Monthly Archives: May 2010

Make Swimming Easier for Your Child with Sensory Issues, Part I

Why is it that kids with sensory issues so often heartily take to swimming despite the sensory challenges that this activity can present? Perhaps it is because swimming offers sensory input they yearn for along with a sense of independence, and because many kids, neurotypical or not, just find it fun to splash around. As a sport, swimming allows a child to avoid competing with other children and instead compete against himself or herself. What is more, swimming is an important skill for anyone and great exercise. Here’s how to get around some of the swimming challenges sensory kids face so that they can truly enjoy the experience.

Sensory kids often love swimming and water sports.

Smells. Chlorinated water has a powerful smell and lake water can have a distinct odor that may disturb some sensory kids. Check out your options, which may include swimming in a pool that is cleaned by an ozone generator or reverse osmosis method.

Noises and movement. Kids will often squeal, run, and splash near or in the water. For a child with auditory and visual processing differences, such unexpected and sharp sounds and movements from others can provoke anxiety. Outdoor pools and swimming areas at least crowded times may be more tolerable.

Temperature. You may be surprised by your sensory child’s ability to tolerate the coldest water if he is eager to swim, but some kids with sensory issues may be very reluctant to enter a pool or water that is cold or is a very different temperature from the air. If your child will tolerate a shower beforehand, you might have her shower and gradually adjust the temperature to make it colder and prepare her for the chilly plunge. Teach her that she can get her feet in first, then splash water on to her arms, and gradually immerse all her body parts, giving her a sense of control over the feeling.

Getting his face wet. Very often, the biggest challenge for a child with sensory processing issues is to get her face (and eyes, or eyelids) wet. You can work on this at home in the tub or shower, slowly getting her used to the feeling by working with a shower head, a big cup for pouring water, and a washrag she holds over her face to slow down the feeling of her face becoming wet. Wearing goggles and masks often is very soothing to kids because these items keep the child’s eyes dry, help her see better in the water, and provide a nice amount of calming pressure against the back of the head. You may find that the child with sensory issues likes to wear goggles or a mask and swim underwater rather than on the surface where her face is alternately in and out of the water.

Goggles may make swimming easier for the child with SPD

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Filed under exercise and movement for sensory kids, family fun, Practical tips for sensory issues, sensory processing disorder

How to Get Your Child to Play Outdoors

If you’re like many parents, you have trouble finding ways to get your children to play outdoors. Studies show that just 20 minutes walking in nature makes a difference in a child with ADHD’s ability to focus and attend. Being in nature seems to slow down time, encourages children to engage in imaginative and exploratory play, and is healthy all around. But what do you do when it feels unsafe to get them playing outdoors, or they resist your efforts? Here are some fabulous tips.

I love the one about “half hour media time has to be counteracted with an hour outdoors.” I’m going to try that!

Also, I think it’s a great idea to go on walks with the whole family, along a bike trail or at a nature center. Challenge your child to find as many different types of flowers as he can, to find poison ivy (she probably won’t but it feels exciting to look for it!), to find evidence of animals and birds (holes pecked by woodpeckers, nests left by squirrels, and so on). Make “boats” from leaves and sticks to float down a creek, and practice skipping stones or just throwing big rocks into the water to make a satisfying “plunk”!

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Sensory Smart Dads Rock!

Today I want to give a shout out to all the sensory smart dads. It is not easy to admit that your child is “different,” much less that his differences require the assistant of a professional or professionals. So often, moms are the ones who recognize there is a problem and get the help needed, while dads avoid the issue and mutter about how “all this therapy stuff” seems unnecessary. I think partly this is because men are taught that asking for help is a sign of weakness, partly it’s because they’ve been trained to disdain their intuition and feelings that are the keys to recognizing when their child is struggling more than is typical, and partly it’s because they often spend less time with their kids because they’re the primary breadwinners. It’s just a lot harder to shrug off odd behaviors when you’re with a child almost all the time as the primary caretaker, so often the mom, is.

Maybe I was more fortunate than some in having a husband who did most of the caretaking while I worked, and who is a very feeling, intuitive guy. So, while my DH is of the generation that was taught it’s not okay for a boy to cry, and you’d better know how to put your dukes up if some kid bullies you on the playground, he was more attuned to our son’s sensory issues and differences than most men might be. Still, he saw those sensory, language, and behavioral “quirks” as positive. It was hard for him (and admittedly, for me too) to believe that a few “odd” behaviors added up to the need for OT 2x a week plus ST 2x a week…and then full-time, year ’round, special ed preK with OT, ST, and PT. Wow–our little guy needed all that?

Years ago, I asked my husband what helped him recognize that our kiddo really did need all that “stuff.” He said the fear of not being able to do something to “fix” my son’s problems made it very difficult for him to admit that they existed. It was when he was given OT, PT, and speech “homework” assignments and actually experienced what a difference his follow-through made that he could admit that all of this had a purpose. He worked with our son on pre-handwriting skills, trying new textures of food, playing at the sand and water table at the park, and pulling his way across the monkey bars. He began to sit in on OT sessions and ask questions, and let our home OT (Lindsey Biel, the coauthor of Raising a Sensory Smart Child)  know what he’d discovered in working with our son. As he saw my son’s skills expand and self-regulation improve with simple tasks, he started to see what a crucial role he could play as a dad.

