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The Sensory Child Gets Organized: Proven Systems for Rigid, Anxious, or Distracted Kids

reviewed by Jessica Nina Lester - December 09, 2013

coverTitle: The Sensory Child Gets Organized: Proven Systems for Rigid, Anxious, or Distracted Kids
Author(s): Carolyn Dalgliesh
Publisher: Touchstone Books, New York
ISBN: 1451664281, Pages: 272, Year: 2013
Search for book at Amazon.com

In The Sensory Child Gets Organized: Proven Systems for Rigid, Anxious, or Distracted Kids, Carolyn Dalgliesh offers practical advice for understanding a child’s sensory system and preferences and incorporating approaches that effectively address sensory challenges. The author explicitly states that the overarching “goal” of this 13 chapter book is to support readers in “observing, prioritizing needs, and creating supports for all types of different experiences” (p. 8). Overall, this book focuses on strategies that support the sensory needs of children at home, with some applications for out-of-home experiences included. As the author stated, the book aims to give “you a plan for learning how to live with and best support your sensory kids at home” (p. 7). As such, the primary audience for the book is parents and those who provide home-based care for children with various developmental needs. Nonetheless, there are helpful suggestions for professionals, including teachers and other school-based personnel working with children with sensory-based needs.

In Chapter One of the book, Dalgliesh begins by sharing her own experience as a parent of a “sensory child” (p. 5), describing how she and her husband went from feeling overwhelmed to knowing how “the power of structure and routine” and “visual supports” could support her son and positively impact their home life. This personal experience, “Systems for Sensory Kids,” led the author to develop a business focused on helping other families and professionals who had children with unique sensory needs.  The lessons learned through the author’s work with other families, as well as her experience with her own son, informed what is shared throughout the book.

Chapter Two of the book describes what it means to be a “sensory child” (p. 9), providing examples of various profiles that fall within the umbrella of this label. While this chapter takes up a distinctively medical orientation to a child’s way of being in the world, the author does provide some insights regarding the ways in which children labeled Attention-Deficit Disorder Hyperactivity, for instance, may exhibit sensory processing issues. Specifically, Dalgliesh discusses the sensory profile in relation to: 1) sensory processing disorders; 2) attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD); 3) anxiety disorders; 4) autism spectrum disorders including Asperger’s disorder; 5) mood disorders, including pediatric bipolor disorder (BD); 6) those disorders that encompass symptoms of many different disorders; and 7) environmentally triggered disorders. The author describes what a child with each of these diagnoses might ‘look’ like in relation to their sensory profile, providing useful case studies for each of the diagnostic categories.

Fortunately, the author does not leave the reader contemplating the medical descriptions of “sensory kids”; rather in the third chapter of the book she moves to share how parents of children with unique sensory needs might go about parenting their child in ways that align with their unique learning style. Dalgliesh provides practical suggestions for observing your child in a systematic and useful way. For instance, she suggests that parents begin to consistently journal about their child’s behavioral patterns, tracking what might have triggered a particular behavioral response. The author extends her discussion of the power of journaling by providing examples of the different types of journaling that might be useful for parents, including observational and calendar journaling. Within her discussion of the varied types of journaling, Dalgliesh provides key questions that a parent can ask as a way to structure their journal entries. Another useful resource included within this chapter is a learning style survey that provides a rough ‘read’ of a child’s approach to receiving and processing information.

Building upon the insights about individual learning preferences, Chapter Four provides a practical tool for identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your child and developing a “game plan for…sensory kids” (p. 62). This tool is referred to as the “SSK Sensory Organizing Worksheet” and is tightly linked to the at-home supports that Dalgliesh discusses in the following two chapters.

In Chapter Five of the book, the author focuses on practical ways to approach designing a child’s room. The author begins by describing a “sensory space” as one that seeks to: “1) support common sensory challenges, 2) define areas and tasks with visual aids, 3) incorporate an escape and regulate area, and 4) bring in fascinations . . .” (p. 66). This chapter provides practical advice for creating a space that helps to calm down an upset child, which Dangliesh identifies as a key challenge for many sensory children. The author discusses how color scheme, visual supports such as labels, and even “chill out” forts (p. 71) can provide a calming and soothing environment to a child. The inclusion of pictures representing the discussed strategies provides a helpful visual to the reader, allowing them to imagine what these strategies might look like in practice.

Chapter Six of the book offers suggestions for organizing a child’s bedroom with visually labeled storage systems. While relatively short, this chapter provides multiple pictures that illustrate how a parent might go about organizing their child’s room. Building upon this visually rich approach to organization, the seventh chapter provides practical suggestions for creating and organizing a playroom. This chapter highlights several calming activities (e.g., swinging) and the visual supports that help a child navigate such a space.

Chapters Eight and Nine offer additional suggestions for visually supporting a sensory child, specifically focusing on routines and “making trouble times easy” (p. 118). Dangliesh gives practical advice regarding how to create a visual schedule and even visually represent what expected and unexpected transitions might look like. Perhaps, even more importantly, chapter Nine provides concrete ways to navigate difficult moments, offering pictures of visual supports that might assist a child and parent as they work through conflict. The value of routines that are visually represented and visual reminders of how to calm down are shared, with images illustrating what these might look like in practice included.

Chapters Ten through Thirteen focus on supporting a sensory child when they are outside of the home. Chapters Ten and Eleven highlight practical things to consider when a child heads off to school or takes a trip. The final two chapters provide tips for working with a child’s teacher and also being a sensory child’s advocate, with the value of visual supports highlighted here again. Dangliesh concludes the final few pages of the book with a list of resources, including ideas for further reading.

While the book’s targeted audience is parents of children with sensory needs, there are a plethora of examples and strategies that could be useful across contexts and with a variety of children. Further, if professionals are working with parents who identify their child as having challenges related to sensory processing and regulation, this is a great book to read and recommend to others.  

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: December 09, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17353, Date Accessed: 12/8/2021 5:32:33 AM

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About the Author
  • Jessica Lester
    Indiana University
    E-mail Author
    JESSICA NINA LESTER is an Assistant Professor of Inquiry Methodology at Indiana University. Her research is positioned at the intersection of discourse studies, disability studies, and cultural studies in education. She has been recently published in the Peabody Journal of Education and Qualitative Inquiry.
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