Category Archives: playground issues

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

Help Your Child with Sensory Issues Learn to Ride a Bike Safely

One of the charms of living in my neighborhood is that the police officers will stop kids on bikes and issue them coupons for free ice cream cones if they’re wearing their bike helmets! It’s a delightful surprise to the kids and a great reminder of the importance of bike safety. Having had a minor bike accident on the local bike trail last week while wearing a helmet, the message of bike safety hits home for me at this time. I had heard that you should replace a helmet after any accident, no matter how minor, because the integrity of the protective styrofoam is compromised. My local bike dealer told me that indeed, that’s true, and in fact you should replace a helmet every 2 years regardless, and NEVER keep it in direct sunlight (such as in your car). Is your child in need of a new helmet? Whether yes or no, I urge you to bring your child to the nearest bike shop and ask them to adjust the helmet properly for him for maximum safety. Or check this link on adjusting your child’s bike helmet. Or check this video on properly fitting a helmet. And please, don’t assume that because you’re an adult you can go without a properly fitted helmet when YOU are riding!

Meanwhile, if your child with sensory processing issues is resisting learning how to ride a bike, perhaps this archived newsletter from my website,, will help. I hope so!

Riding a bike can be challenging for children with sensory processing disorder, but they can learn the skill!

Help Your Child With Sensory Issues Learn To Ride A Bike

Bike riding is a great form of exercise and transportation, offering kids a sense of independence. Children with sensory issues often need extra help in learning to be comfortable bicycling. Part of their struggle with riding a two-wheeler is the difficulty of planning and quickly carrying out movements while on an unstable bike that they must control.

1. Choose the right bike. Encourage your child to start early riding a tricycle to begin to build biking skills, and then invest in a small, low-to-the-ground two-wheeler with training wheels. Both genders may do better starting out with a “girl’s” bike with a dropped support bar, which makes it easier to mount and dismount. Also, wider tires are easier to balance on than thinner, racing tires.

2. Adjust the bike so it’s easier for your child to manage it while learning to ride. Make sure the seat is large enough for her and consider replacing it with a wider or longer seat (seats can be sold separately). Adjust the seat’s texture if necessary, with a nylon cover, or a towel tied over the seat, if this will make it easier for her to feel the seat underneath her and make her feel more secure. Bikes are most comfortable to ride for long stretches when the seat is adjusted so that when the rider is seated, the balls of her feet touch the ground. However, at the beginning of learning to ride and feel confident on a bike, a child may need the seat lowered so that her feet are flat on the ground when she is sitting. You may want to remove the pedals while she practices pushing herself with her feet while seated, and balancing.

3. Break down the skill into steps. Have her propel herself with her feet, then lift them up and try to balance as the bike is moving, and stop herself with the handbrakes just before putting her feet down. In this way, she will learn to balance, then to use the brakes, then add in the pedaling step. You might try positioning your child on the bike at the top of a short, very gentle slope. Hold the seat and one side of the handlebars as he rides down the slope so he can feel his feet on the pedals as they move.

4. Try training wheels. After the child has become comfortable with training wheels, reposition the training wheels to be slightly off the ground. You might encourage the child to listen for the sound of the training wheels hitting the pavement and practice bike riding while trying not to “make that sound,” which means he is not relying on the training wheels. As you see him becoming more competent, move the training wheels higher so that he is even more reliant on his sense of balance.

5. Protect her from injury. Encourage your child to wear long sleeves and long pants and even protective pads when first learning to ride if she will tolerate these clothing items, which will lessen the impact if she falls and keep her from getting discouraged. Practice in a large open lot with few visual distractions. Also, be sure her bike helmet fits snugly. Use the sticky-backed pads to adjust the fit if necessary. The helmet should not fall backward or forward or swish side to side while the child is riding, and the chin strap should secure it in place. You may want to desensitize the child’s head with massage or vibration before placing the helmet on her.

6. Be patient and encouraging. Teach your child that learning to ride is a process. Challenge her to push herself just a little each time she rides so that she doesn’t become overwhelmed and avoid riding altogether. Be sure to celebrate her triumph when she makes that first two-wheeled ride on her own, and remind of how proud you are that she persevered at this challenging task.

Copyright © 2010, 2011 Nancy Peske

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Filed under bike riding for kids with sensory issues or autism, playground issues, safety and sensory issues, sensory processing disorder

Strategies to Help Kids with SPD or Autism Focus in the Classroom

Here’s a wonderful blogpiece from National Autism Resources on helping kids focus in the classroom CLICK HERE.

It’s fascinating to see how much difference and inflatable cushion or fidgets can make. There’s a Canadian company called Kid Companions that sells chewable jewelry and you can also find nontoxic chewables, and hand fidgets and inflatable cushions, in catalogues such as Southpaw Enterprises.

Wintertime is especially challenging because kids don’t spend as much time outdoors running around and using playground equipment. Encourage your child at recess time to kick a snow or ice pile, carry snow and make snow forts and snow men, and of course, shovel! But then too, check with him or her, the teacher, and the school OT to ensure your child is getting enough sensory diet activities throughout the day to stay focused in the classroom.

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Filed under affordable sensory items, autism and sensory issues, classroom accommodations sensory, heavy work, OT, playground issues, recess, schools, sensory diet, sensory diet at school, 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!


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

Evidence on the Value of Recess

OK, I know it’s summer and recess at school isn’t on your mind, but I had to share the following article on the value of recess because it is full of footnotes. I loves me a good footnote! Keep this one bookmarked come fall. Recess should NEVER be docked as punishment. There are SO many better ways to discipline and teach (remember, discipline is from a Latin word meaning “to teach”) than taking away the few chances kids have to get out of their heads and back into their bodies during the course of a sedentary school day.

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Filed under playground issues, recess, schools, Uncategorized

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


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