How to Help Your Sensory Child at the Doctor

Whether you have a Sensory Seeker or a Sensory Avoider, visits to the doctor can be very challenging for kids with Sensory Processing Disorder. I know. I have both. My older son spent his younger years literally bouncing around the exam room seeking sensory input, then scurried under the table to avoid having his ears examined because he has auditory sensitivity. 

How to help your sensory child cope with doctor visits.

My daughter, on the other hand, just cannot tolerate being examined. Being touched and poked and prodded is her very least favorite way to spend her time. The idea of it sends her into a high state of anxiety. Tactile aversion is a huge feature of her sensory disorder. Unfortunately, she also has asthma that is often not under control, so she has to endure more than just regular medical and dental check-ups.

Here’s what we’ve learned from our own experiences to make doctor and dental visits go more smoothly for our kids.

How To Help Your Sensory Child at the Doctor

  1. Educate Yourself. Learn as much as you can about SPD and as much as you can about how it affects your child. 
  2. Advocate for your child. It’s my job to advocate for my children until they can do it for themselves. When they see me advocate for them, they are learning. As they grow into older kids and teenagers, my hope is that we can move towards them being the advocate and me being there in a support role.
  3. You are the case manager for your child. That means that you are the one who looks at the big picture and sees what’s possible. You’re the one that knows that two doctors appointments in one week are too much for your child. You are the one that knows if your child can tolerate a particular treatment.
    Here’s an example. My daughter has asthma and was taking medication via a nebulizer every night. She hated it.  She communicated this by screaming and refusing the treatment every night at bedtime. Her asthma specialist worked with us to progressively move her off of the nebulizer to an inhaler, which delivered the same medications.  A year later, when her pulmonologist insisted she take medications via a nebulizer, I told him how and why we had worked to get her off the nebulizer and we were staying off unless her condition gravely worsened.
  4. Find sensory-friendly providers. Use friends, family, neighbors and social media contacts to find the most sensory-friendly providers you can possible locate. Mostly this is preferable to taking your chances on an unknown provider.
  5. Educate the providers, as needed, about YOUR child. Each SPD kid is different. Our sensory-friendly dentist’s office thinks all SPD kids need to be seen in a dimly lit room. You have to love them for trying but my daughter could care less about that. She becomes highly agitated because the hygienists are always too chatty in their efforts to soothe her. She doesn’t want to talk about school or meet Mr. Thirsty, the spit-sucking instrument, she just wants to get out of there as quickly as possible. They get reminded when we arrive about HER particular needs  (see #7).
  6. If you don’t get a kind, professional and helpful response, go elsewhere. Teach your child that this is okay. A doctor who doesn’t know anything about SPD but is open to your suggestions about how to help YOUR child is preferred over someone who does know about SPD but isn’t listening to you and respecting what is helpful to your child. If a medical professional does not respond positively to making this challenging situation easier for my child, we find someone else to work with. Period. 
  7. Practice your elevator speech. I used to print out a one-page info sheet about SPD and what would help my child during the exam, but I found that not everyone read it. Even when I highlighted the important info that could be scanned, they didn’t read it. So now, as each nurse, doctor, technician, etc. approaches my child, I say my elevator speech. “[Child’s Name] has Sensory Processing Disorder. Going to the doctor/dentist is very challenging for her. What helps her is  ________ and ___________.”  For my daughter, it sounds like this:  “Chloe has Sensory Processing Disorder. Going the the doctor is her BIGGEST challenge.  What helps her is as little touching as possible and focusing on her iPad while you examine her. ”  Or, at the dentist, “What helps her is examining her teeth as quickly as possible with as little conversation as possible, other than explaining what you are doing next.”

    For my son:  “Alex has SPD. He has extreme auditory sensitivity and having his ears examined is one of his biggest challenges. What helps him is letting him hold the otoscope while you look. It takes more time to see in his ears, but less time than if he becomes overwhelmed and dives under the exam table.”

  8. Let providers know you need a conservative approach to medical interventions, unless of course there is a life threatening or serious condition that requires it. For kids who have a challenging time with medical interventions, I’m a big fan of doing only what’s necessary–no extras. 
  9. “My child is not giving you a hard time, he is HAVING a hard time.” works well in response to “Now be a good boy”, “You must behave” or “You’re not going to get a lollipop”.  Also, that’s a deal breaker and we won’t go back to any professional who is unprofessional enough to say things like that to an ill and frightened child, whether they have SPD or not.  

More Resources

Surviving Doctor Visits and Vaccines When Your Child Has SPD  from Dayna at Lemon Lime Adventures

Tactile Defensiveness as a Child and an Adult from Kara at ALLterNATIVElearning

SPD Pinterest Board

{Disclaimer: This post reflects my experiences with my children and is not intended as medical advice for others.} 

How She Does It: Sharla

How She Does It: Homeschooling Moms of Special Needs Kids {Sharla}Welcome to the How She Does It series:  Homeschooling Moms of Special Needs Kids Speak Out. To read more  stories from other homeschooling moms, visit our How She Does It installment on our Special Needs page.

Today’s post is from Sharla, who blogs over at The Chaos and the Clutter.   Sharla is the mom of 7 wonderfully unique children. Here is how she describes her family:

Two of our children were blessed by birth and the other five through adoption. Four have special needs with many of them having multiple diagnoses. These include four kids with SPD (sensory processing disorder), two with FASD, a lung disease, Aspergers, speech delays, severe cognitive delays, hearing loss, subtractive bilangualism (fancy way of saying he lost his first language before learning his second), RAD (reactive attachment disorder), PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), and anxiety disorder. There is obviously never a dull moment in our household!

[Read more…]

How She Does It: Krista

how she does it

I am so pleased to bring you this first special guest post in our How She Does It series: Homeschooling Moms of Special Needs Kids.

how she does it kristaKrista is a former nurse and the happily married wife of a lawyer who has homeschooled her two daughters from the beginning.

Seven-year-old Elena is passionate about fairies and a math whiz. She is diagnosed with high functioning autism/Asperger’s.  Five-year-old Heather fancies all things fancy and is passionate about horses. She has Sensory Processing Disorder and Pica, a rare childhood eating disorder sometimes associated with SPD. They live in Virginia, USA.

Here is “How She Does It”…  [Read more…]

Introducing the “How She Does It” Series

how she does it

“I don’t know how you do it!” Homeschooling mommas hear this a lot. And if you add special needs kiddos to that equation, you hear it even more.

Maybe you are a momma with special kids.  Or maybe you know a momma with special kids and you want to understand her journey a bit better.  Join us in a place of virtual support. Pour yourself a cup of cold coffee (lets face it, the last time I drank a full cup that wasn’t cold was 2004),  put on a Netflix movie for the kids and let’s talk.

We may have kids with very different issues/diagnoses/challenges but I’m betting we all have very much in common. [Read more…]

How To Combine Homeschooling and Special Needs Therapies (Without Losing Your Mind)

Does this sound familiar?  How will you fit in math, therapy exercises and an OT appointment after breakfast and reading, Speech and preschool work for your younger child in the afternoon, and oh, yeah, they need to play with their friends and go outside and just be kids and then there are meals to fix and a house to clean and therapy exercises and baths before bed and more books to read and something you need to research on the computer after they go to bed but you forgot what it was because your brain no longer works at this time of day and you are Just. So Tired.  

We’re doing so much to give our kiddos what they need while also meeting the needs of the rest of the family, and trying to take care of ourselves in the process (maybe).  We won’t actually lose our minds, but it just really feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it?

I was a homeschooling mom who went from one special needs kid who pretty much had things under control to having a second child completely in crisis and a preschooler along for the ride.  I felt overwhelmed as to how to fit special therapies, a sensory diet and other activities into our already busy life of learning.

But I saw and read about strong mommas doing it all around me, and I marveled, learned from them, soaked it up. I’m no expert at this, for sure. We’ve only been at this a year but I’ve learned a lot in that year. I’m sure I’ll learn more.

I have a friend who is already spending many hours a day with therapies, exercises and activities for her special needs toddler and wondering how in the world she is going to fit homeschooling into that when her daughter is older.

Our family adjusted and hers will too. So will yours, if you find yourself in a similar place. Already been doing this for a while? I’d love to hear more from you.  Please leave a comment about how you combine homeschooling and special needs home therapies or activities.


Do Whatever You Can at the Same Time

Guess what? There’s a name for this. It’s called “embedding therapy into every day life”.  Christie Kiley, who blogs at MamaOT, told me that. She advocates a realistic approach of “weaving” therapies with learning and combining them with other therapies because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

Examples of embedding:

My daughter is learning to skip count but she also has motor-planning issues to work on so we made it into a game that combines both:  Indoor Hopscotch. The numbers on the board are what she is working on and she is learning how to hop on one foot, then two, then one, then two.

Anything that needs to be counted (jumping on a trampoline, taking steps, throwing a ball, crossing the midline in a pattycake game) can be utilized for math, whether your child is learning to count to twenty, to count by 5’s, or to memorize multiplication tables.


My daughter has also begun horseback riding to work on her trunk strength, motor planning and sensory sensitivities. As far as she’s concerned, she’s riding because she loves horses. This wonderful obsession with horses has inspired her, for the first time, to choose non-fiction books from the library. We read about horses every day. She makes lists of types of horses and writes her own books on how to care for them. We call that Language Arts in our house.

Don’t feel like you have to do it all.

Prioritize in both school and therapy areas.  When my daughter was first diagnosed with SPD, we cut way back on her academics. She was in crisis. She needed to stabilize. Our main focus needed to be going to OT appointments, doing therapeutic activities at home every day and for me, learning as much as I possibly could  about her diagnosis and how to help her.

You don’t have to follow the public school’s time table as to when your child needs to learn which subject, which skill, etc. and this has never been clearer for me than when I felt overwhelmed with the combination of home therapies and homeschooling. We also learn all year long, taking breaks when we need to, schooling more lightly in the summer so we can go to the pool and hang out with our publicly schooled friends more.

Don’t volunteer for more stuff, join more groups or take on caring for other people’s kids or adopt six more pets. You are in service to your child and to do it well, and care for the rest of your family and yourself, you can’t take on more.

Any kid you have that can do schoolwork independently, have them do it. I like working with my 9 year old, and I could literally do that all day, lounging on the couch reading endlessly and solving math problems together and looking up stuff on the internet, but I can’t. I need him, more and more, to do what he can on his own. We have time together each day, of course, but my other kids need me. His sister’s special needs are a big darn deal right now and his four-year-old brother needs to learn some stuff, too, rather than just watching LeapFrog Letter Factory and playing with trains all day, which pretty much sums up most days of his preschool year last year.

Get your spouse more involved, even just a little. Involved in school or involved in therapies. My husband took over part of one subject with my 9 year old last year. It was a huge help. They read together one evening a week and did a project together.

My husband is a pretty involved parent but he doesn’t go to the OT appointments with the kids or read all the stuff about their diagnoses that I do. But, finding myself completely exhausted and low on patience with the kids at the end of the day, I appealed to him to learn how to do some of their therapy exercises and do them in the evenings with the kids. They thought this was great fun to have Daddy time with him on the floor and I had some much needed time to myself. Note: You will have to resist the urge to jump in, because he might not be doing things “quite right”. Learn to go with the “close enough” approach and pour yourself a glass of wine or go out and get a pedicure. Much more therapeutic for the whole family, especially the momma.

Don’t do school every day. Last school year, we did not do school on Mondays. Monday was OT day for my older two kids, it involved us driving 30 to 40 minutes each way, depending on traffic and two hours at the therapists office. That took our entire morning. We got into the routine of eating lunch afterwards at a restaurant with a play place because even after 2 hours of therapy, you would think my kids would be tired, but nope. Then we would  stop at a new-to-us library on the way home each week to return books and get new ones. That was plenty of activity for all of us for the day. School started on Tuesdays.

Don’t do all subjects every year. Yup. It’s true. We don’t do that. Not because of therapy but because it’s kind of a rhythm we fell into. We’ve gotten really into our history studies, the kids wanted more so we went with that and just never really fit in the science curriculum we planned to use. Luckily, these things have no expiration date so I put it on the shelf and didn’t worry about it. It seemed more important to have a history intensive year. Next year we’ll have a science intensive year. Don’t worry. In the meantime I let them watch a lot of Bill Nye the Science Guy videos on the car’s DVD player while I drove them to therapy appointments so I don’t feel bad that they didn’t get any science this year. That’s my Get Out Of Guilt Free card right there.  You can have one, too.

Bring therapeutic activities into your home.

After watching a specialist working with my child for a while, watching friends who worked with their own children, reading other blogs about special needs kids and seeing cool stuff on Pinterest, I picked up a few things. Safely incorporating those into our home has been helpful. For example, my daughter needs more tactile input to address her sensory sensitivities so I put an indoor sandbox in our house. I’ve gotten a lot of comments on various social networks about how insane that is, but mostly because people think it’s messy (it’s not, I promise). It works for us.

My kids frequently choose to use exercise balls to sit on instead of chairs. This strengthens their core and helps them focus on balance. And we will be adding more things this fall, consulting with our OT on what would best suit our everyday needs, things like a platform swing and a scooter board. David’s Mom over at Laughing With Aspergers has a great post about how she learned to bring Occupational Therapy into their home. 

Rebekah at The Golden Gleam is homeschooling her kids, some with special needs.  They do in home therapies in the mornings and their schooling in the afternoon. Appointments with therapists are easier to get in the early part of the day, with most clients needing appointments after public and private schools let out.  She does art projects with her kids while one child is having an in-home therapy.

Another momma who is homeschooling her special needs child and writing about is Tabitha over at Meet Penny. She has lots of posts about homeschooling with autism, including how to teach specific skills and where to find resources for doing activities and exercises in your home to help your child.

More on this topic…  I’m planning to write more posts about other parents who are homeschooling special needs kiddos with practical advice on how they do it. Of course, sometimes my best blogging plans don’t actually get to the blog, because I get distracted by other cool stuff I want to write about.  So, if you want to read more about this, tell me. That will motivate me to follow through. What would you like to know from the mommas who are in the trenches?