‘It’s so hot I’m melting down here’ - Dominic Simpson, Jigsaw Occupational Therapy

So the weather man reports that it’s going be 33 degrees tomorrow. Yikes. You’re already going through a bottle of suncream lotion a day. You can’t sleep at night unless you literally lie on top of a fan. Children are coming into your room at night complaining about the heat. A hosepipe ban is surely imminent. It’s super, mega, scorching UK summer time!

Although you may just about cope with this sweaty, sticky feeling, a sensory sensitive child may not cope quite as well. Tactile sensitive children may have a disorder where their brain interprets summer’s heat-induced sensations as irritating and painful instead of neutral. Some children may also have challenges with their body’s temperature regulation.

SPD can cause a range of issues in daily life. When a child suffers from SPD, sensory information is not processed correctly. Information from the nervous system gets hung up along the way, causing many issues. Everyone can occasionally have trouble interpreting sensory information and I think it’s fair to say that everyone is struggling with the current heatwave! But for children with SPD, it is a chronic and serious issue. Heat sensitivity and processing disorders often go hand in hand.

So why can a long hot summer be difficult for children with SPD?? SPD has a lot to do with how the body responds to external stimulus. That means that a sensory processing disorder and temperature regulation might be in conflict. A child might overheat more quickly or take too long to start sweating. Physical discomfort translates almost immediately into emotional distress. To avoid dealing with a sensory meltdown, it is best to take proactive steps to help your child with temperature sensitivity.

A child with SPD may not always choose the best clothing to deal with the heat. Some children will only wear trousers while others hate wearing clothing at all. For a child who will only wear long sleeves and trousers, go for natural, breathable fabrics. It’s also best to wash clothing as soon as it comes home to soften it and get it ready to wear.

Monitor children with SPD to ensure they drink enough liquids. They may not respond to thirst as quickly as a child without the disorder. Keep an eye on fluid intake to ward off heat stroke or exhaustion. Also, keep track of the time they spend outside under the sun, Sand Timers can be used here to help reinforce activity periods and ease transitions. Instituting regular shade breaks or taking some time inside can help keep children cool during the high temperatures we are currently experiencing.

Outdoor play is crucial for developing motor skills and building comfort with bodily sensations, but children with tactile sensitivities often avoid it because of the sweaty sticky feeling afterwards. However, it is still possible to engage in fun sensory activities whilst being outside in the sun, the Crawl Gates for example will work great by creating a tunnel like environment to develop motor skills whilst not risking a child overheating in an enclosed environment. A Sand & Water Table will provide a platform for imaginative activities whilst also keeping a child cool.

Check out these quick top tips for helping a sensory sensitive child to combat the current unprecedented UK heatwave and still enjoy the outdoors!

Sunscreen: Try various brands and types, (spray, lotion, sticks etc). Let the child put sunscreen on you (if you are brave enough) or on a doll to practise the feeling. Put sunscreen on while standing in front of a mirror, so the child can see what you are doing. If you use spray, have the child close their eyes and mouth while you spray.

Sweat: Skin gets sticky after sweating. Many children with autism or sensory sensitivities avoid physical activity and exercise because of this. Instead of decreasing the amount of playtime outside, add to it by having a play in the sprinkler or a paddling pool (subject to any aforementioned hosepipe ban being laid down!).

Footwear: Some children may not like being barefoot. But if the patio is suddenly hotter than the sun and the scorched not-so-green-grass is too prickly with blood sucking insects lying in wait then you can try flip flops, crocs, water shoes or velcro sandals…sorry fashionista’s, you’ve got to prioritise comfort over fashion during the long hot summer of 2018. That’s my excuse for my current look anyway!

Insects: Insect bites make already sensitive skin even more uncomfortable. Spend time outside in the morning and afternoon, instead of the evening, to prevent bites. Have your child wear a hat to keep bugs away from their eyes and ears. Sensory Mittens could help deter a child from scratching any itchy areas of skin.

Temperature: Some children with sensory processing differences or autism spectrum disorder have differences with their body’s temperature regulation. Your child may not be picking up on the cues from their body that they are starting to get hot. At night, they may sweat, toss, and turn under a heavy cover instead of thinking to remove them. Watch for your child’s cues. Keep in mind that your child’s body temperature may be different from your own.

Sleep: You may need to invest in some tools to make your child’s sleeping environment more comfortable and save yourself from getting woken up (that’s assuming you have actually managed to fall asleep in a sauna of a bedroom). Put a drink bottle with a no-spill spout by the bed and fill it with ice water. Instead of one large bed cover, have two covers of lighter thickness that can be used or removed during the night. If you need to open a window, block out the sounds from outside by using a white noise app or a fan, assuming Argos (other good retailers are available) haven’t sold out after I purchase 374 fans for my own bedroom on the way home tonight.

Now that we have officially started the school holidays, all at Jigsaw OT would like to wish you all a very happy break and we hope that you get to enjoy the sun whilst staying cool at the same time. We hope to see many of our regular visitors over the summer and if you are visiting us at the barn this summer and you do pass an ice cream selling establishment, then you might be interested to know that my favourite ice cream is a Mint Choc Chip.

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