Fidget Tools Overview

There are many strategies children use to attempt to regulate themselves. Whether this is more obvious Fidget Tooland large scale such as jumping on a trampoline or spinning around in circles continuously, or smaller, more discrete ways such as grinding their teeth, picking their skin, or squeezing their fists, each of these strategies are satisfying a need within their sensory systems.

These can be mindless or intentional, but the bottom line is that it is fulfilling their bodies and brains in a way that only they can truly understand. While we want to allow children to gain as much sensory input as they need to maintain a regulated state, it is important to explore options that are appropriate and safe. One such option is called “fidgets,” and they are a great tool, especially within the classroom environment, so as not to draw attention away from class learning.

It is important to understand the root of your child’s sensory seeking behaviors in order to provide him or her with the most appropriate fidget tool. There are two main sensory systems that fidget toys typically stimulate; these are the tactile and the proprioceptive system. The body reads touch based on light and deep touch, light being more stimulating (tactile) and deep being more calming (proprioceptive). Think, the feeling of a feather brushing across the underside of your arm versus the feeling of a deep tissue back massage.

  • If your child seeks regulation through obtaining deep pressure input i.e. jumping, crashing, and squeezing, a fidget that targets the proprioceptive system may be the best option. To put this in perspective, think about a child friendly and inviting “stress ball.” These may be in various forms, i.e. foam resistance balls, stretchy theraband, theraputty, and squeeze toys.
  • If your child tends to seek regulation through touch i.e. seemingly mindlessly touching other people, fabrics, or objects, a fidget that targets the tactile system may be the best option. For example, swatches of various fabrics, bracelets with a preferred fabric, and balls or other toys with bumps or (soft) spikes.
  • If your child seeks regulation through movement, and you are looking for something to provide him or her with that while maintaining appropriateness based on the environment (…as it may be frowned upon to start doing jumping jacks in the middle of circle time), there are options for this, as well. When it comes to movement, though it is important to consider if the fidget is facilitating the child to cope and pay better attention, or if it is actually contributing to increased distractibility. Typically, if a child needs their eyes to utilize the fidget, it may not be serving its ideal purpose and other options should be considered. Fidgets that provide movement include snaps, marble tubes, and plastic tangle tubes.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Top Sensory Strategies for Use in the Classroom

Promoting your child’s success at school can be a challenging task, particularly for parents of childrenSensory Strategies with sensory processing difficulties. Communication between parents, teachers and school personnel is critical for establishing a safe, supportive and enriching environment. Children with sensory integration difficulties may have enormous problems in the classroom, not because of a lack of intelligence or willingness to learn, but rather resulting from difficulty coping with a neurologic system that isn’t organizing and responding appropriately to a variety of sensory stimulation from the external world.

A well- organized sensory system is important for everything a child does, especially when it comes to maintaining focus and attention in the environment of a classroom. While the child with sensory integration difficulties can benefit from a sensory-smart classroom, so can every child. All children benefit from a calm, distraction free classroom where they can feel more in control, and in turn, improve their schoolwork and social skills.

The following is a compilation of sensory strategies for use in the classroom to promote the learning potential of every child, including those with sensory processing challenges:

Provide “Heavy Work” Opportunities:

Heavy work gives necessary input to the child’s body, helping him develop an improved body awareness and regulating his system. Allow the child to take responsibility in the classroom by completing specific “jobs.”

  • Carry books to the library, or to another teacher
  • Hand out papers to the class
  • Watering plants in the classroom
  • Push/pull heavy items in the classroom, i.e., chairs, boxes, class supplies
  • Erase the board
  • Empty wastebaskets or recycling

Seating Modifications:

Providing movement opportunities on the child’s seat, or at his desk is a great way to provide necessary sensory input many children crave, while also helping to increase their attention during stationary, table top tasks.

