This is a very common reaction for children with SPD and usually happens when the child is overwhelmed or overstimulated. What you have to remember is that your child is often in ‘fight and flight’ mode because the messages his brain is taking in from his environment aren’t being processed effectively in order to tell his body how to respond to things, people or situations around him. Therefore, fear is the initial reaction to everything and his response is, “Danger! Danger! I have to get away!”
My daughter used to bolt whenever things were too crazy around her, even if she was running from ‘safe’ into ‘not so safe’. Our beautiful ‘sensational’ children don’t always have time to think about things before a reaction occurs. Now, you didn’t say how old your son is or what sorts of situations he’s running from and each child with SPD has different symptoms, triggers and calming tools. But I can give you some general tips that have worked for us:
The things that would most likely cause him to panic and run—and try counteracting them as best as you can. If a park is too busy, find a quieter one. If it’s big kids that freak him out, take him to a place that only has children his own age and size. If he’s in school and recess causes him distress, have him go to a quieter area and do more calming activities he likes.
If you live near a park with a field near by, that would be ideal. What you can do is teach him our, “Run, Run, Splat” routine. My daughter, Jaimie, used to bolt and often would keep running until I caught up with her to calm her. Then I taught her a strategy where she could run away from whatever bothered her – until she was far enough away that she felt better but not so far that I couldn’t get to her—then she had to ‘splat’ or fall down and roll, jump, spin or whatever she needed to do to get those ‘icky’ feelings out of her tummy. Here, you’d be teaching him how to remove himself and calm down – self-regulation.
Seek Support from an OT
Occupational Therapists (OT) specializing in children with sensory issues can truly help your son learn to tolerate things in his environment a bit better and can give you some amazing sensory tools and strategies specialized for your son’s form of SPD. Things we’ve tried are:
- squeezy toys or a favorite stuffy to help him feel ‘safe’
- headphones or ear plugs to block out excess noise so things won’t get too overwhelming
- having a trusted adult (if he’s in school and you aren’t there with him all the time) who he can go to when he needs a break
- running, swinging, sliding and other vestibular input or, alternatively, heaving lifting (eg: playground toys, loaded backpack, etc.) for a more calming effect.
Try different things with your son until you figure out what works best with him – he’ll let you know! Just remember that he still needs to experience things in order to learn how to cope with them so give him the experiences in small doses as he can handle it and have those calming tools close by for when he’s had enough.