If you’re the parent of a child with developmental challenges, you might be struggling to address their sensory needs during this time of social distancing. When we checked in with one of our favorite occupational therapists, Natasha Bravo, the first point she made was this: In order to address your child’s sensory needs during this difficult time, it’s important to first address your sensory needs during this difficult time.

Here’s why.

This is a uniquely trying situation. You are juggling home duties, caring for your child, assuming teacher responsibilities, and worrying about the state of the world. You might even be working from home. Add to that the element of the unknown (how long will this last?), and whew…it’s a stressful situation!

Bravo recommends taking stock of what you feel, and what you need. This, she says, will help you better tune in to your child and their needs.

Here’s how.

Acknowledge that this is uncharted territory. You are home, all day, without the usual changes of scenery: Driving, interacting with others outside the family, taking your child to therapy or activities, running errands. You (and your child) probably feel thrown-off.  

Pay attention to how your sensory system works. When do you feel energized? Overstimulated? Low energy? Calm? Start connecting sensory states to what’s happening in your environment.

Pay attention to how your sensory inputs have changed. Are you drinking more coffee? Wine? Eating differently? Spending more time on screens? Sharing more time together as a family? Spending more time outside? Exercising more? How do these things affect your sensory state?

Start to practice deliberately shifting your sensory state. Your child’s occupational therapist has taught you strategies for helping your child shift their sensory state. Maybe it’s doing “heavy work,” like pulling or pushing, to help your child feel calm, or use music to get your child’s energy level up. When you pay attention to your own sensory state, you can learn what works for you, too. Maybe an extra cup of coffee is too much for you these days, or maybe taking a quick walk around the block can help you feel calm.

Normal life has come to a strange standstill, Bravo says, and it’s testing us in ways we’ve never experienced before. It’s a unique opportunity to learn about your own needs, and also better understand your child’s. Up next: An article about addressing your child’s sensory needs. Stay tuned!