Review: Improving sensory processing in traumatized children

In preparation for tomorrow night’s #tpbooks chat (a Twitter-based therapeutic parents’ book club initiated by @PedallingSolo) I finally read this book which has been on my shelf for months. It’s quite a quick read – two hours or so if you are uninterrupted and distraction-free. (We can but dream of such an eventuality, eh?)

51w38o77qtlIt’s not academic or wordy so is very accessible, both for worn-out adopters who can’t be doing with reading degree-level textbooks at the end of a long day, and for lending to teachers and others who have contact with your children on a regular basis but don’t necessarily have any prior knowledge of the subject.

I liked it. It’s a good introduction to sensory processing issues, is straightforward in providing questions to help parents form an amateur diagnosis of where help might be needed, and includes some suggested exercises in the form of games to play at home and a few tips for things that could also help at school.

The parts I liked best and would like to force our social worker to read aloud in meetings are in the first 20 pages. This passage (pages 7-9) describes Charlotte very accurately:

We noticed a group of children who were so out of tune with themselves that they really struggled to manage to think about any sorts of feelings – even things like if they felt hot or cold or whether they could make their hearts beat faster by running around. Foster carers often talked about children seeming to have no sense of whether they felt hungry or full … the more we heard about it and the more we worked with these children the more we realised that … they were dysregulated to the extent that they literally couldn’t register how they felt on the inside.

The author then discusses how it is important to address this dysregulation before attempting to use psychological therapies to explore the emotional impact of trauma.

Then on page 14:

Some children are able to use their new families to make sense of their early experiences and can absorb the loving care and opportunities they have in their new family. However, another group of children struggle to do this and seem to continue to react as if they were in an abusive environment. They seem burdened by their experiences and are often too agitated to be able to make use of talking or play-based therapies. Even interventions designed around improving the relationship between the parent and the child can be too difficult for very dysregulated children – they find it too difficult to be in a room with a therapist and can be very hard to contain and manage in a way that allows any therapeutic work to take place. Therapy often has to stop because the child has destroyed the toys or hurt the therapist or themselves.

And on page 15, this bit about teachers could equally be said of adoptive parents:

[The author and a teacher] talked about how stressful it is, with school staff absorbing and managing huge amounts of stress and dysregulation, but because it’s an education[al] and not a clinical setting, there’s no supervision to help them understand and manage their reaction and response to the child. And that was before we started talking about how deskilling it is that all the normal strategies that teachers might use to set the culture and tone of a classroom get completely scuppered by children with such profound difficulties.

Here’s that paragraph again, but changed to focus on adoptive parents instead. My changes in bold.

[The author and a parent] talked about how stressful it is, with adoptive parents absorbing and managing huge amounts of stress and dysregulation, but because it’s a family home and not a clinical setting, there’s no supervision to help them understand and manage their reaction and response to the child. And that was before we started talking about how deskilling it is that all the normal strategies that parents might use to set the culture and tone of a home (not not mention other major aspects of their lives, such as their ability to do paid work) get completely scuppered by children with such profound difficulties.

A minor quibble – the book could really do with another proofread if it goes to a reprint. I noticed a number of issues such as missing words (particularly in the first few pages) and flipped images which I’m afraid have the effect of undermining my confidence in a publication. Sorry. Also the habit of referring to the fictionalised primary caregiver as ‘Mum’ throughout rather than alternating between ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ or giving them Actual Names Like Human Beings Who Exist Outside Of These Roles annoys me more than perhaps it should, though it is by no means unique to this book.

14889145758_3443961d5b_zImage: www.personalcreations.com

My main question on finishing the book was about the practicality of introducing these therapeutic games into our family life. All seem very doable when written about in the singular (‘your child’), but the dynamics of the relationship between Joanna and Charlotte would mean that unless one child was occupied elsewhere and I was able to give the other my undivided attention, there would be jealousy and bickering and control issues at play. And if I set up a pop-up tent or blanket fort with sleeping bags and cushions and what-not (to encourage them to spend time lying on their fronts), how long is that going to remain uninteresting to the other sibling? This isn’t the fault of the book, of course, but does limit its application in our household. I’d happily try it if only the children were amenable to taking turns or doing something together without it turning into a fight.

How do others get around this issue? It seems to be something we come back to a lot – spending time one-to-one with the girls is difficult but surely not impossible. I’d love to hear how you manage ‘sibling issues’ if this is something relevant to your family, and I’m looking forward to talking about all this and more in tomorrow’s #tpbooks chat.

You can buy this book on Amazon here.

 

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