That’s when real progress began. He became a stay-at-home dad after closing his shop, and spent hours every day on OT-type activities at the playground and at home. A mere week later, my son’s special ed teacher called to say, “What are you guys doing over there? Because we’re not changing anything here and your son is so different this week, so focused, so open to learning, that whatever you’re doing, you have to keep it up. He’s going to make tremendous progress on his developmental delays if you do.” And we did. Or I should say, my husband did.

Oh, and our son won the school’s award for the most progress made by a child with developmental delays that year.

Is your child’s father reluctant to admit that “all this sensory stuff” is real and therapy and follow-through is necessary? Could doing some OT “homework” and noticing the very real results help? Why not try it and see? Don’t even say “sensory issues” or “therapy.” Just ask if he would mind following through with some “skill-building assignments” or “regulation work’ that your child was given. Encourage him to look for results. And point out results whenever you see them: “Wow, she’s really getting to sleep much more easily now that you’re doing that deep pressure with her before bed!” “Did you see how she didn’t flip out when you put her shoes on after you massaged her feet and turned her socks inside out to hide the seam? I’m SO glad you did that. I was just not up for a tantrum. Thank you!” As John Gray said in Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, men need to feel competent and appreciated. Why not reinforce all that good follow-through and remind him of what a powerfully effective sensory smart dad he can be?


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Filed under Dads of kids with SPD, Uncategorized

Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder in Babies (and Kids)

Advance for Occupational Therapists has an excellent article on sensory processing disorder in babies and recognizing the symptoms. Boy, I would’ve checked many items on this list back in the day if I’d used it to evaluate my son, who was recently featured in a local news piece on SPD.

There’s also an extensive checklist for parents concerned about their child’s sensory issues, created for Raising a Sensory Smart Child, available on the Sensory Smart Parent site.

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Filed under sensory issues in babies, sensory processing disorder symptoms, SPD checklist, Uncategorized

SPD or sensory processing disorder: What is it?

My family was featured on our local NBC affiliate in a story on what is sensory processing disorder. Although it’s somewhat innaccurate when it comes to our personal story (because my son no longer has SPD or tantrums, thanks to years of therapy and follow through at home), it’s an excellent piece on sensory processing disorder.

Also, we didn’t have to spend “thousands of dollars on therapy” because we lived in NYC and got tons of free therapy through the early intervention system and, later, through the public school system. We are extremely fortunate that our son was diagnosed at a time before massive budget cuts, in a state and city that did provide good services. For every $1 we spend on early intervention for developmental delays, we save $4 on special education. Who can argue with those numbers? And yet EI and school budgets are being slashed in many states. Madness!

However, my husband and I DID pay thousands out of pocket for professional evaluations of speech, eating and oral/motor skills, allergies, neurology, etc., and every penny was worth it to have the information that guided us in determining what help my son needed.

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Anxious because of poor balance? You bet!

Researchers have found evidence that when sensory motor deficits in children with balance issues are addressed, their anxiety decreases (see article). It makes sense–if you fear falling, it’s scary. Haven’t we seen this in our elders?

Sensory kids can be anxious about a new swing that has a different motion (for instance, a tire or platform swing when they’ve only been on ones that go back and forth). They may hesitate to walk downhill, due in part to their faulty sense of balance and in part to visual processing which makes navigating that trail to the bottom difficult. Fear of heights and climbing affects their gross motor skills and muscle tone after a while as they avoid climbing up playground structures and remain close to the ground rather than risk falling. The proprioceptive and vestibular senses of body awareness and movement need to work together to give a clear picture of what’s going on in the child’s body; when they don’t, they can’t rely on the sensory information to guide them safely. Poor balance and clumsiness are often signs of sensory processing disorder.

Gently pushing a child out of his comfort zone will help him to retrain his system to function more typically over time. This is most effective when his brain is most “reprogrammable” (or “plastic,” as neuroscientists say) in his toddler years, but the brain never stops being programmable, so we need to help these kids (and adults with these issues) with sensory motor help.

Kids need to feel confident in their balance to do climbing

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Filed under anxiety, balance issues, exercise and movement for sensory kids, fear of heights, playground issues, Uncategorized, visual processing

SensorySmartparent.com up and running!

I’ve tweaked, I’ve redesigned, I’ve sweated over keywords, now it is finally up officially: The Sensorysmartparent.com site. This site offers information for parents, caretakers, and others who want to become sensory smart. With uplift and guidance, plus lots of resources, I hope it will be a site you come back to often and recommend to others who want to more about sensory processing disorder.

Special thanks to Emma P., Cindy D., and Janice L. for lending me some great photos, to Matt Olson, my amazing web designer who now knows more about “vestibular input” and “proprioception” than he ever thought he would know, to my husband George who had many great ideas and insights.  Thanks to those of you who offered suggestions, too.

I dedicate this site to my mom, in honor of Mother’s Day, and my dad, who would have celebrated his birthday today. They gave me the foundation to live up to challenge of being a sensory smart parent.

Me and my dad, G. Richard Peske

Me and my dad, G. Richard Peske

Me and my mom, Sally Powell

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