  • Tie a Theraband around the front legs of the child’s chair
  • Provide a wiggle seat to place on the chair surface
  • Allow time for “chair push-ups,” especially before seated writing tasks

Keep Those Hands Busy:

Many children with sensory processing challenges have a need for tactile input, resulting in constant touching of objects, and other classmates. For these kiddos, maintaining an optimal arousal level with regular (and non-distracting) tactile input is important.

  • Place a Velcro strip on, or inside of the child’s desk, or on the edge of his seat
  • Give the child a small bottle of lotion (with a calming scent, such as lavender) to place in his desk, or in his back pack, for those times when he needs to move his hands
  • Experiment with fidgets in a variety of forms: worry stone, paperclips, squeeze ball, necklace fidgets, bracelets, zipper pull fidgets, etc. (For some children, however, these items may be too distracting. If the object is decreasing attention, opt for the sensory input as noted above with Velcro placed on the desk itself.)

Movement Breaks:

All children need frequent breaks from work to get up and stretch and move their bodies. Frequent gross motor breaks help to “wake-up” the body and reset the brain, increasing arousal levels, resulting in improved attention and a calm body

  • Provide simplified yoga routines
  • Try jumping jacks, or marching around the classroom (or at the desk)
  • Try “animal walks,” such as bear walk, crab walk, or frog jumps
  • Recess time with active play including running, jumping and climbing

Reducing Visual and Auditory Stimulus:

For those children who become overwhelmed with too much visual input, or noise in the classroom, try the following strategies to help them maintain attention and focus.

  • Use low light, or natural light as much as possible versus fluorescent lighting
  • Provide a “quiet space” in one corner of the classroom where children can complete work with less distractions (adding beanbags to sit in this space would be a great addition as well)
  • Play quiet, rhythmic music
  • Eliminate clutter on bulletin boards
  • Place a curtain or sheet over open shelves containing games, art materials, toys that may be distracting

Snack Time:

Chewing, biting, or sucking on hard, crunchy items can be very regulating and calming for kids with sensory challenges.

  • Parents can pack chewy food items such as a bagel, or dried fruit to provide great oral proprioceptive input
  • Teachers may want to allow a water bottle with a thick straw to be kept at the desk (adding a little lemon to the water may help arousal levels as well)
  • Parents can pack a wide-mouth straw for eating items such as yogurt and applesauce
  • Provide crunchy fruit and veggie snacks such as apples, carrots and celery

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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A Sensory Friendly Fourth of July

The Fourth of July can be an exciting and eventful time for most children, but for a child with sensorySensory Friendly processing difficulties, it can become overwhelming. Children with hypersensitivities to visual and auditory input may have a difficult time staying regulated and engaging in the activities that this holiday has to offer.

Here are some strategies for you and your child to have a sensory friendly holiday:

  1. Although fireworks can be a fun event for your family to attend, many children find the excess noise to be overwhelming. One strategy that might be helpful is to utilize noise-canceling headphones. If these are unavailable to you any type of ear buds you may have lying around the house could also help to muffle the sounds of fireworks. The bright flashing lights of fireworks can also be discomforting to a child with visual hypersensitivities. Bring along some shaded glasses to help block out some of that excess light.
  2. Parades may also be a very overwhelming activity for your child to engage in. The large crowds, loud music and bright colors can all be very stimulating and your child may have difficulties handling this overstimulation. One strategy that you could implement would be to avoid the crowd and watch from afar. Look around for a nearby building that you could watch from a window or find a designated area with fewer people.
  3. For a sensory seeking child you may want to create some sensory bins or activities for your child to engage in to help them feel more regulated. Mix red and blue paint into shaving cream (or uncooked colored rice or noodles to avoid the mess) and hide 4th of July themed items for your child to find. Your child may also need to engage in some heavy work activities before going to fireworks, parade, etc. so that he/she is regulated before these events. Some heavy work activities may include animal walks, carrying, pulling or lifting heavier objects, climbing, or crashing into pillows/cushions.
  4. Bring familiar items with you to these events to provide your child the comfort of home. Bring a favorite blanket or toy and let your child utilize it at times when they are feeling overwhelmed.
  5. Also remember to set expectations for your child. Let them know what the plan is for the day so they are more prepared for what they may encounter. Let them help you in planning out what to do for the day. This will make them feel more comfortable in these settings and can also give them the feeling that they have a choice. Having a plan will reduce anxiety for a child who is rigid or struggles with change. Visual schedules can also help to prompt your child as to what activities you have planned for the day. You can bring this along with you and take it out while transitioning from one activity to the next as a reminder.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

