Children with difficulties in communicating and relating often possess sensory processing difficulties(SPD). This causes them to experience the world differently than most people. Most people are able to integrate sensory information without even thinking about it. People who have difficulty processing sensory information see, hear, feel, smell, and taste information at both higher and lower intensities than people without these processing problems. Because we receive all information though our senses, these processing difficulties often lead to misperceptions of information, under or overstimulation, disregulation and sometimes, anxiety. These difficulties make organizing ones self and interacting with the world very challenging. People with these difficulties prefer predictable activities and interactions because they are easier to process. Chaotic or new places, new events, objects or activities require a high level of processing and can cause anxiety. Other people, especially peers, are very unpredictable and therein lies the challenge of interacting with others. For these children it is easier to tune out painfully stimulating situations, such as social interactions, than to have to deal with them. This results in self absorption and minimal, if any, observational learning. Instead, many of these children will engage in self stimulatory activities as a way of coping with their anxiety, attempting to regulate themselves. In the most severe cases we are left with a child who appears to be very odd and completely separated from the world around him. Additionally, the disorganization that these children experience inside often inhibits them from developing the natural rhythm and timing needed to interact successfully with others.
First, and foremost, these difficulties need to be respected. Although we cannot empathize with this, we must try to understand the best we can through our observations and from what people with SPD are able to tell us. We must share equally in their world while expecting them to somewhat conform to ours. Celebrate the Children always respects the degree to which a child is able to cope with their environment. By targeting developmental deficits in the child that will improve their processing abilities, regulation and anxiety are addressed before demands are placed on the child.
When working with children who experience SPD it is imperative to help them regulate themselves to sustain interactions. A personal connection with the individual must be made before placing expectations on them. This can be done by showing the child that one understands their processing challenges through interactions that are tailored to the child's processing abilities. With this respect, we can show them that we are interested in their world while challenging them to engage. Taking part in activities that are reinforcing to the child is a good way to start. By letting them know that you respect them and can see the joy they find in their activities you will promote an environment where they can feel comfortable interacting. Forcing a child to interact before this relationship is built, often leads to more withdrawn behavior.
Once the child is regulated and engaged the next goal with this approach is to elicit initiation on the part of the child. No-pressure, child lead activities should dominate interactions until the child is consistently showing intent to initiate or continue activities. Once the child is seeking out interactions, specific cognitive(problem solving, abstract thinking, academics, etc.), motor planning, language and social skills may be slowly introduced. This is most effective when using activities and materials that are reinforcing to the child. For example, if the child likes to be tickled, use this opportunity to begin requiring her to request "more" between tickles. Keeping the activities light and child-directed while respecting the unique characteristics of each individual allows the child to learn skills in ways that are meaningful to them. In addition, participating in these activities in a motivating play setting rather than a discrete trial format will result in more natural and spontaneous initiations, interactions and use of skills by the child. Although demands on the child may slowly be increased, respect for their world should never be put second to those demands. Continual enthusiasm for their interests builds a trusting relationship that allows for maximum learning.
When working with children who have SPD it is important to remember that they are children first and the deficits are secondary. Therefore, it is imperative to understand the behavioral stages of typically developing children. Not only for teaching skills that are characteristic of typical children, but also to recognize when your child's behavior is that of a typical child. Expecting children with developmental deficits to behave in an over-compliant manner is a common mistake in the field. Allowing these individuals to be silly children and taking joy in this with them creates a strong bond and trust that will encourage the child to feel more comfortable interacting in a natural manner. By treating these children as you would a typically developing child you model natural social behavior while building relationships and teaching important skills.
In summary our philosophy is to celebrate the children for who they are. We don't try to change them into a different person. We let them know we respect and love who they are, but want to give them the tools to cope and survive in our society. There must be mutual respect. Relationships between all people, including our children, should be give and take from both sides. We let these children know we respect what is important to them, enjoy some of their world with them. When we do this we are delighted at what they give in return, how quickly they learn, how happy they (and we) are.... Monica G. Osgood 1997-2002
Celebrate the Children uses the Developmental, Individual-Difference, Relationship-based Intervention model (Greenspan-Wieder)