We like to think we are good observers our kids, but in the hustle and bustle of life, all of us sometimes overlook the underlying causes for their challenging behaviors. No matter how small a change may seem to us, it may be huge for our sensory children. If your instincts tell you that some recent change might be the cause of a new, problem behavior, listen to your gut! If you keep careful journal notes for just a few days to a week, you may well discover connections between behaviors and changes in your child's life that wouldn't occur to you if you didn't journal. It's especially important to consider journaling whenever a new behavior crops up and you aren't sure of its origin.

What types of things should you observe and keep notes on?

Sleep patterns. A child who has had sleep interrupted by sleepovers, vacation travel, nightmares, insomnia, leg pain, medical issues, changes in sleep environment such as humidity or temperature, and so on may exhibit far worse behavior and sensory issues than she does typically. Addressing the sleep issues may make a huge difference in your child's tactile sensitivity, irritability, lack of focus, etc.

Eating patterns. Kids whose food intake is off due to too many sugary treats, too much fast food or processed food, picky eating, and oral issues (for instance, teething or a loose tooth) may experience stomach aches, nausea, or loose bowels as well as rashes, sensitive skin, behavior and mood problems, and increased sensory processing problems. Journaling your child’s food intake can be very helpful in discovering what’s going on, and you can take this food journal to a nutritionist to get her insights as well. Also, if your child is on medications, it’s especially important to aim for consistency in the types of foods he consumes and his meal and snack routines. For example, a child who is excited by stimulating events may not eat enough of the foods he needs to keep his blood sugar and energy stable, or to have his medications work properly. Food dyes and preservatives can create mood or behavior problems in some children as well.

Activity patterns. Has your child been mostly sedentary for days due to a change in schedule and now is having to handle more transitions and activities? Are certain days of the week suddenly crammed with chores, therapies, and other obligations that your child may be overwhelmed by? Is there a time of day when his energy is especially low or high? Is the sensory diet incorporating enough restful and alerting activities to keep him on keel?

Changes in everyday environments. A big part of sensory smarts is becoming attuned to everyday sensations most of us don’t notice, and noticing changes in the environment. Let's say your house is especially dry lately and your child has been inside more often and is experiencing dry skin. You might not notice these changes, but they may make your child may be more tactile sensitive, more moody, more anxious, etc. In a journal, note any environmental changes—temperature, humidity, lighting, sound, visual stimulation, smells, and so on—that might be connected to a change in behavior or mood.

Share your observations. Because our kids are in multiple environments, there might be something happening that you don't know about. Has something changed in the environment, routine, or foods served at school or day care? If your child is behaving differently at home and journaling doesn't reveal an obvious origin for the behavior, and your child doesn't know or can't express what's wrong, talk to her teacher, day care provider, or therapist. Ask whether some change in day care or school has occurred, as that might be the cause of your child's sudden anxiety, lack of focus, giddiness or goofiness, or other behavior change. You might be surprised at how much effect a simple change can have on a child with sensory issues. Fortunately, the remedy may be very easy to implement, whether it is a slightly revised routine, an adjustment to the sensory diet, or a change in the types of foods offered to the child.

Get it from the horse's mouth! If your child is verbal, ask her to help you understand what is going on. If you approach her without anger, frustration, or judgment, it will be easier for her to think through and articulate why she is struggling than if she is feeling pressured to please you with an acceptable answer right this instant. In time, she will learn to observe her own patterns and advocate for her needs in an appropriate way. The day when he says, "I'm feeling tired. I think I'll go to bed early" or "I can't focus on my homework. I'm too distracted. Can I jump on my mini trampoline for a little while?" is a happy day indeed, because your child has identified what's going on in his body and what he needs to do to address it. What's more, he has advocated for himself in a socially appropriate manner. He has developed sensory smarts!

copyright (c) 2011 Nancy Peske

The information contained in this article is provided as a public service. It is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as personal medical advice. Although every effort is made to ensure that this material is accurate and up-to-date, it s provided for the convenience of the user and should not be considered definitive.

Author's Bio: 

Nancy Peske is the co-author of the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues and an advocate for children with sensory processing disorder. She sends out a monthly newsletter, blogs about parenting children with SPD, and hosts an informative website about sensory issues at http:/www.sensorysmartparent.com