For additional information, watch our Facebook recording of A Sensory Friendly Fourth of July:

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Horrible Haircuts and Terrible Toothpaste: Helping Your Child With Sensory Processing Disorder Tolerate Hygiene

Children of all ages often find basic hygiene tasks boring, annoying, and tedious. Who wants to brush their teeth when they can go play outside? While it can be difficult to get any child to perform these tasks, it is exponentially more difficult for a child with Sensory Processing Disorder.  Sensory Processing Disorder

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) involves atypical processing and integration of incoming sensory information. A child with SPD may have difficulty processing any of the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell). They also may have difficulty processing the two “hidden senses,” proprioception (processing input from muscles and joints) and vestibular processing (processing input regarding movement and head position). Children with difficulty modulating incoming sensory input often have strong sensitivities to certain sensations, which can interfere with their ability to participate in age-appropriate activities.

Why Do Children with Sensory Processing Disorder Struggle with Hygiene?

Many children, especially those with tactile and auditory processing difficulties, have difficulty with hygiene and grooming. Engaging in these activities with children with SPD can often feel like a fight. This is because children with sensory sensitivities often go into “fight or flight” mode when presented with aversive sensations. While the buzz of an electric trimmer, the cold metal of a nail clipper, or sticky soap that just won’t seem to rinse off may not be your favorite, for a child with SPD if may feel like walking the plank!

How Can I Help My Child?

The good news is there are many strategies to help your child with SPD tolerate hygiene tasks with fewer outbursts. Below are a few steps involved in creating a grooming routine that works for you and your family.

Step 1: Figure out what your child is afraid of.

It is very important to determine which particular sensations are the problem. If your child is old enough, you can ask him or her about which specific sensations he or she dislikes or fears. This may also help you find some quick and easy solutions; perhaps the smell of the particular brand of soap or taste of toothpaste is the culprit.

If your child is too young or does not have the self-awareness or communication skills to discuss hygiene tasks, it will be your job to figure out what is bothering him or her. Think of yourself as a “sensory detective” and examine your child during these tasks. Does she pull away at the touch of a brush? Does he cower at the sound of the hair dryer? Observing your child and spending some time analyzing what bothers him or her will get you closer to finding a solution!

Step 2: Change your routine based on their particular sensory sensitivities:

If your child has tactile (touch) processing difficulties or sensitivities:
– Engage in deep touch pressure activities before and after the hygiene task. By providing deep touch pressure to a child’s body, he or she becomes less sensitive to undesired “light touch” inputs. There are many ways to provide deep touch pressure: firm massage to the limbs, upper back, and head; use a therapeutic body brush if you have been trained by an occupational therapist to use one; apply firm pressure on a large pillow or blanket to give your child’s body “squishes.” And don’t forget- tight hugs are a highly underrated mechanism for deep touch pressure!

– Provide pressure during the task. Try applying more pressure to the head when brushing hair. Utilize a weighted or heavy blanket on your child’s lap during a hair or nail trim. Have your child wear a compression shirt or compression vest during activities.

– Consider temperature. If a cold nail clipper feels sterile and uninviting, warm it up. If the faucet is normally on cold when your child washes hands, add some hot water and give a few minutes to warm up. Temperature can make a huge difference!

– Consider purchasing an electric toothbrush. For some children with tactile sensitivities, vibration can be a very regulating sensation. If you are unsure how your child will respond, experiment with a vibrating oral massager (e.g. Z-Vibe, Jiggler) before investing in a pricy electric toothbrush.

