In my early days as a foster parent, I would often tell people about puzzling behaviors in my children that seemed to not make any sense–from laying upside down while watching television, or rocking back and forth. I would often hear people say, “could it be a sensory issue?” I was too embarrassed to admit that I had been doing massive amounts of research on the sensory needs of children and my Google searches resulted in even further confusion. There are entire fields of practice and expertise related to sensory and processing and like anything complex, it can be damaging to oversimplify. As my knowledge of the topic has grown over the years, I will share three important reference points I wish someone had explained to me.
1.) Your senses begin developing before you are even born.
It is not something that just happens–touch, sight, sound, taste, and smell all begin developing in utero. Our body has several sensory receptors that allow us to begin tracking movement, identifying voice patterns, and feeling sensations such as heat and pressure. If the mother experienced a difficult pregnancy, even due to elevated stress or medical issues, the early development of the senses can be impacted.
2.) You have more than eight senses.
While sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch are common ones we think of, there are other issues that impact the way our body perceives and interprets senses within our environment. The inability to sense body movement, position, and balance (known as proprioception) and spatial orientation (feeling grounded and knowing where you are body is “in space”) are often seen in children with sensory processing issues. Children may seek certain activities and body movements while avoiding others can easily over stimulate themselves with certain activities causing their systems to become overly activated.
3.) Our senses impact our sense of safety.
The way our brain interprets sensory information is directly tied to our ability to feel safe within our environment. Too much noise, light or certain textures can have a significant impact on physiological and emotional well-being. The combination of physical and emotional distress for children with sensory issues can be a recipe for disaster if not understood and addressed.
If you suspect your child has sensory deficits, it is important to seek the proper help and intervention from people who can help you understand how to meet the unique sensory needs of your child. For some children, this may be addressed in occupational therapy. Helping children understand their senses and how to meet their own sensory needs is an essential life skill.
The benefits of chewing gum?
Believe it or not, the act of chewing gum can help children uniquely fulfill sensory needs. While many parents are hesitant of gum due to potential messes and leaving things sticky, I have found the benefits far outweigh the potential risks.
The Out of Sync Child teaches us that act of chewing gum improves various bodily functions and has been proven to increase brain activity. Information from your sensory organs generated by chewing is moved through the nerves and results in enhanced activity in the brain cortex.
By increasing blood flow to the brain, you experience improved heart rate, increased concentration, and a calming psychological effect. This is a common tool used by athletes that can easily be incorporated into our home routine. Allowing your child to choose from a variety of gum is an easy way to incorporate more YES’s into your day while teaching your child about self-regulation and emotional control. Bubble gum that is larger in size and requires more input from jaw muscles will be most effective for calming down a kiddo’s difficult behaviors. Be proactive by offering children gum when you notice behaviors begin to unravel or provide it ahead of time for situations when they are prone to meltdowns. You can help your child learn to self-regulate by teaching them to ask for gum when they need help calming down.