Relationship Strategies for Adults and Teens with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

Relationship Strategies for Adults and Teens with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) Relationships

Hey guys, it’s Sarah Norris and Carrie Einck from the STAR Institute for SPD and we are going to be talking about relationships today and specifically how important it is to be considering all the relationships that impact our clients and the individuals we work with. At STAR we use a relationship based model with all of our clients so even with our kids we are using relationship based model our parents are in all our treatment sessions, we put in parent education into all our programs because this is what we found is the most effective way that we can treat the family and make those changes that last throughout the lifespan. So we use play theories we use cognitive theories SI theories – all that goes into this relationship based model. So in starting to develop our adolescent and adult program, we knew that we wanted to keep this model the same and so we use a really heavy relationship based model with our teens and adults as well.

I think the two big things that we’re looking at when we’re working with an individual is the individual differences and that’s basically how someone processes sensations and how they interact with others and some of those personality traits and then also how those relationships in their lives are either supporting them or could be tweaked to support them a little bit more. So once we move into adolescence and adulthood some of our relationships are similar to when we’re kids – we have our relationships with our parents our relationship with our siblings, we have relationships with friends and as we know those can evolve throughout the lifespan but what can also happen is you develop romantic relationships as well and so that’s another relationship that isn’t so common in – that we wouldn’t be working on in the pediatric world, that we start to work on with adolescents and adults. I think the other one that becomes pretty complex is when we’re working with a parent and especially if their child also needs intervention or is getting intervention there’s a lot of that kind of – we have to look for both angles, or if it’s two parents all of angles and if there are multiple children it just adds exponentially the number of relationships we’re working with. We all know that relationships in general can be challenging because they are so complex, they are so multifaceted.

As OTs how we can incorporate relationships into our treatment is by first helping the individual understand themselves and then transferring into the realm of how can they advocate for themselves – how can I help them advocate for themselves – how can they start having these two-way conversations about what they want, what they need, from a sensory perspective. I think one of the things that we’re always striving for is taking everybody’s needs into consideration. So we may have a designated client that we’re working with but we’re also thinking about what are the other individual differences and relationship needs for the people that they have close relationships with.

So it does make us step back quite a bit and think about, a lot of times, more of the long-term implications of these relationships, a lot of times when we’re starting with children there’s a lot of the process of helping parents come to grips with the fact that this is not usually a quick fix, it’s something that is going to be part of their lives with their child for a long time and it is more of that – how do we move through adolescence and into adulthood and make those shifts in responsibilities over time. So really thinking about what are some of the core things that we find are really important throughout the lifespan. We’ve gotten some really good comments on some of the posts in the past weeks, pretty much talking about that relationship piece and what do you do if it seems like somebody’s constantly needing all these accommodations for themselves and it might be getting in the way of relationships and I think that’s a really great question and that’s really something we need to be thinking about from both the individual as well as the people around them and I know we’ve talked about this in some of our other posts we’ve alluded to it, especially around the holidays, but it’s kind of finding that balance between advocating for what you need, listening to what others need, just as in any relationship but what we know if you’re an individual with SPD that self understanding doesn’t always come as naturally so even understanding where your body is in space can be difficult so understanding your emotions understanding somebody else’s emotions can become really challenging and so what I’m learning for my clients is that these conversations become really difficult even beginning with properly identifying what made you feel a way or what it even is that you’re feeling. So I think what I want to start with is outlining, what are some of the general strategies that we coach individuals to use and a lot of times we’re coaching the parents on how to support their child or as they get older it could be how a spouse can support their spouse or partner etc.

But some of the big things that we talk about here are validation and holding space. So what that means is, when an individual is having a challenge and experiencing an intense emotion that validation is really that active listening of maybe you’re telling them I am hearing what you’re saying or I’m seeing what your body is telling me and I know you’re having a hard time and I know that this is difficult and instead of trying to step in and fix the problem or make the emotion go away it’s that sitting with that person in whatever they’re feeling and just walking with them through an emotional response and not trying to shorten it, hurry it up, really not trying to influence it at all, just letting it happen naturally. And so one of the analogies that I really like is talking about how emotions are like waves and the way that we can help individuals process emotions is to let them ride the wave out and not try and stop the wave not try and freeze the wave not try and ignore the wave but just let it happen and it’s easier to do with positive emotions we want to join that emotion we want to be with people when they’re happy and celebrating and really enjoying themselves but it’s it’s so important to do that for those more negative emotions like anger and sadness guilt shame etc. One of the things I hear a lot with some of the older teens and adults that I work with is that this validation piece, especially if they got diagnosed later in life, this validation piece has been something that has been missing pretty largely throughout their childhood and adolescent years – they’re used to hearing that they just need to get over it they just need to push through it they just need to you know etc. things along those lines.

