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Worth Repeating: SPD Expert, Chynna Laird, Reports...Five Ways to Help Your ‘Sensational’ Kid Through Transition - shared on our blog August 27, 2010

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SPD Expert, Chynna Laird, Reports...Five Ways to Help Your ‘Sensational’ Kid Through Transition

By: Chynna Laird

NB: This article was written for parents but we felt it was something you might want to share with the parents of your kiddos

Reprinted from "OUR Journey THRU Autism," a blog featuring professional experts and warrior parents to help you on your journey thru autism. Subscribe today at

One of the greatest areas of concern in caring for my Jaimie is transition. Since she’s been very tiny, her routine is sacred to her and even the tiniest change can set her into an instant meltdown. You see, many of our kids rely on ‘the same’, clinging to their routines with an iron fist, because knowing what’s going to happen every moment gives them some control and makes them feel safer in a world they often feel unsafe living in. For Jaimie, it doesn’t matter how large or small that change or transition is, she tortures herself with every possible “What if…?” she can think of. She loses sleep, she stops eating, her sensory sensitivities intensify, then she shuts down. Aside from her severe tactile defensiveness, her transitional issues have remained as intense today as they did when she was a baby.

A few years ago, we needed to prepare Jaimie for every minute event that would happen, that might happen or that was highly unlikely to happen but we covered it ‘just in case.’ The problem we soon realized was that there was no way we could possibly prepare her for everything because life throws little surprises at you all the time. It got to the point where she was so terrified of all the ‘highly unlikely’ stuff she refused to go out. This was obviously not what we wanted for our child. She needed to live her life! The best we can do is go over the basics of something, make sure she has the tools she needs to get through that particular situation, ensure she’s had enough of the proper parts of her Sensory Diet then have a good calm down time in her special place.

Here are five of the many ways we try guiding Jaimie through transition:

(1) Talk about it—but not too much. Jaimie’s speech and her communication skills have greatly improved, making it much easier to explain things to her. For bigger events, like Grandma coming to visit or Mommy going on a trip, I start about a week in advance. For smaller events, usually a couple of days is good. All you should do at first is bring it up, when it will happen and how long it will be. Bring it up while doing something calm and when he’s feeling ‘safe’ so it’s easier to digest. Then let it go. Allow her to process that part of it. Then as you get closer to the actual event, you can give more details.

(2) Mark it on the calendar. What we usually do is put our event up on the calendar with all the days it will go on (eg: like with Grandma’s visit). This gives your child a way to keep track of it and she can mark off each day with a sticker or ‘X’.

(3) Create a social story. This is essential in our house. A social story is basically a way to talk through the situation or event in a way the child can relate to. Because I’m a writer, and Jaimie loves reading, I write little books for her. So, if Grandma comes to visit, the story would go something like this: “Grams is coming to visit. She’ll be here from ___ to ____. Daddy will pick her up from the airport and bring her here. During Grams’ visit, we will (1) _____, (2) ______, (listing the fun things we’ll do). I might feel (list feelings with appropriate face stickers). It’s okay because I know what I can do. I can go into my tunnel with my Lamby. Or I can swing in my hammock swing. Or I can go to my calm place and be alone. I can use my words with Grams, Mama or Daddy and they will listen. I will be okay because I have a plan.” I usually have a little calendar to count down the days until the event in the story too with lots of pictures, stickers and other visuals so she ‘gets’ it more easily. We read it each day, usually at story time—just before her bedtime book—while I massage her.

(4) Make a plan. The word that works really well with Jaimie is ‘Plan’. Many children with SPD like this word not only because it helps to layout the basics of what will happen but it also gives them some control. They have to contribute to the plan so it’s successful. Giving these kids that small amount of power is so important for their self-esteem and it inspires them to do for themselves. We usually have Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, etc. for what we’ll do when Grams comes (or during another event) so that we always have a ‘back up’ if it rains or something is closed, etc. And using a visual cue, such as our “Change” card below, can let your child know a change in plans is coming and she’ll be ready for it.

[Image: change_card.JPG]

(5) Sensory Diet, Sensory Tools, Calm Down Time—the three essentials: No matter what else is going on, be sure to prepare your child’s body for what’s happening by giving his body the sensory input it needs to get going. For us, that means a tremendous amount of proprioception and vestibular activities. Be sure your child has her favorite fidgets and calming tools by her side—we have plenty of things for Jaimie to squeeze, rub and chew on—for the entire event. Finally, and I can’t stress how important this is, make sure your child has some constant calm down time throughout the event. When we don’t give Jaimie and her brother, Xander, this time, Jaimie ends up crying the next day and unable to make the tiniest decision while Xander bounces of the walls refusing to rest. You know what will work for your child: If she’s low and ‘floppy’ get her moving a bit; if she’s hyper and ‘up’ get her doing something where she’s squeezing (or being squeezed), carrying or wearing something heavy or similar activities.

Transition requires a great deal of planning, organizing and communication but it’s all worth it if your child is able to get through life’s surprises and changes with greater ease. It’s taken a great deal of experimentation and patience to figure out what works best for Jaimie and Xander. And, yes, there are days where even the best set plans won’t work the way we hoped they would have. All you can do is keep trying different tools with your child until something clicks. Remember: You’re teaching your child today how to take care of himself tomorrow. Be strong and listen to your gut.

Reprinted with the express permission of OUR Journey THRU Autism as originally published on their Website.

OUR Journey THRU Autism is a blog featuring professional experts and warrior parents to help you on your journey thru autism. Subscribe today at

About the Author: Chynna Laird. Chynna is a psychology student, freelance writer and author living in Edmonton, Alberta with her partner, Steve, and their three daughters [Jaimie (seven), Jordhan (five), and baby Sophie (twenty-two months)] and baby boy, Xander (three). Her passion is helping children and families living with Sensory Processing Disorder and other special needs.

She’s authored a children’s book I’m Not Weird, I Have SPD, a memoir Not Just Spirited: A Mom’s Sensational Journey With SPD and a reference book about the Sensory Diet (coming January 2011).

Tags: Article OT Sensory Processing Disorder Parental Involvement