Calming Activities for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

by on December 16th, 2010
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According to the latest research, Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD as it is widely known, may affect as many as 1 in 6 children. Essentially, children with SPD cannot properly process and interpret everyday sensory information being received. This results in atypical behavior that can negatively affect daily life. My daughter was diagnosed with SPD and termed a ‘sensory seeker’ back in 2010. The methods below are all activities involving the five senses that I have used to calm my own daughter who can be high strung and crave constant stimulation. I learned them both through occupational therapy and my own research. However, be aware that what may work for one child with SPD may not work for another and therefore not have the intended effect. Be sure to discuss appropriate calming activities with your child’s occupational therapist before proceeding.

Auditory Activities

Music-Playing certain songs can make a huge difference in the arousal level of an SPD child. In the case of my daughter, I found that Enya helps her calm down and focus. Other calming rhythmic music choices include Yanni, Drum Medicine, and the Canyon Trilogy: Native American Flute Music.

Avoid Loud Situations- Naturally, children that are in loud, stimulating environments can become more rambunctious. Now put a SPD child in a situation like that and the problem becomes magnified. Removing the child to a quiet and relaxing environment can make a huge difference in behavior.

Tactile Activities

Blankets-A blanket can come in as a handy tool for sensory seeking SPD children. One fun ‘game’ involves rolling the child snugly in a large blanket just like a hot dog. This technique uses weight and pressure to give the proprioceptive input that the child craves.

Massage-This is another great method for calming an SPD child that is too aroused. If my daughter is having a particularly difficult day, I will massage her using deep pressure for several minutes. She almost always relaxes immediately.

Heavy Work Activities- It seems almost an oxymoron, but specific physically demanding activities help calm and regulate the sensory seeking SPD child’s nervous system. Types of heavy work activities are endless, but several options I have found to work for my daughter include silly putty, the trampoline, vacuuming, running, riding a scooter, roller-skating, and her all time favorite-shoveling snow outside .

Wilbarger Protocol- This is probably one of the most effective calming methods. In simpler terms, the Wilbarger Protocol rewires the nervous system and helps the SPD child properly regulate incoming sensory information. This is a method that needs to be done under the guidance of an OT.

Visual Activities

Books- Reading is great for calming SPD children and continues to be my ‘go to’ when my daughter is jumping off furniture and out of control. After a couple of minutes of reading a book to her, she will stop rushing around and sit calmly and attentively. Shortly after, her behavior is much more manageable.

Fish Tanks- It is widely known that owning fish has health benefits for both young and old alike. SPD children can benefit greatly from having a fish tank. My daughter has a 5 gallon tank in her bedroom that not only calms her down, but helps her sleep better at night by providing white noise.

Oral Activities

Straws- Sipping something with a thick consistency such as a smoothie or apple sauce through a thin straw is very calming. Interestingly enough, this is a type of heavy work activity that engages the mouth and helps an SPD child regulate the nervous system.

Candy- Gummies, lollipops, and gum are all great ‘tools’ to focus and calm a child with SPD. Although I do try to limit candy, it works great for getting my daughter to sit still long enough to shop at the store or tolerate a long car trip.

Olfactory Activities

Aromatherapy- Smells play such an important part in helping children with SPD. Some smells can be invigorating while others are very soothing. In particular, vanilla and lavender are two smells that I use to relax my daughter. I spray the scents on her pillow at night to help her sleep better.

For more articles written by Nicole Rae that are related to Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD):

Sensory Processing Disorder Part 1: -My Family’s Struggle to Make Sense of it All

Sensory Processing Disorder Part 2:-My Daughter’s Official Diagnosis and Therapy

Sensory Processing Disorder Part 3:-A Bright Future Ahead


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