Children diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder can be easily overwhelmed by simple sounds, sights, and smells. You can imagine how hard a lunchroom would be. There is an enormous amount of sensory input coming from the lunchroom – the noises, the various smells, and the number of people.
The lunchroom is supposed to be an area for eating and socializing. It is also a time to relax from the cognitive work they did in the classroom. But how do you relax when everything is overwhelming you???
Here are some ideas to help your SPD child feel more comfortable in the Lunchroom.
If it is possible, make time to visit the lunchroom and bring their favorite snacks. Making your child more comfortable is the first thing you can do. You can bring a friend or family member to help acclimate your child as well. By doing this a few times, your child will desensitize to the sounds and smells and make them feel less anxious.
If your child is still demonstrating a hypersensitive reaction, allow them to bring noise-canceling headphones or a calming toy such as a stress ball or fidget.
I suggest using a container with various compartments. For example, in one compartment I would put your child’s favorite snack, another compartment would contain sliced fruits and the last a protein choice. For my daughter, I would make a fun-shaped cream cheese and cucumber sandwich with grapes and strawberries and a cheese stick. Making the food look fun and colorful is a great way to allow your child to want to try the foods.
To get your child used to the smells, I would recommend looking at the school’s lunch menu. Have your child cook the meals with you, through this process they will learn to tolerate those smells making it less overwhelming.
During therapy sessions, I play games that have noises to help children get used to the noise. Operation, Perfection, and Hullabaloo are some of the games I utilize during my sessions. Playing games allows your child to work on many skills such as social skills, fine motor skills, visual perceptual skills, and auditory processing skills.
Other tips to use, have your child complete heavy work and exercises prior to going to the Lunchroom. This will prep their body and mind and calm them prior to entering the environment.
Knowing the location of a bathroom is important. Your child can go for a walk, wash their face and get a needed break from the noisy environment.
Are you ready to face the new school year? Remember to be patient with both your child and yourself. You got this!
Sarah Appleman MS, OTR/L is the author of “Play With Your Food” and is a specialist in her field.