If your child has auditory (sound) processing difficulties:
– Warn the child before your turn the device on. This allows the child to mentally prepare for a hair dryer, electric toothbrush, or razor to turn on.

– Allow the child to wear headphones, if it does not interfere with the activity.

Step 3: Build a consistent grooming routine.

Children with SPD rely on routines to help them make sense of the world. The more your child can expect and rely on a familiar routine, the calmer he or she will be.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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Biting, Hitting and Pushing: Bad Behavior or Sensory Processing Disorder?

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I often have teachers and parents ask me if a child’s sensory Blog-Bad-Behavior-or-SPD-Main-Landscapeprocessing is causing them to behave badly in school. In kindergarten especially, we often see “bad behavior” manifest in many ways: kicking or hitting peers, biting friends, spitting, or yelling at others. In some cases, the child’s sensory system may be to blame. In others, bad behavior could be contributed to the child seeking out attention, or avoiding work or non-preferred play. Read below to help identify and understand the difference between the two.

Sensory Processing:

When a child’s nervous system cannot respond logically to incoming sensory input (such as loud talking in the cafeteria), the result may cause the child to appear disorganized, clumsy, or disobedient. Oftentimes, children who are seeking out movement (vestibular input) or body position (proprioceptive input) are often the children who crave bear hugs or body squeezes. These are the climbers, the explorers, and the daredevils as they are attempting to seek out extra information from the environment to feel more organized. When they are not given these opportunities, they may resort to inefficient ways to help seek out information which may manifest into tackling, hitting or biting friends. When these children are given ways to regulate efficiently, such as 10 minutes of heavy work activities on the playground, or intense proprioceptive or vestibular input before sitting down at the table to complete the day’s activities, they are much better able to respond and attend to the activities.

Behavior:

Behavior, which can be defined as the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially toward others, often is the result of a conglomeration of events. For example, a child’s bad behavior may be a response to a negative sensory experience, or it may be the child’s way of receiving more attention from parents, teachers and friends, or it may be both. A child with sensory concerns who often tackles peers or siblings may be attempting to receive feedback from the environment. However, it’s also possible he is looking for ways to get attention from others in his environment. When this is the case, it is important to follow up with a strategic plan. Experts recommend attempting to ignore the behavior as much as possible (not overreacting to the situation, ensuring the child follows through on the task required of them no matter what behavior they are exhibiting, ignoring disrespectful behavior and not responding until the child appropriately requests for help). Rewarding good behavior via a positive reinforcement chart, acknowledgement of a job well done, and praise for completing the task at hand are all examples of ways to reward good behavior.

There is no easy solution for recognizing the difference between bad behavior and sensory processing disorder. Oftentimes, parents and teachers may need to take each event on a case-by-case basis to determine whether or not the breakdown occurred as a result of a sensory processing difficulty. To help decipher the difference between the two, I recommend keeping track of the specific behaviors in a journal to help identify any triggers or common events that provoke the child and cause the disruption.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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Tackling Haircuts with Sensory Sensitivities

Performing everyday tasks can be especially challenging for children with sensory sensitivities. Going to the grocery store, running errands, getting dressed, and using the restroom are just a short list of activities that may be particularly daunting for your child.BlogTacklingHaircuts-Main-Landscape

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I hear about the most challenging everyday tasks for children with sensory sensitivities and am asked to give suggestions on how to make these tasks achievable for children. One of the most common concerns I get from parents of a child with sensory sensitivities is a child’s inability to tolerate haircuts. This is often accompanied with words like: screaming, having a fit, and inability to remain seated. The good news is that there are things you can do to make this experience more tolerable for your child.

Here is a list of some suggestions I have given to families and that I recommend for others to try. Select items to use depending on your child’s level of sensitivity, age, and ability to follow directions.

