Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Preparing Your Child with Dyspraxia or Sensory Processing Disorder for School

Beginning a new school year can be very exciting for most children and their families. New school supplies. New clothes. New friendships. New teachers. There’s a lot to look forward to.

For children with Developmental Dyspraxia or other Sensory Processing Disorders (Sensory Integration Disorders) and their families, back-to-school time can hold an entirely different set of thoughts and emotions. It’s a time that can be fraught with fear, anxiety, and other negative feelings.

With a little planning and effort on your part, you can calm your own fears and help your son or daughter enjoy a smooth transition from summer fun back into the classroom.

I’ve talked with a number of parents, educators, occupational therapists, and family therapists to cull their best and most effective ideas for preparing your child with SPD/SID and have compiled them here.

For Makasha Dorsey, the mother of Justin who will enter Kindergarten this month, it was extremely important to establish the fact that her family was in control of Justin’s SPD, not the other way around. She and her husband spent the first year following Justin’s diagnosis with SPD closely monitoring their son’s behavior to find out what some of his specific issues and triggers were. She says, “Like most children, he likes to know exactly what's going on and when. Therefore, we use social stories, calendars, and daily schedules to help prepare him for school.”

Before classes begin at Justin’s elementary school, Dorsey scheduled a meeting – without Justin – to meet his teacher and get his schedule of daily activities. During the meeting, she took photographs of the school, Justin’s classroom, his teacher and her assistant, the school principal, the hallway, bathrooms, and the front office, which she then compiled into a social story called Kindergarten. During the week prior to the start of school, Dorsey will use the story and implement the daily schedule at home in order to help Justin prepare for and acclimate to his first school experience. The preparation will culminate in taking Justin to the school’s open house to meet his teacher in person. Dorsey says that she knows on the first day of school, “I can take him to school and know that he will have a great day because he has been prepared.”

She also points out the importance of educating your child’s teacher about Sensory Processing Disorder. Because it is a relatively new diagnosis many teachers and administrators have not heard of SPD. Dorsey compiled a booklet for Justin’s teachers using information from "The Out of Sync Child" and "Its So Much Work to Be Your Friend". She gave copies of her booklet to Justin’s teacher, the principal, school nurse, and school counselor.

Sharron Dark, a special education instructor who teaches in the Washington, D.C., public school system agrees with the importance of educating the educator and any support staff who will have contact with your child. She points out that most mainstream classroom teachers are relatively unfamiliar with and uncomfortable with diagnoses like SPD. She says that providing them with basic information about the condition is extremely helpful, but you should be careful not to overwhelm your child’s teacher with too much information. You should also be wary of undermining your child by setting up low expectations with the teacher.

To prepare your child and encourage them to be excited by school, Dark recommends taking your child to the school before school starts when it is not crowded in order to help familiarize your child with the school. She also suggests taking your child to shop for a special item such as a new backpack or lunch box. Finally, she recommends using puppets or dolls to create and act out a story about the emotions your child may be feeling with regard to starting or returning to school.

Minneapolis mom Eileen Parker recommends integrating sensory therapies like weighted blankets to help calm children with Sensory Processing Disorder while in the classroom. This is an item that parents can introduce to their child’s teacher during an open house or meeting scheduled before school begins. Parker’s child benefited so much from the use of a weighted blanket that she launched her own line of weighted school Lap Cozys that help ease anxiety and help with concentration and focus.

Remember that every child is different and you know your child better than anyone. That said, most children with Dyspraxia or any other form of Sensory Processing Disorder benefit from having a routine and from being prepared for transitions. Starting school, whether for the first time or the fifth time, remains a huge transition after a summer that may have offered a more flexible schedule with lots of down time. Taking the time and effort to prepare you son or daughter for the start of school can pay off tremendously in reduced stress and better classroom performance. Your child and his teacher will thank you. And you just might thank yourself.


Cranky Mommy said...

So is B excited for next week? AT is glad she's going to be homeschooled, GR is glad she's not going to be and AK doesn't know the difference!

ViolinMama said...

Hey D!

Ok wow, since finding your blog, I've been reading here and there, and I just have to say I'm really proud of the way you have just jumped in there with the Dyspraxia diagnosis. Something like this just strips away your foundation at first because it is so mind blowing, stressful, and life changing. We feel powerless to help our child. I can't imagine your stress, but to see how you've become empowered by helping B, yourself, and others with one of your greatest strengths is so inspirational. I didn't know you were doing all this, and I'm really proud of you.

Thanks for writing this, and giving other parents their sense of empowerment, and dare I say some control, back!

Stefan said...

You may be interested to check out the Free Sound Therapy Home Programme available from Sensory Activation Solutions. Their Auditory Activation Method builds on the pioneering work of Dr. Alfred Tomatis (Tomatis method) and Dr. Guy BĂ©rard (Auditory Integration Training) and has been specifically developed with the aim to improve sensory processing, interhemispheric integration and cognitive functioning. It has helped many children and adults with a wide range of learning and developmental difficulties, ranging from dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder to sensory processing disorders and autism. It is not a cure or medical intervention, but a structured training programme that can help alleviate some of the debilitating effects that these conditions can have on speech and physical ability, daily behaviour, emotional well-being and educational or work performance.

There is no catch, it's absolutely free and most importantly often effective. Check it out at: http://www.uk.sascentre.com/uk_free.html.