My five year old son sensory integration issues in school
My five year old son is very bright and his school work is very easy for him. However, he often "zones out" in the classroom (just staring into space) and often wants to be by himself instead of working with his classmates. It is difficult to get him to begin and complete his work, to transition from one activity to another, and to get him to do simple things he has to do every day, like put his book bag and coat away. He can do these things himself, but it is like pulling teeth to get him to do these everyday tasks. Lunch is very difficult for him, as the smells in the cafeteria overwhelm him. He will not eat certain foods that most kids enjoy, like hamburgers and sandwiches, and yells for people to get away from him if they have foods he doesn't eat. He sits by himself at the end of a table most of the time, unless his friends have foods he can tolerate for lunch. He seems to function normally physically; he is very active and outgoing, he is friendly toward others. He does have friends in school, but he wants to be in control of how close they are; he can be all over them, but he doesn't want them all over him. He gets frustrated and angry very easily, like if he is playing a video game and his character loses or has a setback, and often reacts physically. When I explain to him what to do and not to do, and why, he seems to understand, but still repeats these behaviors. I thought it was just a typical boy being hardheaded and not listening, and I am not enough of a disciplinarian, but his teachers think it is something he can't help. Academically, he will pass kindergarten, but with his behavior, we don't know how he can function in first grade. His pediatrician referred him to a specialist for sensory integration issues, but the specialist said it seemed like if he had anything, it was borderline and he would probably just grow out of it. He does not show these behaviors at home, except for acting out from frustration and not wanting certain foods around him. The teacher thinks he is overwhelmed by all the activity in school, and does these things when he can't handle a situation. Does this sound like sensory integration disorder? I don't know how, when he is so good at problem solving activities and so many other academic tasks, his brain would actually not be able to handle these stimuli. Does this sound like sensory integration issues or a strong-willed boy who has problems controlling his temper? I would like to hear about anything I could do to help him. I really think he has the ability to function normally in school, I just need to know how to help him.
Hm. Well, I'm a mother of a sensory kid and I will tell you that they "don't" grow out of it. It usually shows itself in different ways as someone gets older but they always have it and if not taught to cope, then they will always feel one step out of beat from everyone else. They do suffer in different ways. For example, how long will it be until kids start to notice his habit of being upset with them if they have food he doesn't like? Or what child will want to play with him when he blows up if he loses the game? And . . . while there are always followers in the world, those that are inflexible with friends eventually lose many of them because that is not how the world works. In the next couple of years, he'll have social problems. If he doesn't learn to deal with his deregulation now (temper flares, inflexibility, etc.)--------- well, people can deal with a 5 year old but a 10 year old? A 13 year old?
So, my point is----------- I'd not take the recommendation of the "specialist" and either make a federal case that your son needs some occupatinal therapy now or switch "specialists".
Sensory has NOTHING to do with intelligence. My son is pretty gifted academically and all school work comes easy to him and always has. Sensory involves the nervous system and how the brain processes things. School (and things like birthday parties, large holiday gatherings) is often worse because . . .well, a child can not control their enviroment like they can at home. There is also a tremendous amount of stimuli.
Whether he has sensory integration disorder or not, I do not know. Whether he is borderline and needs minor help, I don't know. But you do describe a child that if this continues, will suffer with his peers as well as his teachers. One of the things that becomes increasingly looked at is independence. Kids just knowing the routine is part of the expectation--------- so things like putting coats and backpacks up is part of the deal without any encouragement from teachers. I have a 1st grader (my sensory kid) and a kindergartener (his 5 year old brother) and both are expected to do these things. By first grade, you sit at your desk and work independently on your school work and not being able to finish to completion on your own is something they give a grade on.
So, address this. You can google sensory integraiton disorder (and actually sensory processing disorder ---------- those words pull up the sensory processing disorder foundation which has a great and easy to understand web site) and "heavy work". Your life is about to get a lot busier. The key to sensory is doing the activities that feed the nervous system and keeps it calm while it needs to be. So going to parks and running, climbing, jumping, swinging, rolling down hills and running back up is something that should happen many times a week. Sign him up for swim lessons (the perfect sensory activity), gymnastics/tumbling, soccer, etc. Let him jump on a trampoline or put a mattress on the floor to jump on. Do obstacle courses. Let him ride his bike and scooter every day. This is really key in regulating a child's nervous system. Much less volatility is noticed in my child, better ability to maintain focus and sit in class, etc. Read the book "The Out of Sync Child has Fun" which is full of activities that help. Google sensory processing disorder or integration disorder and "heavy work" for ideas of games/things to do at home.
