Category Archives: anxiety

Going to Sleep: Bedtime Tips for Toddlers and Children with Sensory Issues, or Who Just Have Trouble Falling Asleep!

Quality sleep is crucial for quality functioning, and yet we are a sleep-deprived culture. Adults drink coffee and push themselves past their tiredness, while children will naturally push themselves to be more alert and then not be able to calm down. Children with sensory processing issues usually have poor self-regulation, meaning they can’t easily bring themselves from one state of alertness to another. When tired or feeling lethargic, they will rev up to a hyperactive state and remain there. They may even endanger themselves as they get toward bedtime and become more giddy and unmindful of where their body is in relation to people and objects. Accidents are more likely to occur just before bedtime when kids are getting wired as they are getting tired. Making bedtime for children with sensory issues drama-free and easy can be a challenge.

go to sleep,child won't go to sleep,bedtime tips

Going to sleep will be easier for your child with sensory issues if you ease the transition with a predictable, calming bedtime routine.

For safety’s sake, and to get kids in bed on time to get the necessary amount of sleep, begin the children’s bedtime routine at least 30 minutes before their actual bedtime, if not longer. A few minutes between the announcement that it is time to go to sleep and lights out is not enough time for a sensory child’s body to adjust. Turn off the television and DVD early. Both are hypnotizing and overstimulating. The minutes will slip away as your child watches “just this last scene” and the next, and the next.

Dim the lights. The bright lighting that is right for playing with toys in the bedroom is too stimulating before bedtime. Read bedtime stories by lamplight not by a bright overhead light. Install dimmer switches so it’s easier to bring the level of light down as your child’s bedtime approaches.

Stick to a routine. The bedtime routine should include toothbrushing and putting on pajamas, and perhaps a bedtime story and a bath (note that bath time at night is too stimulating for some sensory kids). Many sensory kids have an easier time settling down if they perform each of these tasks in order. A visual To Do list made of stick figures, or a simple list for a child who can read, can help make the abstract agenda concrete: “Oh, I did that, now I have to do that.” Use a Time Timer® to show him when the lights will be turned out. Making time visible using a device like the Time Timer® can help a lot!

Winding Down. It can be tempting to turn on a television or put on a beloved DVD or video for your child to help her wind down before bed, but a better option is to read a book to her and discuss the events of the day in a loving and supportive way. Let your child pick a favorite story or nonfiction book. If you’re bored with the same old one, exercise your creativity. Can you alter your voice, ask your child questions, and encourage her to sound out words and read them?  You might also review significant events of the day in a positive way. For instance, if your child pitched a fit after school because she had to go to the dentist, talk it through and validate her feelings, and have a short discussion on how to make things easier the next time she has an appointment. Help her to go to sleep believing that tomorrow she will do better, with your support.

Block background noise. Close doors so she can’t hear the television or a conversation going on in another room. Consider using a fan (not necessarily blowing on your child, just “on”), aquarium, white noise machine, soft music, or even a radio turned to static to block out background noise that will keep her awake. You don’t want your child to get used to dead silence before bed if you can help it, but you also don’t want to make it very difficult for her to fall asleep because of all the activity going on in your home. Turn the television down in the living room or family room, close doors, and listen when your child says, “It’s too noisy and I can’t sleep!” Keep in mind that auditory listening programs such as Therapeutic Listening and The Listening Program can make it easier for your child’s brain to develop the ability to block background noise.

Provide deep pressure input. It may help if you massage her limbs, squeezing them gently and then releasing, to calm her body. You can teach her to tighten her muscles, then release them, body part by body part, in order to self-calm any time she needs to go from an alert to calm, or sleeping, state. She may need hugging, pillows pressed against her, or a weighted blanket to help her body to fall asleep. If you want to use a weighted blanket, consult a sensory smart OT about the proper weight and use. Or, use heavy cotton blankets, if they don’t make your child too warm.

All of these strategies will help your child with sensory issues relax his system and have an easier time transitioning from an alert to a calm, then asleep, state.

Some of the bedtime stories I recommend are:

Goodnight, Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. Look for where the mouse is hiding on each page.

Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. Look for where the yellow bug is hiding on each page. Talk about the many cars and motorcycles, and what Lowly the Worm is doing.

Go Away, Big Green Monster! By Ed Emberley. This clever book allows a child a sense of control over a scary green monster, easing anxieties and reminding him that he is safe. I especially recommend this one for anxious children.

Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt. This sweet storybook features textures, a mini mirror, and other interesting interactive features.

It’s Okay to Be Different, and other titles, by Todd Parr. These gentle, humorous books have bold graphics and simple, whimsical storylines about how it’s okay to be different, to have feelings, and so on. The I’m Not Scared Book is especially good for kids who need to talk about their fears and anxieties.

NEW WEBSITE AND BLOG! If you liked this article, PLEASE come join me at the new www.SensorySmartParent.com and sign up for my NEW newsletter and blog. Thanks!

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under anxiety, bedtime and sleep, Practical tips for sensory issues, sensory issues in babies, sensory processing disorder, SPD and auditory, Uncategorized

60 first graders, 4 teachers, one open classroom = Sensory Hell

Do I laugh or cry at the misguided professionals who borrowed an idea from an elite private prep school to create a overpopulated first-grade classroom  for public school children, a group that includes kids with sensory processing issues?  According to the New York Times article, the class is held in an open area with 60 first graders and 4 teachers who can all hear and see what’s going on with the other groups. Transitions that involve a change of activity and moving the children to a different part of the room are a nightmare, which is frustrating for the teaching team.

Up to ten percent of children have sensory processing differences that make everyday sensations such as background noise or visual clutter incredibly intense experiences that are difficult for the brain to process, distracting, and anxiety provoking. Although we can be grateful our own kids aren’t in the sensory hell of 60 kids, 4 teachers, no walls, this story is a good reminder of how important it is to be aware of how sensory kids experience auditory and visual clutter.

Neurotypical people and children have the ability to automatically “turn down the volume” on sensory input that isn’t important and “turn up the volume” (that is, pay attention to) priority sensory input. Neurotypical children can usually tune out the sound of a truck rolling by a classroom, a dog barking outside, a chair scraping as someone pulls it out, or the squeak of a marker on a whiteboard isn’t important noise–unless they’re bored or antsy because they’re hungry or tired of sitting. However, most of the time they probably won’t notice the sound or, if they do, they automatically know it’s unimportant and they don’t instantly break their focus. Of course, younger children do get distracted by sounds they find especially interesting–the sound of money jangling in a bag, described in the article, would probably excite a six-year-old eager to see how much money it is. The sound of a dog barking outside a classroom door might elicit excitement (“Ooo, there’s a doggie in the building? Can I see him? Can I pet him?) or anxiety (“Oh no, a dog. I’m scared! My aunt’s dog bit me once!”).

Imagine, though, that your brain simply can’t block out the sound of children’s feet as they move across the room, or the teacher talking to a different class. Imagine that your brain is taking in the sight of 60 kids all moving, some of them moving suddenly, or bursting into giggles that pierce your ears because of your auditory sensitivities. Your brain can’t process all this information quickly enough and some of it is being processed as danger signals. Sudden high-pitched sound? Sudden movement to your right? Your body responds with panic: the fight or flight response. You start chewing your fingertips and rocking, shutting down and not hearing the teacher’s instructions. You feel yourself getting agitated, and when another child moves too close to you, you take a swing at her. You feel yourself so excited by all the stimulation that you start hand flapping and making silly noises–which the other kids laugh at, which makes you more excited, so you start bopping your head side to side and rolling on the ground. Fight, flight, sensory overload–these are not responses that will help you learn in this environment. And if you have poor self-regulation, which many sensory kids have much longer than neurotypical children do, you’re not going to come back to a calm and alert state simply because the teacher says, “Tommy, calm down now.”

Does this sound familiar? Are you seeing these behaviors and situations in a classroom of just 20-25 kids? If there’s a child with SPD in that classroom, and statistics tell us there is, the answer is “absolutely.”

So what’s a parent or teacher to do?

In general, kids with sensory issues function better in smaller classrooms because of the lower amount of stimulation. Any time you can reduce sensory stimulation and sudden transitions, it will be easier for all children, but especially those with sensory processing differences, to focus and remain calm and alert. Many parents have found that having their child with SPD in a private school classroom with 8 children is more supportive of him than a public school classroom with 30 children, but then there’s the issue of can you get special educational services (such as OT for sensory issues) paid for by the school district if your child is in private school? It’s very difficult.

Small private school classroom but no services, large public school classroom but services, including in-class services? It’s a tough call for many parents. Whatever choices you have before you, do check out the information on my website, SensorySmartParent.com, about helping your child at school (start HERE) and the chapter on Advocating for Your Child at School in Raising a Sensory Smart Child. There are MANY ways to make classrooms more user friendly for children with sensory processing issues, and many of the accommodations are simple, low cost, or no cost. You can begin to set up a sensory diet for your child today (hopefully, with the help of a sensory smart OT). No child should be put in “sensory hell.”

1 Comment

Filed under anxiety, auditory processing disorders, autism and sensory issues, back to school for sensory kids, books on SPD, boys in school, schools, sensory diet at school, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder symptoms, sensory seeking, SPD and auditory, special education

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

2 Comments

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

“Parenthood” missed the boat this week

On this week’s episode of Parenthood, the parents of Max, the boy with Asperger’s syndrome, met with the emotional behavioral aide who would be working with him. They mentioned that he only likes his eggs a certain way and they have to be cooked in the orange frying pan. When they asked if this was unusual, the aide said it had nothing to do with Asperger’s and the dad made a comment about how wouldn’t ya know it, their Max is odd even for a kid with Asperger’s.

ARRRGGGH!

If the writers and producers of the show intend to educate people about what it’s like to live with a kid who has an autism spectrum disorder, they really need to do better research. This is CLASSIC SPD BEHAVIOR and of course, parents of kids with autism have plenty of stories about rigidity and control issues. It’s one of those areas where those of us whose kids aren’t on the spectrum meet on common ground with those whose kids are. We know the tantrum potential when the Elmo sippee cup cannot be found. We have tensed up when noticing that the yogurt manufacturer changed the look of the container because now we’re gonna have to explain to our hyper observant child who could recognize Van Gogh’s painting style before he could talk that really, no kidding, it’s the same stuff inside. The anxiety, the rising pitch of a child’s voice when the food isn’t just so and worse, is prepared and served in a “weird” and unpredictable way. Moms, dads, you know what I’m saying!

Leave a comment

Filed under anxiety, autism and sensory issues, picky eating, rigid thinking, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder