Sensory processing issues can be signs of an underlying problem, and if you have concerns about your child, you should seek advice from your Health Visitor and/or Paediatric Consultant. This post is based purely on my experiences with Joseph and observation of other premature babies.
Hot on the heels of the "baby signing" boom, there appears to be a lot of talk about "baby sensory", there are classes, some Sure Start centres have designated sensory rooms, and its something that's talked about in baby magazines, however sensory play is natural, and easy to incorporate into every day play. Over the coming weeks, I'll blog about some different ideas for sensory play for children of different ages.
A baby who has been born prematurely has missed out on all sorts of things, but importantly they have missed that time in seclusion it their mother's womb, a place where sounds, sights, smells, tastes and feelings are filtered by the mother.
From the moment they are born, premature babies are exposed to excessive stimulus, and a lot of it, extremely unpleasant. Lights, loud noises, continuous white noise, pain, strange tastes (many of the oral medications are vile and very strong tasting). The effects of being premature, and being exposed to all of these stimuli can last well into childhood and beyond.
I found we had some issues with Joseph when he was discharged from hospital. The first was night time. Joseph found it hard to settle. Different people take different approaches with this, and as far as I can see there are two options. Firstly, the "cold turkey" method. Evenings are dark, quiet times, and the baby just needs to get used to it and adapt, which is what we did. The second method is to try to replicate NICU, by keeping a lamp on at night, and providing white noise, such as running water (a CD or computer programme is more environmentally friendly than a tap!), a radio not quite tuned in, or background music.
I've blogged about baby massage before, and I found it brilliant for helping Joseph realise there were positive associations to touch not just negative. Even now he holds his feet out for massage, or when he's sad he lies down for me to massage his tummy.
I knew I would have to wean Joseph at 6 months actual, so for the 3 months before this I would introduce Joseph to smells. We would walk around my neighbour's herb patch and feel and sniff the different herbs. When cooking I would have Joseph with me, usually piled up with vegetables, and get him to feel and to smell the different things I was cooking with.
Joseph loved fabrics, I made a play mat with different fabrics, and would have boxes of my fabrics so he could feel different ones against his skin. Even now, he is entranced by fabric.
As Joseph got older I noticed he had somewhat of an aversion to mess, and to feeling things, so slowly I would introduce messy play. Playdough (I make my own), bubble play, cornflour gloop etc. I've found this has really helped Joseph, and he's a messy toddler boy just like any other.
I found from his early days that Joseph would get overstimulated quickly. It was important that we just did one activity at a time. I would, and still do now, turn off any noise that I can control when we do an activity, both to increase his ability to focus, but also minimise over stimulation.
And I must have done something right, because when we are about to do something fun and involving Joseph jumps up and turns the telly off!