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When Fashion Might Not Be Fun: SPD
By ISJL Education Fellow Rachel Katz
When it comes to clothing and what to wear, there is much to consider—color, cut, style, and more. Camp, youth group events, and even religious school have become places of high intensity when it comes to the latest fashion trends. For some kids, it makes no difference to them what everyone else is wearing. For other kids, it makes all the difference, and they try to match the “in” style. For another set of kids, they want to wear the “in” clothes but physically cannot handle how it feels on their body-- this may be true for kids who have Sensory Processing Disorder.
According to Dr. Jean Ayers, Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD is defined as “…a neurological ‘traffic jam’ that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly.”[i] That being said, how do we make sure our kids are able to feel comfortable not only so they can “fit in” but so they can enjoy camp, youth group, and religious school without being distracted by their sensory processing challenges?
Dress Code: Comfortable For All
It is essential to keep in mind that some of our events do have a strict dress code for some events. For example, many Jewish summer camps require campers and staff to wear all white on Shabbat. This uniformity helps to sanctify the cleanliness and beauty that is felt on our weekly holiday. However, there are many other times where the outfit doesn’t make a difference. If, for example, your youth group is hosting a roaring ‘20s event, put the emphasis on making sure the programming and decor are ‘20s-themed. If people feel the need to dress in their ‘20s-style clothing, so be it. But the importance should be placed on the event itself. If the attire will make a difference to the success of the event, offer a multitude of examples as to what people can wear—both extreme and subtle.
Keep Your Staff in the Loop
Sensory Processing Disorder is not as well-known as other disorders but deserves the same attention. Kids may not SPD written in their file, but it is something that should be taken into consideration. Introduce your staff to Sensory Processing Disorder for those who may not know about it. Present them with potential situations and brainstorm ways in which these situations can be approached. If there is a parent in your community that has a child with Sensory Processing Disorder and is comfortable sharing their experience, invite them to speak at a teacher meeting.
I Have More Questions
Friendship Circle, an organization dedicated to helping those with special needs through “recreational, social, educational and vocational programming,” provides an article titled “11 More Tips For Dressing Your Sensory-Sensitive Child.” In it you can find tips from parents of sensory-sensitive children. Additionally, you will find links to online stores that sell clothing made for sensory-sensitive kids.
You don’t need to be an expert in Sensory Processing Disorder. However, as leaders in our communities, it may be beneficial to do some reading up on it so can be familiar with the concept. The more we are informed about potential issues our students or kids may face, the better we can create learning environments that are as comfortable as possible.