6 Tips to Help Sensory Sensitivities with Haircuts

  1. Have your child engage in a lot of heavy work and deep pressure input the weeks leading up to his/her haircut. Heavy work includes: pushing and pulling items, jumping, performing animal walks, etc. If you aren’t familiar with heavy work, read this NSPT blog that includes some ideas for activities at home. You could also search “heavy work for sensory processing” on Google and you will find many ideas. This should be done for approximately 10-30 minutes a day, 1-2 times per day depending on your child’s age and level of sensory sensitivity. This will help “wake up” the tactile system in order to process sensation better.
  2. Write a social story with images of what the child should expect when getting his/her hair cut. This will be a step by step guide to getting a haircut. Go through each step such as arriving to the hair saloon, sitting in a chair, putting a cloth around the child’s neck, etc. Read this to your child often, going through each step of the process.
  3. Play pretend barber shop. Take turns with your child sitting in a chair, wrapping a cloth around each others neck, and pretending to cut each others hair with safety scissors. Do this saying that we are practicing for your hair cut on X day. Do this at least a few times before the child gets a haircut. When doing this, take special note of things your child may have difficulty with. For instance, if he or she has a difficult time remaining seated, experiment with some fidget toys such as a stress ball or having the child hold his/her favorite stuffed animal. Does your child respond well to use of a weighted blanket or weighted vest? If your child has a difficult time sitting still you may want to experiment with these items during play to see if it helps. Provide these same tools during the time your child gets a haircut. Time the child while he/she is seated during play and applaud them for any amount of time they are able to sit still (a visual timer is best). Build up to having the child remain seated for the approximate time the hair cut will take. Again, applaud them for any amount of time achieved!
  4. Make a sensory tool kit with your child that includes items that calm him/her. Bring this tool kit with you on the day of the haircut and practice using it while playing barber shop.
  5. Start playing with your child’s hair a few weeks before the hair cut. If your child can tolerate hair brushing, engage in play with his/her hair a few times per week. Spike it up and do another hair style that the child enjoys or comes up with. Have the child do this independently (after providing them with the tools) the first time (if possible) and see if they will let you do it the next time. This may be a slow process with you only being able to help slightly. Build up to you doing it without the child’s assistance. If the child cannot tolerate hair brushing, start with one brush with the hair brush, and move up to 2 the next day, 3 the following day, and so on.
  6. Go to the barber shop one time before the child gets his/her hair cut. Have the child meet the person who will be cutting their hair and ask if the child can look around the barber shop.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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Sensory Play in the Snow

It’s that time of year again! The temperature changes, the holidays pass, and the ground becomes filled with a powdery white. While you may be dreading the shoveling, defrosting, and traffic that follow, if you bundle up and brave the cold, you can help create valuable sensory experiences for your child! snowmain

The play experiences you create with your child can help their bodies learn to process sensory information more effectively and efficiently. From snowball fights to building snowmen, snow can create a chilly yet enriching environment for our brains to process, respond to, and use the sensory information it receives.

Here are 10 sensory activities for you and your child using the snow just outside your door:

