The Benefits and Detriments of Labels

When children display behaviors that limit their ability to keep up in typical American classrooms they are often recommended for special testing. In a desire to figure out what holds them back from successfully completing tasks and appropriately handling emotions we have developed a litany of labels. The labels that have been created to describe these challenges can be both beneficial and detrimental depending on how they are used.

This is a call to be more conscious in the way we label and describe children. When labels are used with compassion and wisdom they can be used to create an individualized plan of cooperation between home and school, enabling a child to thrive in their unique way. Unfortunately they often create fear and distrust. When used with intellectual reasoning alone, the soul and psyche of the children may be forgotten and while the youngsters receive extra cognitive attention their inner worlds are left unattended. Many of these kids struggle not only with their original challenge but secondary layers of self-doubt and shame as well. We must always consider the whole child, not just the isolated ‘disability.’

Labels are a starting point, merely an entry into a portal of a complex inner world. As we offer tools to increase skills we want to be sure a child does not identify his sense of self by his deficit. It is vital to remind parents and teachers not to use the ‘special need’ as the overriding way we see and talk about these kids.

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Sensory Processing Sensitivity, Sensory Processing Disorder or Both?

Picture it. A four-year-old is all dolled up in a in a lacy dress and matching gloves, holding a basket of flowers and ready to sprinkle petals as her aunt prepares to walk down the aisle. As her turn approaches the little one begins to whine, “I don’t want to go.”  She pulls off the itchy gloves and the tears start to flow… A tantrum is underway as she shrieks, “Take the dress off me! It’s too scratchy!!! No I don’t want to throw the flowers and you can’t make me!!!”


Let’s break down some of the reasons this child may be having such a BIG reaction… she may have Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). There is the possibility that she has both SPS and SPD (SPSD.) In addition, she may be acting in response to family stress, the lack of preparation for the event or a sudden overwhelming anxiety caused by a combination of the above factors.  

Highly Sensitive Children (HSC) and Highly Sensitive People (HSP) ‘have’ Sensory Processing Sensitivity. This term speaks to a trait that 15-20% of the population experience, whereby a heavy volume of sensory information bombards their nervous system, often causing over-stimulation. When this happens to a child they can become dis-regulated and need help processing their thoughts, emotions and behavior.

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Tantrums vs. Meltdowns

It is important as educators to use appropriate terminology whenever possible. One point of confusion for some early childhood specialists revolves around tantrums and meltdowns. While these words are often used interchangeably they actually have very different meanings.

Tantrums are either a manifestation of learned behavior or a result of built up stress. Sensory meltdowns happen when sensory input triggers an uncontrollable neurological response. Tantrums can be “stopped” even at the peak of breakdown because they are not being driven by neurology, whereas sensory meltdowns must run their course and can last several hours.

 

MANIPULATIVE TANTRUMS

Manipulative tantrums usually start off innocently and without much deliberate thought. Adults sometimes —unconsciously— contribute to this type of tantrum by being inconsistent with rules, routines or boundaries.

Children learn to push back when our “No” is inconsistent. If whining, persisting or demanding is eventually given in to it reinforces ‘manipulative’ behavior. Manipulative tantrums tend to happen with children who learn to have their wants and needs met through unhealthy behavior.

Having established rules and age appropriate consistent routines in place can prevent manipulative tantrums. It is imperative that the expectations placed on children are within their developmental ability, otherwise frustration will ensue.

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