Why do sensory children show fewer undesirable behaviours in school, and in other places, only to completely melt down when they get home?
When they are in school, they see what is considered appropriate behaviour. They know what gets them in trouble. Or why the kids laugh at them. They don’t like disapproval any more than we would. They are embarrassed to be punished in front of their peers. They want to blend, and be like the other kids. As they begin to progress in therapy, and can finally feel some measure of control, we frequently begin to see that there are periods of time they can hang on - by their finger tips. Steeling themselves through the school day.
They grit their teeth and hold.... hold.... hold on to their emotions, their feelings, and just want to appear as calm and collected as possible. And when they get home, when they are in the safest place they can ever be, where they are accepted for who they really are, and loved anyway, they let LOOSE! They sometimes fall apart, crying, or in anger. They can become as obnoxious as we’ve ever seen them. They may crash and play risky. Speak hatefully to their parents and siblings. Fall completely apart. They can’t hang on any longer.
Can we understand and help them through this? If we understand what is happening, we can. If this sounds at all like your child, there are several things you can do to help her. Consider some of these options, and apply what you feel she would find comforting.
If you pick your child up from school:
Have either soft, slow music playing on the radio, or a favourite DVD. She may prefer silence, or calming music, you will know. Think: Sensory Comfort and Calm. Have in the car, possibly a weighted lap pad for her to lay across her lap, or a heavy item in her lap, for the ride. A drink ready for her, with a straw can be comforting, and give her soothing input on the ride home. A crunchy or chewy snack can help alleviate aggression or the feeling of being overwhelmed. A fidget of some type to squeeze in her hands. It’s okay to say: “Let me know what makes you feel better.” Because this overwhelmed feeling is not pleasant for her.
When your child get’s dropped off:
When he/she comes in the door, have your home as quiet as possible, with the exception of calming music if he prefers that. A scented candle that he loves would be soothing. A strong deep pressure hug that lasts a few moments would steady him. Pressing down and releasing several times on the top of his head would be calming. Again, a drink with a straw, a snack that she has to chew or crunch. A weighted blanket or object. Rolling up in a blanket to settle a few minutes. Some kids want an immediate Epsom Salt bath to calm and sooth away the stress. Ask him what he thinks would be soothing to him right now. The kids almost always pick exactly what they need if we offer them good choices.
Some kids need to go outside and swing themselves into oblivion. Or jump on the trampoline until they can’t anymore. If it is activity he seeks, provide it in a safe environment, and let him go at it, without interrupting for a few minutes. Large heavy muscle movement is actually very calming to some of our seekers and crashers. They stop when they have had enough. If he is taking it out on your poor home? Try to find alternative ways he can get similar input on something that is safe and available. Even a mattress on the floor. Hanging upside down in a swing. Spinning outside, (hopefully!) until he doesn’t need to spin anymore. If he speaks harshly, try to understand how he is feeling, and work on providing enough sensory input, until he is feeling calmer, and more in control.
The good news?
The fact that he is able to feel in control for some of the time is great, and shows you therapy is working. You’ll see longer and longer periods of control, and less meltdowns, if you give him both preventive sensory input before school and on occasions where you feel he is trying hard to hang on, and even again after, when he is overwhelmed to the point of losing it. Many times, when we know it’s coming...we can do preventive measures like I just described. You should see a change in his behaviour, and his trust in you will grow even more, as he realizes you truly do understand how he must be feeling.
He falls apart with you in particular, because he loves and trusts you more than anybody, and knows you love him anyway. He can be himself. And you can help him learn how to combat this, prevent it, and show him how to cope with it, so he won’t feel as much need to fall apart. He can hold it together sometimes, and in certain situations, because he really is improving and is capable sometimes, and for awhile. It grows.