Category Archives: Lindsey Biel

Teenagers and Sensory Issues: Special Challenges for a Special Time

As I look forward to my son entering his teens very soon, I’ve been thinking a lot about teenagers and sensory issues. Years ago, when I was first thinking about writing a practical guide for parents of kids with sensory processing disorder, I knew I wanted to cover teenagers and their sensory challenges. I knew of teens with SPD and I recognized that there was nothing out there in books or on the internet to help parents. I’m very proud to say that my coauthor, Lindsey Biel, OTR/L, and I were really at the forefront of talking about sensory issues in teens in our book.

I’m repeating here my most recent Sensory Smart News because I know how eager moms and dads, and professionals who work with teens with SPD, are to get info aimed at this particular group of kids. So here it goes:

 

Teens with sensory processing disorder have special challenges because of the stage of development they’re in and the fact that until now, their sensory issues may have gone unaddressed. In the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues, you’ll find an entire chapter devoted to teens as well as many practical tips for older kids. If you are unfamiliar with the special challenges of teens with sensory issues, here they are—followed by practical strategies for addressing those challenges.

 

 

1. Finding the right OT can be challenging. Few occupational therapists are trained or experienced in working with teenagers who have sensory processing disorder. Play-based SI therapy may seem silly and embarrassing to teens.

 

2. Poor self-esteem. Teenagers who have had sensory issues for years will have learned at least some accommodations to get around them and are less likely to experience the extreme behaviors and responses they did when they were younger. However, years of feeling different and not knowing why, and noticing that they have never been quite as mature and self-controlled as their peers, take their toll. Teens with sensory processing issues usually struggle with self-esteem. They need a lot of encouragement to admit they have sensory issues and need some help.

 

3. Need for independence. Teenagers need to have their independence respected, so being told, “You need to do X, Y, and Z to manage your sensory issues” usually doesn’t go over very well!

 

4. Desire to fit in. Even teenagers who don’t feel the need to have a lot of friends or be conformist want to have some friends they feel they fit in with. Sensory challenges can embarrass them and may make them feel isolated, and different in a negative way.

 

5. Changing hormones. Teenagers have ever-changing hormones that can exacerbate sensory issues by making them more sensitive to input than they were in the past. The normal changes of adolescence can also make them more moody and emotionally sensitive.

 

6. New expectations. People are less likely to see your teen as a young, immature person with a hidden disability and more likely to see him or her as a young adult whose behavior is willful.

 

 

What’s a parent, teacher, or therapist to do?

 

1. Modify traditional SI therapy techniques to be more teen friendly. As a substitute for playing with a tray of shaving cream or finger-paints, encourage the teen to cook, garden, do art or arts and crafts, and engage in other activities that challenge his tactile issues. Work with a sensory-smart occupational therapist who is willing to alter her approach to helping your teenage son or daughter to reduce any embarrassment or defensiveness.

 

2. Talk about sensory issues positively. Reassure your teenager that sensory issues are simply a difference in brain wiring that can have advantages but that can also be controlled and addressed to make life a little easier. See Raising a Sensory Smart Child for specific advice on helping teenagers overcome their defensiveness about having sensory processing disorder and how to talk to them about the “little tricks” you and the OT can teach them to “make their lives easier.”
 

3. Offer accommodations and sensory diet ideas for him or her to choose from. Present accommodations and activities to teenagers and let them decide which they would like to use. Honor and respect their choices and encourage them to engage in problem solving with you. If they don’t want to be seen doing a brushing protocol for tactile issues, can they do it discreetly in the bathroom at school? If all the kids are wearing loose clothes and they prefer them tight, can the teen wear tight clothing, such as bicycle shorts, underneath looser clothes that seem more stylish?

 

Teens with sensory issues need teen-friendly activities as part of their sensory diet.

