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If you’re a regular reader here at This Outnumbered Mama, you’ve probably seen that my middle son A-Man has an expressive language delay, dyspraxia, and sensory processing disorder. This can make for some fairly epic meltdowns.

His newest venture? Throwing chairs. This has been added to his usual throwing himself to the ground, hitting anything/anyone in sight [including himself] and screaming at an ear splitting volume.

Now, none of that is to say this is his fault. These aren’t just tantrums. He honestly cannot handle the stimulation of certain situations, and we’re still trying to learn what sets him off and find ways of coping.

How to Handle Sensory Processing Disorder Meltdowns at Church

When a child has sensory processing disorder or autism, the meltdowns can be really intense. So how do you handle the sensory meltdowns while you're at church? I'm sharing my tips in this post!

A-Man has finally been able to make it in the preschool room [ages 3-5] instead of the nursery [under 3] for about a month. Today? His favorite teacher wasn’t there. She has a son with autism and is great about signing with him and giving him a lot of time for transitions.

He also had a rough time because we got there right as church started. To add to that? Someone touched him as we moved from the check-in to the classroom. Yes. Someone touching him can throw off his entire day. Welcome to sensory processing disorder.

This boiled down to a meltdown of epic proportions in the church preschool room. He was screaming and hitting things and knocking down chairs. To keep everyone safe and [relatively] sane, they gave him endless amounts of crackers and let him stay in the back of the classroom snacking. The whole time.

A-Man’s sensory meltdowns [and yes, they are complete meltdowns and not ‘temper tantrums‘ or ‘fits’] are out of control. He hits, flails, and, as I mentioned earlier, throws chairs. This is unsafe for him, his teachers, and the other kids. Yikes! So here’s what we’ve come up with so far to help avoid and handle his meltdowns.

Get to Church Early

Part of the issue today was simply that we were rushing. We had to get in the door, get their name tags, and get them to class so we weren’t too late for the service.
Rushing means more things go wrong.
I left my coffee on the sign in table. The 30 seconds it took me to go back to grab my coffee messed with A-Man’s routine, because we never go backwards in that hallway.
Going early also allows him to get oriented in his classroom before there are so many kids in there. He can get comfortable with his teachers and his brother before the rush of kids running in. Allowing him to take his time getting used to a new area helps him to deal with the increase of sensory input.
When a child has sensory processing disorder or autism, the meltdowns can be really intense. So how do you handle the sensory meltdowns while you're at church? I'm sharing my tips in this post!

Bring Supplies

I have a big ol’ list of supplies I now plan to stock our preschool room with. It helps that I have wonderfully supportive ladies running our church’s early childhood department! They are just as determined as I am to get A-Man not just surviving, but thriving on Sundays!
First, I’m buying those sweet ladies a near-endless supply of crackers for my little one. Maybe it’s the crunch? I don’t know, but nothing calms him quite like crackers to snack on. Next we’re going to get some pop up bubbles. I love bubbles. You know why? They force deep breaths! You have to take in a big huge breath and blow it all out to make a big bubble. A-Man likes the ones that pop out because they use them in therapy.
The last thing I might try is bringing in a box and some heavy cans. It sounds weird, I know, but A-Man loves heavy jobs! The weighted balls are probably his favorite thing at therapy [aside from the sensory bin, but I will not make my church ladies deal with my sensory seeking child and sand!] because they work his muscles. He spends half the time at therapy putting the balls in something, then taking them out.
I can’t afford a whole slew of weighted balls yet, but I can use some sensory therapy equipment hacks and give him some cans and a box!

Ask the Therapist

Unfortunately, his OT is out of the office Monday, so we’ll only have speech. I’ll mention it to her to get her opinion, but I really want his OT’s opinion. I’ll see her next Monday and we’ll work out a slew of activities that we will integrate into church and home!
There’s quite a few things I know that we’ll be working on that we’ll add in once we’ve gotten to that level, like weighted lap pads/blankets. We don’t know how A-Man will handle those yet, so we’re waiting to purchase or make them. We’re also hoping to build his tolerance to headphones to start listening therapy, which would open the opportunity to bring him some calming music to church.
Overall, sensory processing disorder is a journey, and we are so fortunate to have professionals and support to walk through it with us.
For now we’ll just thank God for the fabulous volunteers in our church who love kids and love Jesus. We’ll continue to just hold him and swing, or rock with him in a chair, or give him extra crackers.
We’ll pray that the new supplies and plans help him to feel more secure. And we’ll stay thankful that there is grace to all while we figure this thing out one step at a time!
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