Hey guys, it’s Sarah Norris and Carrie Einck from the STAR Institute for SPD and we are going to be talking about relationships today and specifically how important it is to be considering all the relationships that impact our clients and the individuals we work with. At STAR we use a relationship based model with all of our clients so even with our kids we are using relationship based model our parents are in all our treatment sessions, we put in parent education into all our programs because this is what we found is the most effective way that we can treat the family and make those changes that last throughout the lifespan. So we use play theories we use cognitive theories SI theories – all that goes into this relationship based model. So in starting to develop our adolescent and adult program, we knew that we wanted to keep this model the same and so we use a really heavy relationship based model with our teens and adults as well.

I think the two big things that we’re looking at when we’re working with an individual is the individual differences and that’s basically how someone processes sensations and how they interact with others and some of those personality traits and then also how those relationships in their lives are either supporting them or could be tweaked to support them a little bit more. So once we move into adolescence and adulthood some of our relationships are similar to when we’re kids – we have our relationships with our parents our relationship with our siblings, we have relationships with friends and as we know those can evolve throughout the lifespan but what can also happen is you develop romantic relationships as well and so that’s another relationship that isn’t so common in – that we wouldn’t be working on in the pediatric world, that we start to work on with adolescents and adults. I think the other one that becomes pretty complex is when we’re working with a parent and especially if their child also needs intervention or is getting intervention there’s a lot of that kind of – we have to look for both angles, or if it’s two parents all of angles and if there are multiple children it just adds exponentially the number of relationships we’re working with. We all know that relationships in general can be challenging because they are so complex, they are so multifaceted.

As OTs how we can incorporate relationships into our treatment is by first helping the individual understand themselves and then transferring into the realm of how can they advocate for themselves – how can I help them advocate for themselves – how can they start having these two-way conversations about what they want, what they need, from a sensory perspective. I think one of the things that we’re always striving for is taking everybody’s needs into consideration. So we may have a designated client that we’re working with but we’re also thinking about what are the other individual differences and relationship needs for the people that they have close relationships with.

Relationship Strategies for Adults and Teens with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) Relationships

So it does make us step back quite a bit and think about, a lot of times, more of the long-term implications of these relationships, a lot of times when we’re starting with children there’s a lot of the process of helping parents come to grips with the fact that this is not usually a quick fix, it’s something that is going to be part of their lives with their child for a long time and it is more of that – how do we move through adolescence and into adulthood and make those shifts in responsibilities over time. So really thinking about what are some of the core things that we find are really important throughout the lifespan. We’ve gotten some really good comments on some of the posts in the past weeks, pretty much talking about that relationship piece and what do you do if it seems like somebody’s constantly needing all these accommodations for themselves and it might be getting in the way of relationships and I think that’s a really great question and that’s really something we need to be thinking about from both the individual as well as the people around them and I know we’ve talked about this in some of our other posts we’ve alluded to it, especially around the holidays, but it’s kind of finding that balance between advocating for what you need, listening to what others need, just as in any relationship but what we know if you’re an individual with SPD that self understanding doesn’t always come as naturally so even understanding where your body is in space can be difficult so understanding your emotions understanding somebody else’s emotions can become really challenging and so what I’m learning for my clients is that these conversations become really difficult even beginning with properly identifying what made you feel a way or what it even is that you’re feeling. So I think what I want to start with is outlining, what are some of the general strategies that we coach individuals to use and a lot of times we’re coaching the parents on how to support their child or as they get older it could be how a spouse can support their spouse or partner etc.

