Playing Games with your Auditorily Sensitive Child
By Antonia Llull View Bio
Antonia, better known as Tonina, has been a practicing occupational therapist for over 20 years, specializing in Pediatrics. In her career’s journey, she has founded/directed a multidisciplinary rehab clinic and a private school for students with special needs (in Orlando, FL) and has been part of the rehab medicine management team at a top rated hospital in Manhattan. Tonina continues to work with children and families while building educational programming for parents and professionals. Founding MPowerMe and mpowermetoys.com culminates her clinical experiences and her love for discovering, sharing, and collaborating with her community to foster growth and creativity in children of all ages and skill levels. She strives to share about the use of toys, games, gadgets, literature, and sensory accessories to build children’s social skills, physical performance, ability to respond adaptively to their environment, and foster their continued journey as life-long learners.
Using strategies and accommodations at home and out in the community can support your child’s ability to initiate interaction with peers, play in auditory rich environments, and be more comfortable in school, restaurants, parks, grocery stores, movie theaters, a mall, etc.
- Utilize sound minimizing headphones and/or ear plugs, in louder environments
- Incorporate visual versus auditory timers (sand timer versus a buzzer for example)
- Include toys and games with adequate volume control
- Alter seating to be away from vents, intercoms etc.
The push to provide sensory rich experiences from birth and beyond to support development and mastery of skills is high and for good reason – it works. The caveat is that for children who misinterpret sensory information, various environments, activities, and situations can be taxing, frightening, and confusing. If your child has sensory processing disorder (SPD), you understand how frequently negative or unexpectedly intense reactions can occur to seemingly innocuous sights, sounds, and textures. You are also the best observer of what affects your child positively.
Before introducing your child to any of the activities presented in this article, it is critical that you are aware of key insights and considerations – these will guide your ability to identify when a change in the play environment is necessary for your child to balance their responses and increase the fun factor during play time.
- It is critical to observe your child and pay attention to which types of sounds, environments, and/or social situations seem to cause a negative response, for example: being in a car with windows open or in a mall, use of timers, birthday parties, unexpected but not loud sounds, and reactions to the sounds of a vacuum, blender, flushing toilet, bells, automatic dispensers, etc. In addition the humming of fluorescent lighting, the ticking of a clock – sounds typically not bothersome to others – may significantly and negatively affect your child.
- Believe your child when they say a sound “hurts”. Do not impose participation without an accommodation.
- Try to avoid loud-crowded activities or sounds that are irritating to your child prior to academics or other challenging activities.
- Movement and pressure, heavy work-play can calm and re-focus children with auditory defensiveness. These activities include deep pressure through the skin and joints, resistive activities combined with movement like pulling, pushing, jumping, hanging, lifting, swinging, and rocking.
- When playing, look for signs of over-stimulation – i.e. running away, covering of ears, strong reactions to unexpected sounds, tuning out or appearing not to “hear” others, severely hyper-active, inattentive, becoming unproductive with noise in the background, hypervigilance in crowds or around items that make noise. If necessary, stop the activity, provide an accommodation, or leave the environment.
Playing the following games or with the types of items highlighted can help your child increase adaptive reactions to sounds and to interact with various toys or games that use sounds to teach or entertain.
To increase positive play experiences that include functional sounds, try these:
- Sound Bingo – create or purchase sound games that focus on listening to and identifying different sounds – turning it into Sound Bingo is a fun way to explore sounds “on the farm”, “at home”, transportation vehicle sounds, outside sounds, etc.
- Sound Puzzles – I play daily with form board puzzles with animal, transportation, character themes etc. to increase sound discrimination, recognition, and sound anticipation.
- Sound Memory Games – instead of playing the traditional visual memory card games, there are applications that couple the sound the featured creature or object makes, to its picture on touch-card memory game -- this folds in the opportunity to process the sound in this popular type of game.
While playing the above games, if your child calms or refocuses with movement breaks include mini-trampoline jumps as part of the steps in the game; play while sitting in a rocking chair or rocking stool; change positions while playing to belly time. If they calm or refocus with fidgets, provide items like squeeze balls or gum during the game.
- Sound Scavenger Hunt – create a list of sounds that need to be hunted for and recorded – you will need some type of recording device. The kids have a great time creating the list! They include things like “dad snoring”, “scaring mom”, “toilet flushing” etc. Scavenger for various sounds that are found at home, at the park, at the grocery store, in a mall, etc. Slowly you can include sounds they are sensitive too with sounds they love to listen to. A sample list could include blow dryer, clothes dryer, spin cycle, door closing, garage door, animal sounds, bells, vehicles, blender, musical instruments, sprinkler, vacuum, auto-dispensers – work in family teams to complete the hunt. * Use the recordings for Sound Bingo.
- Singing games – “What am I singing” or “Complete the Next line” singing games are great ways of building listening and memory and when you introduce the challenge to sing loudly versus softly or in a whisper, you fold in playing with the volume of our own voices.
Another tip is to replace louder items with quieter options, for example, use foam blocks versus wooden or plastic blocks – they are quiet when dropped, tapped together, or knocked over. This will facilitate a child who avoids louder blocks to create, build, and have fun toppling their creations without the assault to their ears.
The play activities discussed here are not individualized and may not be beneficial for your child with SPD. If your child has an occupational therapist, please confer with them. An OT can help you determine if your child has mild, moderate or severe auditory defensiveness and how to best treat the disorder Focus your play time on activities you know they enjoy and then gently introduce new auditory aspects to that play activity using the information shared in this article. Visit https://mpowermetoys.com/auditory/ for more information and recommendations.