Category Archives: exercise and movement for sensory kids

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.

Find more quick information on teens and sensory issues at www.SensorySmartParent.com and in the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child.

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!

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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

Helping Your Child with Sensory Issues Enjoy Swimming

Are you caught in the “heat dome” as they’re calling it? Do you want your child to enjoy swimming but are finding she’s resistant due to sensory issues? The following is from a newsletter I created a while back, which will give you some ideas on how to make swimming, pools, and lakes more sensory friendly for your child with sensory processing disorder and/or autism.


HELPING YOUR CHILD WITH SENSORY ISSUES ENJOY SWIMMING

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.

 

But what if your child resists swimming or learning to swim? Here’s how to get around some of the swimming challenges sensory kids face so that they can truly enjoy the experience.

 

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. Call the pool or waterpark ahead of time and ask when it’s least crowded.

 

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.

 

Suits and hair. Some kids can’t bear the feel of loose, floppy wet hair or suits. Fortunately, there are many options for swimwear and bathing caps, many of which are calmingly snug and yet stylish. Try the short-sleeve, snug, two-piece surfer suits for boys and girls which have the added benefit of protecting against harmful UV rays by providing more coverage.

 

Footwear. Walking on rough and even hot surfaces such as sidewalks, asphalt in parking lots, grass, sand, and cement near pools can feel excruciating to a sensory kid. Flip flops, sandals, and water shoes are likely to help, but also consider massaging your child’s foot providing deep pressure or even vibration from a vibrator or vibrating toy if that’s tolerable to him, before he sets foot on these surfaces. Park in the shade if you can (such as under a tree or awning) and walk where walking surfaces are likely to be cooler.

 

Motor planning. Swimming takes motor planning skills, which many sensory kids find challenging. Try private rather than group lessons, and look for an instructor who can break down strokes into various parts and who teaches in a way that your child can both understand and tolerate. For example, one instructor may instruct using touch while another may simply demonstrate and use words to describe physical motions. Sit in on a session if you can to see how your child is able to follow that particular instructor’s directions. You might also check out some of the  instructional videos on YouTube to get ideas for helping your child learn to swim.

 

Overstimulation. Some kids may withdraw at the intensity of the swimming experience (especially at a crowded, indoor pool cleaned by chlorine, or a busy water park). However, some may get overstimulated and need lots of deep pressure input to “take it down a notch.” Hugging and gentle, subtle massage of limbs, wrapping the child in a tight towel, and breaks to go to a quieter, less stimulating area often help. You may need to inform the instructor that your child needs to wriggle a lot while waiting her turn for personal instruction or demonstrating her strokes; this activity may be necessary for your child to be able to focus once her turn comes.

 

Safety. Every pool or beach has safety rules. Find where they are posted and have your child read them aloud to you, or read them to her. While we may take for granted such “obvious” rules as “do not run on the wet surfaces” or “no diving in shallow areas,” your child will need to have them repeated for the rules to sink in, so take the time to read them with her. Then too, always err on the side of caution and never leave your child unsupervised near water even if he has floatation devices on him or near him (in fact, floating devices may provide a false sense of security). Know where your child is at all times and be sure there is a lifeguard on duty.

 

Have a wonderful swimming experience!

Kids with SPD, whether sensory seekers or sensory avoiders, may LOVE swimming!

By the way, if you’d like to subscribe to the Sensory Smart News and receive helpful articles such as this one, you can do so at www.sensorysmartnews.com 

 

 

And if you’d like to check out the archives for the Sensory Smart News, check my website.

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Filed under exercise and movement for sensory kids, family fun, Practical tips for sensory issues, swimming, tactile sensitivity

Special Education, School Accommodations, and the 4 Cs

The New York Times has an interesting article on special education accommodations in two highly praised NYC charter schools. Schools that receive federal funding must provide special education services (although a notable exception is the voucher/”choice” program in Milwaukee Public Schools; there is a lawsuit pending because the “choice” isn’t really a “choice” if your child has an IEP–the schools get to cherry pick and they rarely take special ed students). Regardless of where you are able to get your child into school, the accommodations for his disability need to be appropriate for him. One size does not fit all! 

 

How do you work with a school to get the right accommodations for your special education child?  The four Cs: Curiosity, Creativity, Collaboration, and Communication.