4. Help him to feel okay as he is and find a group of peers he’s comfortable with. Practical solutions for grooming, picky eating, and dressing, and encouraging talks about the upside of being different, can help your teen with sensory issues feel more comfortable among his peers. However, he may also feel better about himself if he expands his group of friends. Encourage your teen to develop hobbies and engage in new activities from individualized sports that don’t require high levels of skill and competitiveness to enjoy them to groups that engage in the arts, community service, spiritual growth, etc. Extracurricular activities can help kids find their “tribe” and feel the power to make a difference in the world as well.

 

5. Accept that your child may be more emotionally sensitive at this stage. Be alert to signs of increased anxiety and depression and consult a medical health professional with any concerns you have. Remember, addressing sensory issues will reduce overall anxiety that can lead to mild or moderate depression (when you feel you can’t manage your discomfort, over time, you can develop depression). Don’t forget some of the most effective treatments for mild or moderate anxiety and depression include physical exercise, time spent outdoors, meditation, and breathing exercises. Mindfulness practices from yoga and tai chi to tai kwan do and karate can help, too.

 

6. Focus on self-awareness and accountability for self-regulating. It’s very difficult to get others to accept poor self-regulation in a teen, even if you educate them on hidden disabilities. Therefore, the sooner you collaborate with your teen in creating a workable sensory diet that prevents negative behaviors, the better. It will be easier for your teen to develop better self-regulation if she is trained in using specific self-calming and self-alerting techniques that she knows work for her. Hold her accountable for using her alerting music and gum, taking time out to sit in a quiet space and do breathing exercises or use a brushing protocol, etc. Have her participate in creating a sensory diet tailored to her needs to keep her sensory needs met and to prevent fight-or-flight behaviors. Let her experience the natural consequences if she refuses to use her calming, focusing, alerting techniques.

 

Above all, never forget that kids with sensory issues need a “just right” challenge, a balance of accommodations to make them more comfortable and challenges that take them out of their comfort zone.  Sensory diet activities for teenagers help them to develop a higher tolerance for situations and activities they’ll encounter in life, and over time, retrain their brains to process sensory information more typically. Be creative and encouraging in setting up a sensory diet for a teenager, and always be collaborative to respect the teen’s need for independence.

 

Finally, if you’re a parent frustrated by trying to get your teenager’s sensory issues under control, consider joining an in-person or online support group, such as the ones on yahoogroups.com, or creating one. Knowing that you aren’t alone, and having practical and emotional support from other parents going through the same experiences with their teen, can help you enormously at this stage of your child’s development.

Check it out!

 

Know the symptoms of depression in teens: See the information on the Mayo Clinic website. Information on Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which often begins in adolescence, can be found at WebMD.

This video features a teenager teaching a relaxation breathing technique for reducing anxiety.
Find more quick tips for kids and teens on the Sensory Smart Parent website.

If you’d like your teen to try new activities in your community but are concerned that her hidden issues will make it difficult for her to participate and have fun, check out Lisa Jo Rudy’s book Get Out, Explore, and Have Fun! 

 

 

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Filed under exercise and movement for sensory kids, grooming, heavy work, helping your child with SPD at home, Lindsey Biel, Moms of kids with SPD, online support groups, OT, Practical tips for sensory issues, proprioceptive input, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, sensory diet, sensory diet at school, sensory processing disorder, sensory seeking, teenagers with sensory issues

Brain Differences Are Real! How YOU Can Retrain the Brain of Your Child Who Has Sensory Issues

The brains of people with ADHD, autism, and/or sensory processing disorder are different from the brains of neurotypical people. There’s reams of evidence this is true, including a new report on visual processing differences and ADHD. Whenever I hear people say ADHD or sensory issues aren’t real, or that some kids don’t have autism and are just the victims of bad parenting, I wish I had a portable brain scanner to whip out to show people WE ARE NOT MAKING THIS STUFF UP! (Forgive my crankiness–I hear so many of your stories about ignorant people who are convinced it’s all nonsense and I share your frustration!)

For those of you who have already accepted this fundamental reality about different brains, please remember that brains are retrainable, or plastic so there is reason to be optimistic, although it may not feel that way on your worst days. How does brain retraining work? As the saying goes, “When neurons fire, they rewire.” That means that when a neuron is stimulated and sends out an electrical signal to another neuron, a bridge between them forms. When the stimulus is repeated, the bridge is strengthened. In time, that bridge becomes very strong. That’s why we see that after a sensory smart OT does the same activity, hand over hand, with our child again and again, one day, he just “gets it” and doesn’t need cueing or demonstrating anymore. In fact, the stronger the neural network of bridges, the easier it is for him to translate the original skill to a new activity. He can blow a bubble off of a bubble wand  AND blow out a birthday cake candle.

Kids with sensory issues may need lots of practice to acquire skills such as bubble blowing. Have your sensory smart OT assign you homework--activities you can practice with your child, as part of a sensory diet, to retrain her brain.

Retraining the brain is easiest with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, but we can retrain the brain at any age as long as any damage to the brain is not too severe. Even then, our brains are marvelous at rerouting signals so that we can make do with what we have.

What this means for us as parents is that we help our children develop more typical sensory processing, better self-regulation, and new skills through repetition and practice. Talk to your OT regularly about what she is doing with your child to build new neural networks and follow through with “homework.” My son’s marvelous sensory smart OT, Lindsey Biel, showed me how to stand over him, cueing him to keep his legs together using my own legs, and count off to jumping over three stuffed animals lain on the floor, in sequence. “1-2-3 jump–legs together! 1-2-3 jump–legs together, that’s right!” Every week, we had homework to do. It was fun and easy to work into our home routine (especially because Lindsey is a huge advocate of sensory diet activities that combine with everyday life easily). I learned that this follow through was as important as a musician practicing between lessons. Just a few minutes of each activity a few times a day helped tremendously. In fact, my son had so much fun he would often try activities on his own, or point to the equipment (it helped that he is a sensory seeker so jumping and the like always held great appeal–I know you parents of sensory avoiders have it a bit harder!).

If you haven’t done OT homework at all, or in a while, make a plan for yourself to learn what to do with your child and work on it every day, even if only for a few minutes. You can do it, and it’s fun!

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Filed under A.D.D. and A.D.H.D., helping your child with SPD at home, Lindsey Biel, occupational therapy, organizational issues, OT, Practical tips for sensory issues, sensory diet, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder

Fine motor delay? Fine motor skill benchmarks to watch for in your child

This month’s Sensory Smart News is chock full of tips for developing fine motor skills in your child. I think it’s important to take a variety of approaches and keep working on those skills in fun ways to bring your child up to speed with her pre-handwriting and handwriting skills. Of course, language processing difficulties and short-term memory issues (which may include motor memory or visual memory problems) can factor into a child’s difficulty with handwriting, but very often, fine motor skills play a big role.

We don’t often think about handwriting before kids actually have to do it starting in kindergarten–I remember thinking, why is my son’s OT through the Early Intervention program concerned about whether he can draw with a crayon at 27 months old?–but the child who is behind in fine motor skills will need lots of extra help to catch up and be able to handwrite well in school. If your child is trying to compose his thoughts in a coherent way, the last thing he needs is to be struggling with writing them on paper using a pencil.

Fine motor skills play an important role in handwriting.

So where should your child be with fine motor skills? Here are some fine motor skill benchmarks from Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues (a complete list of skill benchmarks can be found in our chapter on Dealing with Developmental Delays).

7 months or so:

–can bang 2 objects together

–can poke objects with index finger

–good grasp and voluntary release

13 months or so:

–mark paper with crayon

–put 3 or more objects into a small container

16 months or so:

–points with index finger

–builds tower using 2 cubes

18 months or so:

–one hand holds object stable while the other manipulates it (Oops! That was a biggie I missed in my own child–fortunately, once he began early intervention at 27 months, I had my OT, Lindsey Biel,working with him hand over hand to develop this skill)

–scribbles spontaneously

24 months or so:

–snips with scissors

–strings one one-inch bead

–imitates vertical stroke and circular scribble

5 years old or so:

–prints first name

–writes numbers 1 through 5

If you are concerned with your child’s progress in fine motor skills (using fingers and hands), gross motor skills (using larger muscles), speech, socialization, or other skills, I urge you to investigate and get answers now. Don’t be afraid or intimidated! You can’t possibly tell if he will grow out of it or catch up on his own. Early intervention makes a HUGE difference because children’s brains are more easily trained when they are very young. When in doubt, check it out!