  1. Snow Angels– Making snow angels is a great activity to target the tactile system, our sense of touch, as your child learns about texture and temperature while the snow moves under their arms and legs.
  1. Freeze Bubbles– When the temperature drops below 32 degrees, blow bubbles and quickly catch them on the wand. Watch the bubbles freeze, then shatter into crystals, and note the vivid colors.
  1. Build a Snowman– Pushing the snowballs across the ground as you roll them into bigger shapes provides our bodies with resistive input which targets our proprioceptive system. This input is generally organizing and calming, and can improve attention as well as arousal level and body awareness. Create even more fun by using candy for the snowman’s arms, buttons, and nose.
  1. Go Sledding and Tubing– The movement provided while in a sled or tube allows for changes in head position and our sense of where our bodies are in relation to gravity, which targets the vestibular system. The vestibular system helps coordinate eye and hand movements, use both sides of our bodies together, and affects balance and equilibrium. Have your child sled in different positions (on their back, on their belly, etc.) to provide further changes in head position.
  1. Snow Painting– Take a spray bottle filled with water tinted with food coloring out into the snow and spray it around. Allow your children to create pictures with it or make colored snowballs. You can place a few drops of food coloring directly in the snow to allow for smaller “paintings” too.
  1. Snowball Throwing Contest– Using colored water, spray a large circular target into the snow. Have your children stand back from the target and see how many snowballs they can get into the circle! This will help target their visual system as they learn to interpret distance.
  1. Snow Maze– Walk all over the yard in different directions, creating a bootprint maze for your children to follow.
  1. Scavenger Hunt– Hide a cooler full of fun items in the snow, and create a scavenger hunt with clues for your children. Have them follow the clues to various spots around the yard, eventually leading them to the cooler with surprises!
  1. Shoveling – Shoveling snow provides great resistive input to target the proprioceptive system, much like pushing the balls to make a snowman. This activity can be calming and focusing for your child, not to mention will help you tackle the daunting task! Make sure to use a child-sized shovel and provide your child with short distances (such as shoveling horizontally across a driveway rather than vertically).
  1. Hula Hoop Contest– Hula hooping can be hard as it is, not to mention with layers of winter clothing on! When you’re all bundled up, take some hula hoops out into the snow and see who can keep the hula hoop going the longest.

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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Surviving Halloween With Sensory Issues

 When I think of Halloween, my mind races back to colorful memories of bright and lively costumes, overly sweet and delicious fun-sized bars of chocolate, and children of all ages screaming “trick or treat”! As most parents know, children who are especially oversensitive to auditory, visual, and tactile stimuli may experience a spark in meltdowns or increase in negative behaviors as a response to this incoming sensory input. Below are some helpful strategies to circumvent these challenges before the day and ensure a safe, fun, and successful Halloween for all.

How to survive Halloween with sensory issues:

  • Recognizing the symptoms of auditory sensitivity is the first step in preventing any tantrums or negativeHow to Survive Halloween with Sensory Issues experiences resulting from auditory overload. If your child has auditory sensitivities, investing in some noise-canceling ear plugs or headphones may help to alleviate some of the meltdowns that arise with loud music or conversation at Halloween parties.
  • Trick or treating is one of the most fun and special parts about Halloween. Encouraging children to take part in this special tradition is important to allow them to be able to explore and grow their social skills and leisure opportunities. If your child is tactile or visually sensitive, or he becomes overly emotional or uncomfortable when having to meet and introduce themselves to people, it may be helpful to have an older sibling take on the responsibility of introducing selves to neighbors or family while trick-or-treating. Let your child choose if they want to partake in ringing the doorbell and asking for treats, and know that it is okay if they wish to hang back with caregiver while visiting unfamiliar houses. Role playing with your child to help them prepare for the day’s activities can also be a helpful way to improve their social emotional responses.
  • Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes time to wear a costume! Oftentimes, Halloween costumes can be hot, difficult to put on, or uncomfortable. To avoid this nightmare, prepare your child by having them wear their costume days before the festivities, so that they have an opportunity to break in their costume on their own time, which can highlight any potential issues beforehand. Hosting a fashion show with other siblings or friends could help to make the idea of wearing non-traditional clothing more fun and exciting in a non-threatening environment.
  • For Halloween parties, make sure to bring some familiar food for the child to enjoy. Safe food choices can be comforting in an unfamiliar setting like a family or friend gathering, especially when the parent is not there for support. If the party is at your house, take advantage of this by setting up a sensory corner away from the main area of entertainment and provide extensive individual and all age activities to try out. Some good suggestions may include coloring, painting pumpkins, or themed craft jewelry. Playing quiet music and decreasing the amount bright lighting can help alleviate some stress for children with sensory concerns.


