Friday 5th June 2020
My daughter is a sensory-seeker. She was one of the only babies who enjoyed the full 25-minute or so baby massage at the Eary Years group and, looking back, now I can see why.
This explains why I can be standing at the cooker or the kettle, sometimes in search of my own personal space, and I suddenly find her four millimetres away, at my hip. It's why she runs her fingers over the kitchen sides and picks things up. It's why she hangs from bannisters ad infinitum, no matter how many times you tell her it's not safe, or the apron on a hook on the pantry door. It's why she can appear 'clumsy', as she brushes against doors and kitchen cupboards. This is her way of seeking propioceptive (deep pressure) and vestibular (movement) input. It's her way of figuring out where she is in space, something we mostly take for granted.
As far as I know, some children on the autism spectrum seek sensory input and some avoid it. Some also seek it at certain times and shy away from it at others, like the child who wants to squeeze play doh but moves away when you go to hug him or her. It's all part of self-regulating.
I've just received a helpful leaflet from the Occupational Therapist we spoke to last week and it outlines some of the activities you can do with your child if they're a sensory-seeker. Before I do that, I want to outline something really striking and important from the letter, though. It says that for sensory-seeking children their performance problems are related to the interference of their sensory behaviours to ongoing performance... and this following point is really, really important for their learning (especially if you're homeschooling during lockdown and tearing your hair out): 'be careful not to make the mistake of providing the sensory input as a reward for completion of a task; this child needs this stimuli to achieve. I'm sure that this is something we'll be having many conversations about with J's teachers, in the future, since it's so vital for her learning.
Okay, so I'll now outline some of the activities recommended for helping a child who needs sensory input:
(i) Kneading play. This is most beneficial when it involves squeezing and rolling. Putty can be rolled into balls and flattened into pancakes or made into sausages between the finger and thumb, and cut up with a play doh knife. It can help to roll it between hands, to warm it, and squeeze it hard between fingers. Red therapeutic putty can be bought at on Amazon or at www.nrshealthcare.co.uk
Massaging hands and feet with a cream which is hard to rub in, like E45, can help give deep pressure. A fine scrub can also be added.
Massaging each finger separately, from the knuckle to the fingertips, can also be calming.
(iii) Pushing/pulling heavy items
Pushing any heavy items, like a box full of tins, is calming. Holding a heavy firedoor open for people to pass through, or carrying heavy items from one room to another, helps the child be in touch with his/her body.
A theraband can also be wrapped around the legs of a chair and a child can push their feet against it. This also works if you have a free moment to lie on the ground with your knees up and let your child push their feet against your knees. I tried it yesterday and it worked really well after a meltdown!
Pulling or stretching a theraband is another activity.
(iv) Using a therapy ball
These can be used in different ways. A child can lie on their stomach on the ball and rock back and forwards, or sit on it and bounce. You can also use a therapy ball to give your child the deep pressure sensory input they crave if you roll it along their back while they lie on the floor.
(v) Squeezing activities
Simple things like squeezing pegs around the rim of a paper plate and then taking them off again can work. Water can also be aqueezed out of a sports bottle, to make patterns on the ground.
(vi) Weighted backpacks
If a child's going into an unknown situation and feels anxious, wearing a backpack weighed down with a bag of sugar or something similar, can help calm them. They can always remove it when they feel calmer.
Vibration can be calming for a child too. Sitting on a vibrating cushion or holding a vibrating tube or toy are some activities/
(vi) Calming movement
If your child has an undeveloped nervous system, they can be easily agitated or too easily excitable and need help calming down. Movements which create this calming are slow and rhythmic. They include:
* swinging on swings
* bouncing (calmly!) on trampolines/mattresses
* rocking in a rocking chair
* sitting on a therapy ball with feet on the floor and doing some light swaying
I haven't covered everything here but at least it's a start! I hope this helps and you find you can include some of these activities easily - especially at bedtime! I'll let you know how I get on with incorporating mine... Until next time!