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If you're worried about the way your child responds to sensory information, know that your family is not alone. Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is believed to impact between 5 and 16 percent of children, affecting the way they receive and respond to external information.

This can make everyday activities and events very challenging, including attending religious services. While attending a high-stimulus environment, it's important to first understand what your child experiences, before taking proactive action.

Understanding How Your Child Feels (Sensory Processing Disorder and Church)

Sensory Processing Disorder is incredibly complex. Your child may showcase unique symptoms based on their personal triggers. However, in general, children who suffer from sensory processing issues are oversensitive to their environment, under-sensitive, or in some cases, both.

Depending on how your child responds to certain stimuli, they may find select situations more challenging than others. For example, if your child does not like to be touched, is sensitive to lighting, or is intolerant to certain noises, busy and crowded social environments can be extremely overwhelming.

The first 15 minutes of the service may be the most challenging.  The crowd in the lobby and fear of getting bumped can trigger a child who dislikes touch. If your child is easily overwhelmed by overlapping noises, the chatting and laughing of the congregation can result in a meltdown, as can the initial music as people settle into their seats.  Consider arriving late and skip the whole scene in the lobby to ensure a calmer experience for all.

During religious services, depending on where your child is on the spectrum and which symptoms are affected, you may notice that your child is uncomfortable if he or she is squeezed in between people or overwhelmed by the activity and sounds in the room. Consider sitting in the back so that you can make a quick exit as needed. Also, be mindful if incense is incorporated into the service and avoid it if possible. For many kids with sensory sensitivities, they will be most likely triggered when multiple senses are overwhelmed at the same time.

Tips for Attending Services with Sensory Sensitivities

In order to best address your child's unique challenges, it's important to make an observational list. While attending religious services, make note of possible triggers, as well as your child's reaction to those triggers (focusing on how they behave and how intense those responses are). This list will become the basis of your intervention plan.

Speak to your child about the scenarios you observe to let them know you understand. Perhaps you will need to sit somewhere specific in order to increase their comfort levels, pack noise-cancelling headphones, or offer them a weighted blanket.

Enlist the help of the congregation. Ask another family to save you a seat in the back, educate others on why your child may act out or meltdown, and if multiple families are struggling, consider asking faith leaders to conduct a separate service that is sensory friendly.

Outside of religious services, you may want to discuss your options with a professional. This step may help your child develop strategies that make them feel calmer, more focused, and more regulated.

For over a decade, we’ve helped over 40,000 children improve the critical skills needed to create a brighter path for their future. Our team can help determine why your child struggles, then help equip them to better handle their own challenges, so they can enjoy and thrive in family gatherings, classrooms, social events, and more. Contact us online or call 800-877-5500 to learn more about how the Brain Balance Program can help. You can also view the research and results of the program on the website.

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