Monday, June 29, 2009


That word strikes fear in the heart of many a mom with a sensory child. Surprises and SPD do not go together, causing an entire meltdown which may not be resolved until the following day.

First, your family needs to know that surprises are a bad idea. If they insist, tell them you will not be able to attend the function unless you are informed in advance of exactly what will transpire. This may take a sacrifice on your part. It may ruffle feathers, and it may make you unpopular, but you are your child's first line of defense. So try to get the information ahead of time.

But that said, life is full of little surprises. Flat tires, relatives dropping in, new babies, swimming pools being closed for cleaning, a stop at McDonald's and chicken pox. All surprises, and not all happy ones. How do you avoid the 3 hour fit that ensues?

The thing that has helped us most is desensitizing my son. To do that is a daily conscious effort on our part. Start early. As a sensory parent, you are probably doing most of these things already, but if you are not, here are some tips.

1. Practice the same schedule on weekends as during the week for wake up time/bed-time/meal-time. Do not vary the diet from day to day. Don't feed junk food on the weekend and none during the week. Same same same. as much as possible.

2. Early to bed, early rise. Try to have afternoons to rest or free play at home. If there is going to be a surprise, if you have control over it, try to make it in the morning. I will speak on stress hormones later, but the stress hormones are more active in the a.m., so everyone is better able to cope with stress early in the day. by 3 p.m. they are too low for your child to handle anything out of the ordinary.

3. Decompression time each day. That means a quiet environment to play freely. Also outside active time each day.

4. Deep pressure. Deep pressure is your friend. Use weighted blankets, vests, or cover your child with heavy pillows and firmly press him. Pressure is calming to the propreception sense and your child needs it.

5. Brushing and joint compressions daily. I will blog about this technique soon.

6. Prepare before you leave the house on each thing that will happen today. Give him a list. Tell him that sometimes life throws things at us that we do not expect. Once every 3 times you go out to run errands, put the word "surprise" on the list. Then make the surprise-stop fun. A stop for a cookie, or a sonic drink. A toy store run where you get something small for them. If your child maintains their composure, praise them. If not, don't scold. Say "you must be very frustrated as that was not what you expected." Acknowledge their feelings but move on.

7. When life hands you a surprise that is NOT fun...flat tire, unexpected Dr. Visit. Be very matter of fact. If your child can read, take your child's' list and add the word "surprise" in. Hand it back to them and tell them that you know he doesn't like surprises, and tell him, you at times do not like surprises either. Give them a choice of what you might do when the crisis is over. (You must remain calm and non-effected by the event. the less you react, the better.)

8. Pack a 'surprise' bag. Include a favorite stuffed animal, earplugs, a body-brush, a chewy tube or straw/gum, and fidget items. If there are things he loves, put those in the bag only to be pulled out when surprises happen.

Desensitize him first, and next make the child look forward to surprises as times when he is rewarded, praised or otherwise made more comfortable.

So many times parents of sensory kids must shield the child from situations which might trigger episodes of tantrums or nervousness. Remember that a child with SPD...every day living is a challenge which is almost too much to bear. The balance is so precarious that one proverbial straw breaks the camels' back. As the parent, you know when you have reached your limit, when one more thing sends you over the edge. Now imagine yourself as an SPD child, at that state all day, every day.

What we as parents must do is to make the child better able to deal with life. Life is literally full of surprises, good and bad. A child that is somewhat shielded from this can handle occasions that are unavoidable. A Spd child desensitized and in balance the rest of their day can better cope with the unexpected. An understanding parent can also create a sense of stability, and the child will know that no matter what life throws at him, he can compensate.


  1. Thank you...:)
    I might just send a link to this post-- on to my family-- That way they can read your words, and understand in a less emotional way...
    I can't wait to hear about brushing and joint compression, we did some of that but I never felt confident to continue without one on one supervison... and we have thought about a weighted vest or blanket... but never sure just how much weight... and if it should be used as a reward-- or time-out...
    My son is very black and white in his thinking, and so I have to be clear from the get-go what this is and what we are doing and why... Sometimes it takes time to convince him that I do have his best interests at heart!
    Thanks again...

  2. love the practical "surprise" idea. my daughter, at almost 7, has come a long way in handling the unexpected, but still always wants to know what's 'on the agenda' for the day, the errand run, etc. I hadn't figured out a way to gently add an unexpected stop, etc. - introducing surprises as sometimes good sounds like a great strategy!!


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