But some of the big things that we talk about here are validation and holding space. So what that means is, when an individual is having a challenge and experiencing an intense emotion that validation is really that active listening of maybe you’re telling them I am hearing what you’re saying or I’m seeing what your body is telling me and I know you’re having a hard time and I know that this is difficult and instead of trying to step in and fix the problem or make the emotion go away it’s that sitting with that person in whatever they’re feeling and just walking with them through an emotional response and not trying to shorten it, hurry it up, really not trying to influence it at all, just letting it happen naturally. And so one of the analogies that I really like is talking about how emotions are like waves and the way that we can help individuals process emotions is to let them ride the wave out and not try and stop the wave not try and freeze the wave not try and ignore the wave but just let it happen and it’s easier to do with positive emotions we want to join that emotion we want to be with people when they’re happy and celebrating and really enjoying themselves but it’s it’s so important to do that for those more negative emotions like anger and sadness guilt shame etc. One of the things I hear a lot with some of the older teens and adults that I work with is that this validation piece, especially if they got diagnosed later in life, this validation piece has been something that has been missing pretty largely throughout their childhood and adolescent years – they’re used to hearing that they just need to get over it they just need to push through it they just need to you know etc. things along those lines.

I think that this validation piece becomes a lot easier for spouses and families and parents when they understand and when they’re educated on what it is on the individual differences of their family member of their spouse their significant other and so that’s even with Pediatrics even with young kids, that’s the place we always start as occupational therapists we want to educate everybody including the individual on what their individual differences are so starting out with saying well maybe touch is hard for him because he’s over responsive to touch, this is what over responsive means from a neurological perspective he’s going into fight or flight several times a day and when we go into fight or flight we lose our control of our emotions and our behavior and so what he’s saying and doing aren’t actually in his control and he’s not meaning to do that. And so really taking that shift and going back to the physiology and anatomy really helps family say “oh maybe he really can’t help it, maybe it really is a difference from me and how my body is processing sensations” and it’s that lightbulb moment and that authentic shift into true validation and true understanding of course there’s always going to be individual differences of others that we can’t fully understand because it is so different than ourselves but continuing to educate yourself on each other can really be an important first step. I think one of the things that I’ve learned through experience and over time with the validation piece is it’s usually not helpful to tell a person how they’re feeling or how they’re making you feel in that validation stage it’s more just taking the time to to stop and recognize that something’s happening. And so for example, often times we have kids that have a hard time leaving the gym and so I found it’s a lot more effective to say something like this is hard and you’re not ready and things like that talking about your having a big feeling but not saying you’re disappointed you’re angry you’re mad you’re sad because one of the things that I’ve learned about individuals with sensory processing challenges is a lot of times the feeling words don’t fit they’re not exactly just one emotion and it can be really confusing especially at early ages to try and narrow it down to one feeling word. When I started working with adults I remember one of my first clients, one of the first things she told me was how misidentified her emotions had been her whole life, her whole life people would always ask her why are you sad all the time why are you always bored and it’s just comes from that effect and the way her body was presenting to the world that she didn’t even really have an understanding of that was telling everybody that she looked sad or she looked bored and she said really a lot of these times I’m really happy or I’m very content and just thinking about the invalidation that that can bring of misidentifying somebody’s emotions – I really like that point that you made about not just jumping to labeling anybody’s feelings even, I mean this is transferred over into me being a very different therapist with the kids that I work with and asking a lot of questions around their emotions like are you feeling disappointed?

I’m not sure, I’m seeing this from your body and letting them tell us and of course with kids that is a lot more simple sometimes than when we get into adulthood but thinking about that throughout the lifespan I think can be really important for us as caregivers as well as us as occupational therapists. One other thing that I’ve learned in that validation phase is a lot of individuals can’t pinpoint things right away and they also can’t settle right away, they have a hard time identifying what they’re experiencing in the moment and they actually have to wait for the emotion to pass to be able to identify what caused it, why it’s happening so it’s when someone’s upset of course you want to know what you can do to help so you’re like what’s wrong what’s going on what happened and for these individuals that can just add anxiety because they don’t know and one of the things that can be challenging is figuring out, well okay, how how do I sit with them in this? Or how do I give them the space to feel what they’re feeling? And often times it’s just an understanding silence is what they need.Some people need their own space to do that so they may find a way to to get away from others – go for a walk or take a break so that they can recover and then they might be ready to talk, others find it really really helpful to have someone safe nearby that they know will be there when they are ready to talk. So it does take some time to figure out what your loved one will need or even what you yourself need in those moments but it’s very common for individuals that we work with to not be able to pinpoint the cause of their emotions in the moment.