 

The article talks about two children who are highly distractible. Movement, such as a walk in the hall a few times a day, may be enough for one particular child to stay focused in a classroom of 23 children. For another child, it may not be enough. Also, let’s not forget that with sensory processing disorder, some kids are underaroused and some are overaroused. The underaroused ones may be distracted but very quiet about it–you often find them draped over a chair in the back of the room, picking at their sweaters. The overaroused ones may be distracted and hyperactive–they’re the ones who get into trouble and are more likely to be removed from class. Then too, if a child is gifted, she may be picking up enough information to do well on tests, but underachieving given her talents. How do we address the needs of all students who have learning differences? We start by understanding and respecting those differences. Then we rely on curiosity, creativity, collaboration, and communication, the 4 Cs, in order to alter the learning environment and curriculum to be appropriate for the child.

 

What do curiosity and creativity require? Any brain scientist will tell you that to awaken these qualities that are part of executive function, you have to quiet the limbic brain where you experience fear and anger. Getting angry at a child for not behaving or performing the way you’d like her to shuts down your creativity and sense of optimism and possibility ( which opens you to a sense of curiosity and wonder). On an MRI, you can actually see the blood flow to the front of the brain, where executive function is located, reduced when blood flow increases to the back of the brain and the limbic system, where fear and anger are experienced.

 

What do collaboration and communication require? Emotional intelligence, respect, and good communication skills among all team members. “Mother knows best” or “leave it to the professionals” are attitudes rooted in ego, that is, rooted in the fear that “If I’m not in control, and I’m not seen as THE expert, then I’m a failure.” And what does fear do? Again, it blocks us from our curiosity and creativity. Finding a new way to approach a problem, or a better way to express ourselves, requires executive function, not limbic brain fear. Our kids need us to put aside our egos and make the best possible effort to communicate respectfully and effectively with all members of the team, including the child.

What special education accommodations does your child need? How will you work with the school to ensure they’re provided?

And as our kids get older, they need to be more involved in the decisions regarding their schooling. They need to learn to self-advocate in a socially acceptable way. If a student is assigned a regular seat in September and then, in October, becomes extremely distracted by the construction noise outside the window, and would hear better if he moved seats, will he speak up for himself? Will the teacher notice? Will the parent have any clue? Have we taught our kids to let go of fear, anger, and resentment and use their executive function to become creative (“I could ask to change seats and solve my problem”) and communicative (“I could ask nicely”) within the classroom? Do they have the confidence to express their needs appropriately and collaboratively problem solve?

 

What’s more, we have to remember that we’re the adults and that doesn’t just mean we make the final decisions because we’re the authority figures. It means we have to be bigger people. When a child lashes out verbally, are we being the bigger person when we immediately engage in a power struggle? Or are we being the bigger person when we take a deep breath, observe what’s going on, and use our creativity, curiosity, and collaborative skills to discover the root of the problem and address it?

 

Our kids are complicated, but we make life easier when we take the time to calm our own anxiety, fear, and anger and get curious, creative, collaborative, and communicative. Only then can we find the right accommodations for our special kids.

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Filed under A.D.D. and A.D.H.D., classroom accommodations sensory, exercise and movement for sensory kids, IEP, schools, sensory diet at school, sensory processing disorder, special education

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

Back to School sensory diet ideas

Today’s newsletter, which I’ll archive very soon, is about back-to-school sensory diet activities that involve proprioceptive input and what’s called “heavy work” (think pushing, pulling, lifting, carrying, and climbing). Of course, a sensory diet at school has to be tailored to the individual child and should include activities for oral and tactile input, withdrawal from stimulation, and other elements. Ideally, you’ve got access to a sensory smart OT to help you design it and cooperative teachers, administrators, and cafeteria and playground supervisors to help the child implement it. In my newsletter I’ll talk about how to help ensure that happens.

Meanwhile, I just had to share a link to Hartley Steiner’s blogpiece on the sensory diet at school that was set up for her son Gabriel who is not a sensory seeker and yet, like all kids with SPD, needs sensory input throughout the day to stay regulated and be able to focus well. I urge you to take a few minutes to read her extremely helpful description of a sample sensory diet.

One suggestion she made is to involve the child in janitorial type activities. I think this is a fabulous idea because first, of course, it gives the child needed input. Second, it helps the child feel good about himself because he’s able to contribute to the school in a very real way. I would love to see more schools implement groups like the old “AV clubs” where certain kids took on the responsibility of moving AV equipment around (I’m old enough to remember big black and white TVs with rabbit ears on metal carts). I think it’s a good thing to have kids feel connected to their school and be able to take pride in their contribution–and as I say, it makes for really helpful sensory input.

What sorts of activities does your child do at school as part of her sensory diet? Do share!

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Filed under back to school for sensory kids, boys in school, exercise and movement for sensory kids, Moms of kids with SPD, playground issues, schools, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder

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

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