I think all of us who work with kids with sensory processing isms feel helpless at times in meeting teenage sensory needs. 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. However, 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.
Adapt the Daily Schedule to Meet Teenage Sensory Needs
Right now is the perfect time to plan schedule adaptations. 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.
Under-responders are kids who tend to be “laid back,” a little on the passive or sluggish side, and hard to motivate. In general, under-responders are not morning people.
These kids would actually do best in having physical education or art as their first class of the day. Save their core academic classes for later, once their sensory systems are operating better.
On the other hand, over-responders are kids who get overstimulated easily. These kids are often stressed and anxious. Over-responders typically perform much better in the morning.
Consider scheduling their most challenging classes early in the day and save some lower-key classes for later in the day when their sensory systems are struggling more.
Sensory seekers are kids in constant motion and often labeled as “hyperactive”.
Sensory seekers typically do best with a schedule that alternates a class with more active participation with a more sedentary class.
Limit Screen Time – Replace with Activity to Meet Teenage Sensory Needs
We might not be able to get teens to voluntarily participate in true “sensory activities”. However, if teens will consider limiting their screen time such as computers, television, video games and smart phones, they will be far more likely to engage in activities that are naturally beneficial to their sensory systems.
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Sit down with your teen and discuss what they may be interested in to be able to secure the sensory input much needed to regulate their sensory systems.
Work or Volunteer to Meet Teenage Sensory Needs
Most teens, but especially teens with sensory issues, tend to spend free-time in non-productive ways. Some may frequently make 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. Self-esteem gets a boost too as they benefit from contributing to society and earning one’s own money.
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Above all, open communication with the teen is the key. Help him or her to understand their sensory needs. Encourage them to 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
The strategies that tweens and teens learn now will benefit them forever. Enjoy the journey!