Beaches, Sensory Issues, and Your Child's Unique Sensory Profile
Are you off to the beach with your child who has sensory issues? My coauthor, Lindsey Biel, pointed out in a recent article on baby development and beach time that beaches offer a lot of sensory input. Some children will be calm by sounds at the beach and will enjoy sensory seeking in the water and sand. Others will find the sounds distressing and be distressed by the bright sun and scratchy sand.
In our award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child, Lindsey and I explained that each child has a unique sensory profile and that inconsistency is the hallmark of sensory issues. In other words, one child with sensory processing disorder feels so good experiencing a particular everyday sensation that she'll dash across the entire beach to get a chance to feel it--the pressure of the ocean waves smacking up against her body. Another child with sensory issues will scream and claw to get away if you try to gently coach her to put her feet in the water at the edge of a lake with gently lapping waves. When sensory processing is "off," your child's brain is not discerning, sorting out, and understanding everyday sensations in a typical way. In fact, one day she might love the bright sun and fuss when you put sunglasses or a hat on her and another day she might be fine with it or even reach for it. My son had such a high pain tolerance when he was little that he giggled when he got vaccinations, but now, years later, his pain tolerance is much lower.
In working with your child to broaden the range of sensations they will tolerate, you'll want to gently push them out of their comfort zone at times. Seeing other kids playing at a sand table and being allowed to wash the sand off their hands should they venture to join the other children in building a sandcastle, your child with sensory issues might begin to better tolerate sand on her feet at the beach. Accommodations such as water shoes, flip flops, sandals, and regular shoes when she's on the beach can help, too. Forcing a child is always a problem, and I don't recommend it. The anxiety around a memory of being forced to touch something repulsive (sand, for example) can make it harder to coax your child into trying something new next time. It will likely be harder for your child to build a greater tolerance for the repulsive sensation, and her trust in you will be reduced. It's better to use fun, coaxing, rewards, and incremental exposure to expand your child's ability to handle unpleasant sensations. In time, you might find her sensory issues changing. And as always, working with a sensory smart OT to set up a sensory diet, figure out accommodations, and get SI therapy for sensory issues for your child are all highly recommended. You can learn more in Raising a Sensory Smart Child.