Here is a link to a list of early intervention providers in your state who can do a FREE evaluation of your child from birth to age 3 if you suspect developmental delays: http://sensorysmarts.com/ei_providers_by_state.html

You can also Google “early intervention” and your state’s name.

If your child qualifies for services, they will be FREE or on a sliding scale depending on your state’s policies. If your child is over age 3, or in school, ask your local school district to evaluate him. Reaffirm your request in writing by certified mail.

You can also consult a private OT for help with handwriting issues and fine motor skill delay. Be sure to ask about whether she is familiar with and experienced with working with children with sensory issues.

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Filed under evaluations, fine motor skills, handwriting, Lindsey Biel, sensory processing disorder

Dads, Roughhousing, and Self-Regulation

I’ve written before about what an important contribution Dads (and Dad-figures) can contribute to our kids by roughhousing with them appropriately. Finally, someone’s actually done research on this!

I attribute much of my son’s development of self-regulation and improvement in his sensory issues to my husband working with him daily, roughhousing before bedtime. He also worked with him at the playground, doing activities such as getting him down that slide, getting him to tolerate and enjoy various swings (while stopping the movement at intervals to let it register in the brain, as directed by our marvelous OT, Lindsey Biel), using the monkey bars, doing sand play (OK if the child needs to wash off a lot), water sprinkler play, etc. He had him on a seat on the back of his bike as he rode over cobblestones, and hugged him often (affection and deep pressure–how can you beat it?). On outings, he encouraged our son to push his own stroller, filled with packages if possible, and taught him to push and run at a clip without plowing into other people. Now that our son is older, there’s still a lot of physical play: Sledding, hitting the heavy bag, climbing and hiking, playing stickball. A sensory avoider may well have to be coaxed into such activities but a patient Dad, or other sensory smart adult, may be able to do this.

Yes, some kids can go into sensory overload if pushed too far, but an attentive dad can use deep pressure, a quiet and loving voice, and loud/soft games such as having the child vary his drumming on a pillow or exercise ball or dad’s back from quiet and gentle to louder and more intense and back.

I love the “steal the socks” game!

Here’s to dads on Father’s Day!

Roughhousing and physical play can benefit kids who have sensory issues as well as typically developing children

The researcher’s report.

The really sweet Diane Sawyer report on the research.

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Filed under Dads of kids with SPD, exercise and movement for sensory kids, family fun, Lindsey Biel, Moms of kids with SPD, playground issues, Practical tips for sensory issues, proprioceptive input, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, sensory diet, sensory seeking

Helping Kids with SPD at school especially with handwriting

While this Pedia Staff interview with my coauthor Lindsey Biel, OTR/L is aimed at professionals, her straightforward way of explaining how she helps kids with handwriting, and setting up accommodations for helping kids with SPD (sensory processing disorder) at school, and more are helpful for any parent.

Does your child receive OT for handwriting? Remember, handwriting and composing written work are two different skills. Your child may need the two separated out from each other in order if her poor handwriting abilities are holding her back from expressing her thoughts “in writing.”

This week I got an ultra ergonomic keyboard and mouse and dictation software to help reduce the stress on my hands from keyboarding. I stopped handwriting anything other than short grocery lists long ago, and yet I am a full-time writer. Perhaps that’s why I totally get why kids need the skills of handwriting and composing separated out, not mushed together as if they were one thing! Ask your school about handwriting help via occupational therapy services and ask for an evaluation (follow up your request in writing by certified mail to ensure they follow through promptly). Ask about keyboarding and assistive technology, and an IEP accommodation that allows the child to dictate her answers.

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Filed under handwriting, Lindsey Biel, OT, Practical tips for sensory issues, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, schools, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder, special education