In the world that we live in today, stillness and rest are not words that we tend to use to describe our day. We are forever overloaded with schedules and people needing our attention. Not only that, but we are bombarded with the radio, the phone, the TV and the computer. Our senses are so used to this stimulation that even sitting in the car in silence seems “awkward,” so we turn the radio on. We have become used to multi-sensory overload as a norm and this is the world our toddlers are born into. They watch television while surrounded by toys which cry out for their attention. They live in a world of processed food with artificial flavouring, which has had the result of causing food, which previous generations would have found tasty, to seem bland. By the end of the day, you may find that they are exhausted and grumpy. In other words, sensory overloaded. In this multi sensory overloaded world that we live in, it is hard for adults to keep calm, let alone expect our little ones to do the same.
As a pediatric Occupational Therapist who works with children with learning issues, I have noticed the amount of influence senses have in affecting children’s moods and behavior and therefore their overall learning. I’ve also started to realize that there seem to be many more toddlers developing so called “behavioral problems.” However, after assessing them, I have found that it is actually a sensory issue rather than a behavioral issue. Because they are always sensory overloaded, meltdowns follow. Imagine a day where you consistently feel like your senses are being bombarded. Maybe you’re at home trying to clean up your toddler’s mess then suddenly the phone rings. You have to stop what you are doing immediately to answer the phone. Then the door bell rings at the same time your child cries in the background. After a day of consistent disruption and sensory bombardment, I bet you feel like melting down too. Unfortunately, this is a typical day for a child who lives in the 21st century. The radio, the TV, the ipad and the toys with music are always around them 24/7. This is hard for children with normal sensory input, let alone children with sensory issues.
Infants and toddlers need the right amount of sensory input in order to develop appropriate cognitive abilities. We have been given an amazing gift called the five senses: touch, smell, sight, hearing and taste. Toddlers are unable to develop appropriate cognitive abilities such as being able to focus without intense stimulation because their senses are too used to the high intensity of TV or loud music.
Try this out: Try to give your child only one toy to play with for at least 5 minutes. See if they can play with it for that amount of time without feeling bored and needing to go onto the next task straight away.
Try this out: Try to de-clutter their play area or organize them into boxes so that your child can’t see other toys around when he/she is playing with one toy.
Try this out: Find time to go out to the park where their senses can explore in a natural, healthy way.