As I start writing this post, I wonder how many parents out there already know what I’m going to write before I write it. I have a gut feeling that, like me, they’ve wondered how much living in the city contributes to their child’s sensory processing disorder.
Maybe I should end this post here because I’m already feeling so understood. Am I posting superfluously?
For those who live in places where space isn’t a luxury, I’ll attempt an explanation.
Kids with sensory processing disorder need space. They often feel crowded or cramped where others might not (proprioceptive dysfunction kicking in). They also need their own space. Until this year I had my son MeMe sleeping in his own room at night, knowing he needed a place to think, relax, and at times calm down. Because children with sensory issues often are disorganized, they need more space for their things, space to spread out in. A few months ago I had to move MeMe to a bunkbed with his little brother underneath so he no longer has space to call his own, unless you count his bed which he can reach the ceiling from when standing upright.
City living a lot of times means living in small apartments. We’ve been in the same small apartment for over 6 years now and MeMe still hasn’t figured out how to share a narrow hallway, enter a room somebody’s already in, or even come through the front door at the same time as his brothers, without becoming hyper or aggressive (proprioception again).
City living also means there isn’t much outside space to play. If you want your children to get some fresh air and exercise, you would usually visit the local park/playground. Children with sensory issues need plenty of fresh air and exercise, perhaps more than the average child. City playgrounds are usually pretty crowded and overrun with people of all ages and sizes, and my kids have been pretty intimidated by the crowds in the past.
Another side to this is that these children are very tuned-in to nature, and in my experience, crave the chance to experience it, once they get past their initial insecurities or tactile defensiveness. We’re hard-pressed around here to find even a blade of grass- I’ll never forget the time I was visiting relatives in another town and I put one year old MeMe down barefoot in their grass-filled backyard. He pretty much freaked out, having no idea what grass was.
Kids with sensory processing disorder can benefit greatly from being close to nature- gardening, having a pet or working with animals, playing in or near the ocean. How much opportunity do city kids get to do these things?
We don’t own a car because everywhere we need to go is within walking distance or we can use mass transit, but a few times a year we rent a car and get out of the city for a few days. State parks are our haven, from nature trails and sandy beaches to emptier playgrounds and picnic tables near barbeque grills.
If I’m ever lucky enough to find a permanent home for us, I’m going to make sure there’s a grassy backyard not only for running around and letting off steam, but also for learning the wonders of gardening and planting. We may not live near a body of water, but that we can always visit. I actually want to make a trip to Niagara Falls with the kids and see what they think of the incredible amount of water gushing down finto the river.
Until then… a part of me wonders if it’s actually better for MeMe to walk in narrow hallways, share a room, and have to deal with siblings in close proximity. Perhaps his life skills are being more finely tuned as the days pass. (Or perhaps I’m being too optimistic. 🙂 )
For those who live in the city: What do you do to solve the space issues for your child with sensory processing disorder? How does your child react to the space problem? What do you do to familiarize your children with the nature that is (supposed to be) around them?
For those who live in the suburbs: How is your child affected? Does your child go through the same challenges in plenty of space that my son goes through in little space? Does your child enjoy nature? Is it a challenge to get your child to go outside from some fresh air and exercise?