Guest Post: SPD & Anxiety

Today, I am so thankful to be featuring a guest post from Fun and Function!  Fun and Function was started by an occupational therapist who was tired of not being able to find the right kid-friendly sensory tools  for her own family’s needs.  

As school is approaching I’m feeling anxiety rise in my own child with sensory-processing disorder as well in all of my clients.  I asked if they could provide my readers with a post with some tips to address the anxiety.  Ilana Danneman, the Creative Director at Fun and Function as well as a physical therapist, was eager to write regarding this topic.

After you are done reading the guest post, head over to Fun and Function, and use the exclusive code  “AWord10%” to get 10% off of your next order!  The code is valid until 9/30/2014.  Code can only be used one time per family.

SPD and Anxiety

mw5636_animal_space_explorer_active1My son comes into my bedroom. It’s 10:00 PM. His bedtime is 9:00 PM. “Mom, can I sleep with you?” He is the most anxious of my four children. He has rituals he “needs” to perform and has a hard time with transitions (starting school, starting camp, etc). For children with sensory processing disorder who also suffer from anxiety, it can be quite challenging not only for them, but for their families as well. There is almost never a “regular routine” as each day presents itself with obstacles and challenges. Their sensory preferences only escalate their anxiety and their anxiety often escalates their sensory needs. As a parent of children with both sensory and anxiety challenges, I have come up with a few strategies that I try to keep in the forefront of my arsenal and then, well, I just pray for a “regular day.” If I get one, I’m extremely thankful!


1) Stay Calm. No matter how upset your child gets about their lost toothbrush, missing notebook for school, or the fact that they can’t sleep…..stay calm. This is not a time to lecture. Listen. Tell your child that you understand. You’re remaining calm (even if you will be late for school), can make all the difference in the world. For children with SPD (sensory processing disorder), a warm hug, weighted blanket or tight squeeze can help them to calm down too.

2) Remember the Amygdala. The Amygdala is a tiny piece of your brain located deep in the center. It’s function? Fight or flight. It is designed as a protective mechanism but, for many of us, it is set off way too often causing stress and anxiety overload. The antidote to an overactive Amygdala is to get the frontal lobe active: plan an outing, do a puzzle, make a list, clean out a drawer, do a maze, etc. By using our frontal cortex, the amygdala has no choice but to calm down.

3) Good Hygiene. Nothing is more calming than a good diet, enough sleep and exercise. Make sure all three of these are being addressed daily. In addition, make sure your child’s sensory diet is met daily too. You can speak to an occupational therapist to get more details on a sensory diet tailored to your specific child, but it may include some heavy work, stretching, chewing, listening to music or working with their hands.

4) Routine. Try and see that your daily routine is structured and standard. If you want to have one day a week that is off schedule, go for it; but kids with anxiety and kids with SPD thrive off routine.

5) Read Out Loud. Pick a book on a regular basis and read out loud together. Not only does this open up lines of communication, but it also makes for some great bonding time and discussions. Bedtime is a great time to create this routine. And, age matters not. Kids do not grow too old to read with their parents. Got a teen? Pick up their favorite magazine.

6) Draw the Demon. Having a rough day? Go for the paper and markers. This is particularly effective for children with sensory challenges. Turn on some music and draw together. Paper to pencil provides heavy handwork and an emotional outlet. Have your child draw what scares them and, if the mood is right, ask them to tell you about it.

7) Find Support. Most schools offer counseling but, if not, ask your pediatrician or your friends to recommend a good counselor or support group in your area.

8) Give Extra Time. Don’t rush. Kids with anxiety spiral downhill when your lives are rushed. Give yourself extra time during daily routines. If everyone is more relaxed, anxiety will be kept at bay.

9) Problem Solve. Help your child to problem solve. This is best done when they are not anxious, but during a calm moment. Help your child to come up with a list of sensory activities or strategies to try next time an anxious moment arises. Have them post it where they have easy access to it.

10) Get Silly. Sometimes an anxious moment needs a silly moment. Life can get pretty stressful and we need to know it’s OK to have fun. For kids with sensory processing disorder, this can be a great sensory integration time too. Dress up, get messy, do some heavy hand or body work, pretend, sing a crazy song, dance around the house and let loose!

Ilana M. Danneman

Ilana is the Creative Director, product developer, blogger and physical therapist at Fun and Function.

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Heather Nelson

About Heather Nelson

Heather resides in Rockland where she is busy juggling life as a newlywed, a mom to two boys (one of which who has autism), a part time job in direct sales, and a full-time job as a pediatric occupational therapy assistant. She has a love for live music, karaoke, and cheering on the underdogs.