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The Sensory Funnel: 9 Tips for Parents - Managing Meltdowns



As a parent, witnessing your child experiencing a meltdown can be a heart-wrenching and overwhelming experience. This may be particularly true if your child has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), a condition where the brain has difficulty receiving and responding to information coming in through the senses.

One way to understand how SPD works is through the concept of the 'sensory funnel.' Think of your child’s sensory system as a funnel. Normally, kids expereince sensory input with too many issues, and these sensory inputs come into the broad top of the funnel and are processed by their sensory system effectively and without any big reactions.


However, children with SPD, may have a 'narrower' funnel which means that processing sensory input becomes a challenge and they may become overwhelmed and meltdown. Sometimes the body doesn't receive sensory input and they then become underwhelmed or lethargic.

So, how can you support your child when they are in the throes of a sensory meltdown? Here are 10 tips and strategies:

1. Understand the triggers: Sensory overload can be triggered by a variety of stimuli, from bright lights to loud noises, unexpected touch, strong smells, or even certain textures. If you can identify the triggers that are most challenging for your child, you can work towards either avoiding these or slowly desensitizing your child to them. 2. Create a Safe Space: Having a designated quiet and calm place where your child can go when they are feeling overwhelmed can be incredibly beneficial. This could be a specific room in your house, a tent, or a corner with soft cushions and blankets. Some children like to curl up in a ball under a weighted blanket, or crawl into a dark quiet space. 3. Use Sensory Tools: There are many tools available that can provide comfort and help to calm down the nervous system. These might include weighted blankets, sensory bins filled with calming materials like rice or playdough, fidget tools, or noise-canceling headphones. 4. Practice Deep Breathing and Grounding Techniques: Deep breathing can help to slow the heart rate and induce a state of calm. You might also try grounding techniques, which can involve focusing on physical sensations to draw the child’s attention away from overwhelming stimuli. 5. Engage in Regular Sensory Activities: Regular sensory play can help to build your child's tolerance for different types of sensory input. This might involve playing with different textures, exploring sounds, or experimenting with movement.

After a Meltdown: Once a meltdown has occurred, your child may feel exhausted and vulnerable. Here are a few ways to support them:

1. Give Them Time to Recover: Recovery times can vary from child to child, so it’s important to be patient and let your child rest. 2. Offer Reassurance: After a meltdown, your child may be feeling confused or upset. Reassure them that they are safe and loved, and reinforce that it's okay to feel overwhelmed sometimes. 3. Reflect and Learn: After your child has had a chance to recover, try to understand what might have led to the meltdown. This is not about blaming, but about learning for the future. If your child can participate in this process, it can be a powerful tool for self-regulation. 4. Keep to a Routine: Maintaining a predictable routine can provide a sense of security and can reduce the chance of unexpected triggers causing a meltdown. Sensory Processing Disorder presents a unique set of challenges, but with understanding, patience, and the right strategies, you can help your child navigate their world.


Always remember, every child is different, and what works for one might not work for another. It's a process of trial and error, but your love and support can make a world of difference.


Professor Tony Attwood is a renowned world expert in the field of Autism. You can read more about Sensory Processing Disorder here:


If you think your child may have sensory issues, visit your health care provider and ask for a Sensory Profile - Winnie Dunne is the most well known





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