Second, you need to give him lots of choices (or the teachers do at school)-------- "do you want to hang your coat up on this hook or that one", etc. Just two things to select from----- and then he'll be apt to comply. For food, well we went through some occupational therapy for food and my son wasn't nearly as difficult as yours on this subject------- but in occupational therapy-------- they have to try everything. They are not allowed to spit it out and get big praise for one bite. I had to bring a food item that he'd never tried to each session and one he liked and he'd have to try it. Having a glass of water by him to get the bite down with helped a lot. At home is where you can do this. I'd make him try something new every couple of days-------- we have the trying bowl---- the new item goes in there and my son has to take a bite. It's kind of like "exposure" if you will. My son does not like things mixed together like casseroles but will eat the items in the casserole if seperated. He'll eat just about anything if dipped into something else--------- try barbeque sauce or ranch dressing. Teach him to breath through his mouth if he is overwelmed by smell in the cafeteria.
It does stand out to me though that your son is 5. When is his birthday? If he is a summer birthday, I'd say he would have benefited from either waiting a year or doing a half day program. I know you'll cringe when I say this--------- but what about giving him another year of kindergarten? It's the best year to hold kids back and has the least emotional impact to do it that year. If your son does NOT have sensory issues, then he was emotionally immature for kindergarten this year. He's not acclimated this whole time to the structure of school (it's nearly year end in 2 months in most parts of the US)----- first grade takes it up a notch in terms of expectations and frienships are more difficult from then on.
I think you are a terrific mom for being on the ball and trying to help your son. I've written this really fast and hope I wrote it the right way. I'd continue to pursue occupational therapy as it helps so much. My son still does OT and he has had not a bad day in first grade. He functions really well now and is like any other kid. This would not have been the case had we not worked on things.
Thank you so much for all of your input. My son does have a May birthday, and the pediatrician said that may have something to do with his behavior, and also the fact that my son did not attend preschool, so this is his first school experience. Luckily, the teachers and administration at my son's school have been very helpful. We had a meeting on Monday and they are going to start evaluating him for special education. I looked at some of the signs of sensory integration disorder, and he has about six of twenty. But you are right about having to get the temper outbursts under control before he gets much older. My son is aware that we are all trying to help him, and he tries to get over these issues himself too. One day we were out and he asked me to stop and get him a hamburger- he said he was ready to try it- but when I gave it to him, he looked at it and said he felt like he was going to throw up. One day he also asked me to make him a sandwich at home. He took one bite and said it was good, but couldn't eat any more. Last night, he said he wanted to try a salad. He ate about two leaves of lettuce, and said he liked it, but couldn't eat any more. So I am encouraged that he wants to get through this and that one day, he will be able to eat those foods. He is in a half day kindergarten program, thankfully, but that is why I am concerned about first grade- then he will be spending all day in one classroom, with one teacher, and I don't think they have time to deal with disruptive behavior. I am definitely going to try some of your tips, especially the increasing physical activity and ways to try new foods. I wish I could write more, but I have to get ready to go pick him up from school and then go to work. Thank you so much!
Well, you are smart to address it now! Good job mom. One thing you can do is also help him understand what goes on with him by talking about his "engine". When he is upset, yelling, agitated, unable to focus, wanting to squirm and move, etc. ------- his engine is too high. When he is able to focus, is calm etc.------- his engine is just right. When he is sleepy, floppy, etc, his engine is too low. This way he will have words to what is going on and those who deal with him have words that kids relate to as well. My son's kindergarten teacher started using this in her class with my son and all others. Then you can talk to him about things to do if his engine is too high. He can use his words calmly to tell the person, he can go to a "calm down spot" if he is upset, he can give himself a tight hug (deep pressure calms/slows the nervous system), he can do a crab walk across the floor (this sounds wacky probably------- but my son in first grade when he is having trouble sitting still during a group activity in which everyone sits on a bit rug on the floor---- he'll slip behind the group and do a quick crab walk or push up and then can sit still.), he can take deep breaths, etc. He'll feel like he can have some control over it and this is what you want. And the teacher can cue him by saying "oh, your engine seems like it is getting a little high, what would you like to do to slow it down?"
Slowing the process and getting them to think along the way helps a lot. good luck
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