I think this is where working with an occupational therapist can be so helpful in identifying some of those things learning how to talk. I know that Sarah and I have both, in some of our adult and adolescent treatment, we’ve worked as a sensory mediator for a lack of better words within our sessions sometimes I even get out that zones of regulation visual that we’ve shown in previous posts and talking about the concepts of what two people in the blue zone, that low arousal, what that would look like in a conversation, what two people in that green zone, that just write regulation, that that’s kind of the ideal place to be for a majority of the conversation. As we all know conversations can easily get up into that yellow zone and I think that that’s pretty natural and pretty typical but it’s once it starts verging towards that red zone and that fight or flight which we know even talking about big emotions can get any of us into that really high arousal place and what we’ve talked about before on these posts is once we get into that red zone, that really high arousal, we lose our capacities and so what people end up saying and doing ends up being a little bit out of their control and they end up saying and doing things that they really don’t mean that really don’t have any merit behind them and so even holding that visual I’ve literally stood in a room and have the visual and showing them where they were at and then if we start getting near that upper yellow zone, we’ve gotten on the trampoline everybody jumps it out, maybe one of them gets on a swing the other person needs to go get a drink of water. And just starting to learn those skills can be really helpful for once you go home but it might be that you might need a mental health worker a psychologist an occupational therapist just to be in the room to kind of help keep that regulation as you’re talking about these big subjects that can be big from a sensory perspective and big from an emotional standpoint. I think I wanted to point out that it’s you’re not recommending that when you’re in an interaction with a loved one that you have that zones of regulation while you’re talking to them because that could be pretty triggering and it does come back to that you’re labeling me and you don’t you don’t know what I’m feeling so I like how you’re saying having someone outside, that third party, that can help with that – okay I’m here to just help you guys have this safe space for both of you and when someone is not keeping it safe anymore that’s when I’ll signal that we need to take a break.

And that’s another reason I like to use the zones visual is because it’s just putting it at colors it’s not pinpointing the exact emotion and I think that that’s one way it can be really helpful is because I, within conversations it’s really hard for us to identify, as well as the individual themselves to identify, so I think it’s another way that it can be really helpful. So I wanted to recap and visit something that I found really helpful for myself. There’s a book out there called ‘I don’t have to make it all better’ I think and they talk about how the process of validation is listen, listen, listen, understand.

And that teaching other people about what they should do or what they could do needs to come at a time that there’s no emotional uproar happening so when someone’s feeling something emotional and this is something that I think of examples with teenagers all the time it’s just an emotional period of life and I think if you as a parent or even a boyfriend/girlfriend for a teenager what teenagers really need is just someone to listen. I don’t think there’s a parent out there that hasn’t heard you don’t understand, you’re not listening to me and it’s really coming from that place of feeling invalidated and a lot of teenagers just need that space for someone to listen to them and to keep listening to them and to maybe ask a couple questions just for the purpose of understanding and I think it’s something that’s really hard to do when you care deeply about another person because of course you don’t want them to struggle and you don’t want them to suffer and you do want to make it all better but it’s actually counter productive to try and go down that road when someone’s emotional. That’s a really good point and another bridge from that – so this coming Monday we are having another roundtable discussion on our education platform and this is for paid members but this week we’re doing it for individuals with SPD and what we want to do is start the conversation. We want to hear from you we want to listen to you we want to hear more from you guys about your questions maybe your shared experiences your different experiences and so that will be happening Monday at 11:00 a.m. Colorado time.

I think it’s important to know that this is something we want to talk to individuals with SPD but also talking to parents and teenagers and spouses and things like that when you have, a you want a better understanding and you want to know what you can do for a teen or an adult with SPD. That’s the focus of this one so there will be opportunities for for parents of children to have this discussion but this one’s going to be focused on teens and adults. So we would really love to get some back and forth, we had the opportunity to do it with professionals earlier this week and it was so wonderful to have an actual conversation instead of just talking to Facebook. It’s a zoom conversation and so you know it’s sitting at your own computer with a webcam or even if you just have a microphone that you can talk into and it was really cool hearing from professionals all across the world and comparing and contrasting what you guys are doing in adult treatment and adolescent treatment and so I think that would be really cool from the adult and adolescent perspectives as well, so let us know if you have any questions about that, we’ll post the link or we’ll post some more information about the roundtable below so you guys can check that out.

So thanks guys so much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *