I think all of us who work with kids with sensory processing issues feel helpless at times in meeting the needs of tweens and teens. In fact, one of the most common questions I get is “What works for teens with sensory issues who aren’t willing to do any sensory activities?!” I wish I had some magical strategies to pass on, something fail-proof that would make all such problems disappear. I don’t. But I have learned a few things along the way that can make life easier for these teens and the grown-ups who care about them.
1. Adapt their schedule.
Right now is the perfect time to do this as the current school year is wrapping up and next year’s school schedule is being formed. Take time to consider what time of day the teen is most successful. In general, UNDER-responders (kids who tend to be “laid back,” a little on the passive or sluggish side, and hard to motivate) and are not morning people. These kids would do best in having P.E. or art first thing in the day. Save their core academic classes for later, once their sensory systems are operating better. On the other hand, OVER-responders (kids who get overstimulated easily, and kids who are often stressed and anxious) are typically much better in the morning. Think about scheduling their most challenging classes early in the day and save some lower-key classes for later when their sensory systems are struggling more. SENSORY-SEEKERS (kids in constant motion, “hyperactive” kids) typically do best with a schedule that alternates a class with more active participation with a more sedentary class.
2. Limit screen time.
We might not be able to get teens to voluntarily participate in true “sensory activities” but if we limit their access to screen time (computers, t.v., video games), they will be far more likely to engage in activities that are naturally beneficial to their sensory systems. Consider a membership to a local YMCA or gym. Encourage swimming, bike-riding, weight-lifting, and jogging. Set up a trampoline or a zip-line in the backyard.
3. Encourage them to work.
Most teens, but especially teens with sensory issues, tend to spend free-time in non-productive ways, frequently even making poor choices during down-time that end up getting them in trouble. Keeping them busy helps to prevent this. If traditional jobs aren’t a good option, consider a lawn-mowing or pet-sitting/dog-walking business. Jobs like these provide a lot of great sensory input while also instilling a strong work ethic and providing the self-esteem benefits from contributing to society and earning one’s own money.
Above all, communicate openly with the teen to help him or her understand their sensory needs and make wise choices in how to meet those needs effectively. Here are a couple of great resources for helping tweens and teens to understand their sensory processing needs:
- Tools for Teens: Sensory Integration by Diana Henry
- My Sensory Book: Working Together to Explore Sensory Issues and the Big Feelings They Can Cause: A Workbook for Parents, Professionals, and Children by Lauren Kerstein
The strategies our teens learn now will benefit them forever. Enjoy the journey!