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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

playdate and sensory needs

Play Date Tips for Children With Sensory Needs

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) recognizes play as one of the most fundamentally important occupations in a child’s life. Through play, children are able to make better sense of their world, learn how to adapt to new and unfamiliar situations, and interact and socialize with their peers appropriately. As adults, it is important to provide children the “just right challenge” when preparing for a playdate, especially when a child has sensory needs which could impact their participation. Check out these 3 strategies for ideas on how to prepare for an upcoming play date.

3 Strategies For Play Dates When A Child Has Sensory Challenges:

  1. Load up with heavy work activities before the play date, which are helpful in modulatingSensory Strategies for Playdates arousal, increasing attention, and improving self-regulation. These activities may include jumping on the trampoline, swinging on a swing, laying over an exercise ball, or bouncing on a hippity-hop ball. For children who are sensory seeking, it is especially important to give their body a safe and therapeutic way to release excess energy, especially before they are expected to socialize with peers in organized and cooperative play.
  2. Meet your child where he is by offering a play experience he does not feel stressed about engaging in. For many children with sensory needs, it can be stressful to have to worry about socializing with peers. Providing opportunities that can facilitate parallel play (independent play within proximity to other children), associative play (interacting socially, without adhering to structured rules or game play), or cooperative play (organized activity) may help to bridge the gap between the social demands of the day and their level of comfort.  Activities such as puzzles, water toys, Legos, blocks, and trains can all be used in transitioning between individual play and cooperative play, allowing your child the opportunity to explore without becoming too overwhelmed or overstimulated.
  3. Play dates can be a perfect opportunity to get your child interested in multi-sensory activities. Often, when they see a peer engage in an activity, they are more likely to want to try it themselves. Setting up the environment with various opportunities to engage in sensory play, such as rice bins, baby pools, Lite Brite’s, dried pasta, finger paint, or a make-your-own slime center may also appeal to the sensory seeking kids who love to explore and get their hands messy.

If your child has difficulty participating in structured play, occupational therapy can help. Both play and social participation are two main occupations that foster growth in children. Occupational therapists are trained in providing skilled intervention to encourage a child to explore and engage in play activities that result in successful interactions within the community[1].

Is it Bad Behavior or SPD?


NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process 2nd Edition. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, November/December 2008, Vol. 62, 625-683. doi:10.5014/ajot.62.6.625

sensory diets

Sensory Diets

A diet is defined as the food and drink considered in terms of its qualities, composition, and its effects on health. A well-rounded nutritional diet promotes appropriate development and growth. In the same manner, the sensory system needs a proper “diet” of stimuli in order to process information, promote regulation, and promote efficient processing of sensory information. A sensory diet, a term coined by occupational therapist, Patricia Wilbarger, is a personally designed and individualized set of activities prescribed to an individual for regulatory and attention needs.

As an adult, you have most likely learned the activities you need in order to stay “organized”;  chewingSensory Diets gum during a conference to stay alert, listening to music to “unwind” after a long day, going for a run, etc. A child, especially one with sensory processing difficulties, sometimes needs to be taught these regulatory behaviors. Unwinding for a child could mean swinging, doing heavy proprioceptive work, or eating crunchy food.

Each child has a unique set of sensory needs. A child who always appears “on the go” would require a sensory diet full of calming and “grounding input”. A child who appears “tired/sluggish” would require a sensory diet full of alerting and arousing input.

A sensory diet can be created by an occupational therapist to be implemented in both the home and academic atmospheres. The good news is, as a sensory diet is fully incorporated into the daily routine; the short term effects of sensory input are immediate and cumulative to create long term lasting effects of regulation. As the sensory information is processed in the nervous system, the following positive results can be noticed:

  • Improved processing and understanding of sensory information
  • Increased attention and self-regulation
  • Encourage movement seeking behaviors in “tired/sluggish” children
  • Decrease non-purposeful movement seeking behaviors in “on the go” children
  • Ease difficulty in transitions and changes in routine, encouraging cognitive flexibility.

 

Is it Bad Behavior or SPD?

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!