-acceptance, hats off to her! Remember, if we didn't have one set of weaknesses, we'd just have another. Everyone's imperfect. Know what your weaknesses are and don't dwell on them. That's something we have to teach our kids.

The Sensory Smarts Award for Individuality. This award goes to the child with sensory issues who is unapologetically different, who has come to realize that we're all different or we're all the same, depending on how we want to look at it. (Credit goes to my own son, who made that observation when he was in middle school!). What makes you different is your unique gift to the world--your set of characteristics that makes you, well, you! Your individuality needs to be expressed to the world so it can benefit. So to the child who often gets the message, "Why can't you just do it the way the other kids do? Why do you have to be different?" but embraces her individuality anyway, take a bow. You are a winner!

The Sensory Smarts Award for Compassion and Kindness. This award goes to the child who, once he realizes another person is hurting, feels deeply compassionate and acts with kindness. A child may have difficulty putting himself in another's shoes, reading facial expressions and body language, or understanding someone's experiences, yet feel tremendous sadness on someone else's behalf once he "gets" why that person is sad and hurting. Let's honor and celebrate our sensory kids whose compassion and kindness can make our own hearts crack open with pride and joy.

The Sensory Smarts Award for Single Focus. Many of us have kids with inconsistent focus. When it comes to some tasks, they're easily distracted by something we've learned to block out, whether it's a visually stimulating event (for example, that squirrel dashing across the lawn), a smell (maybe the scent of food cooking), or an internal sensation (feeling queasy because of a particular sound, perhaps). But when they focus on something they care about, they'll ignore their stomach growling, their mother calling their name, and any obstacle that stands in their way as they dive deep. They may not even know what exactly they're aiming for—greater knowledge and understanding might be their goal, or just enjoying the incredibly process of learning, discovery, and mastery. So kudos to our marvelous kids who are capable of single focus and diving deep!

The Sensory Smarts Award for Knowing What Works and Self-Advocating. When our kids with sensory issues remember, "Oh yeah! When I'm having trouble reading the white board because of how the light is hitting it, I can speak up and ask the teacher to read what she wrote," it is often a triumph. Many kids with sensory processing disorder and learning differences are afraid to speak up and ask for help accommodating their sensory issues. When they do speak up, too often, they hear, "Oh, don't be silly. You just need to try harder." So for the child with sensory issues who understands her sensory differences, knows what has to change, or comes up with a clever accommodation on the spot, and politely and firmly asks for what she needs, an award is in order. You go, sensory smart kiddo! As you think about your child with sensory issues, what award would you give them? What strengths to they display despite their challenges? Find the words to praise them for the specific challenge they have overcome. Say: "I noticed that you asked me if I could turn down the music so you could concentrate better on your homework, and I'm really proud of you for knowing what you need and asking for it." Or say, "I am so proud of you for telling your sister you needed a break from the game. You saw you were getting frustrated and you went off to your room to jump on your mini tramp for a little bit." These words of praise and acknowledgment mean MUCH more than a trophy or ribbon. They are words that say, "I SEE you—the you who has wonderful qualities and strengths. You are NOT invisible to me. I am proud of you." So give your child a Sensory Smarts Award today. Figure out what you have observed recently, or keep an eye out for something they do today, and acknowledge it, aloud, with words.

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