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Happy Travels with a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder

Throughout the year, you and your family are bound to hit the open road a time or two forTraveling with Sensory Processing Disorder one of a number of reasons. Many families may want to check out the scene in a new city. Others, will seek thrills at an amusement park or visit a family member that lives out of town. These trips can provide children with priceless learning opportunities and families with memories that will last a lifetime. For children with Sensory Processing Disorders however, these trips can be also be extremely challenging. Below are 5 tips and tricks to use in order to best support children who have difficulty processing sensory information on your next family vacation.

  1. Discuss what to expect: Talking about the specific logistics of a trip can help to ease your child’s anxiety about the ambiguity of what’s coming next. Similarly, it’s important to talk about what will be expected of your child while traveling. Here are some questions that your child may have prior to traveling. Think through each one and discuss them as a family before your next adventure begins:
    1. What is the mode of transportation (ie. plane, train, or automobile)?
    2. What will you see? Will there be a lot of people?
    3. What will you smell?
    4. What will you hear? Will it be loud?
    5. How much time will it take? What will you do to pass the time?
    6. How much space will your child have? Will there be time or room to play?
    7. What are the rules while traveling?
  2. Decrease the amount of extraneous and unfamiliar noise: Use noise cancelling headphones or calming music. Both strategies can help your child to calm themselves and more effectively process auditory sensory information, especially with the added stressors of travel.
  3. Prepare a backpack of travel essentials: Many adults pack a small carry-on bag with a few items that will help them pass the time. Items often include shoulder pillows, eye masks, ear phones and iPods; as well as a favorite book or magazine. For children with various sensory processing disorders, include some of the items listed below:
    1. Snacks, water, gum, or hard candies.
    2. Pack a heavy object to help your child regulate. A book or weighted blanket are great options.
    3. Bring a comfort object such as a blanket or favorite stuffed animal.
    4. Include fun activities such as mini board games, coloring pages, books, or playing cards
  4. Call the airline or tourist destination ahead of time: Explain your child’s sensory needs. Certain airlines, parks, and museums have special accommodations for children with sensory processing disorders.
  5. Preparatory Heavy Work: Before taking off for your trip, or during breaks in travel, engage your kiddos in Heavy Work activities. Tasks include animal walks, pushing or pulling luggage, push ups, or big hugs from mom and dad. All of these activities provide your child’s big muscle and joint groups with proprioceptive input. This input is extremely regulating for children, like exercise could be for an adult, and will help to calm your child for the next leg of travel.
  6. Expect some ornery fellow passengers: While it is unfortunate, you may come across someone throughout your travels who will have a low tolerance for kids being kids. Depending on your comfort level in doing so (or your ability to turn the other cheek), write out small note cards explaining that your child has a Sensory Processing Disorder and that as a family, you are doing the best you can to travel with minimal interruptions to the routines of those around you. You could even offer nearby passengers earplugs to help block out any extraneous noises.

The bottom line is that while traveling can be challenging, it can also be an extremely rewarding experience for everyone involved. With a fair amount of foresight and appropriate preparation, you can help to shape your trip into an experience of a lifetime for your whole family. Happy travels!

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 strategies for swimming

Sensory Strategies for Swimmers

The water is cold! My swimsuit is too tight! It is too loud! The water hurts!

For many adults, summers spent lounging by the pool are some of the fondest memories. Swimming,sensory strategies for swimming whether it be at a pool, lake or ocean, and learning to swim, is considered a right of passage. The activity provides an array of learning experiences, including gross motor skills, balance, core strength, endurance, sensory processing opportunities and social interactions. However, with the many sensory demands that are involved in swimming, the task can become overwhelming for some children. Below is information regarding the many sensory systems that require integration within the brain while participating in a swim lesson.

Sensory Systems and Strategies for Swimming:

Sensory System How the Sensory System is Affected by Swimming Suggestions to Promote Processing of this Sensation
Motor Planning Motor planning is the groundwork for sensory integration. Swimming is an opportunity for your child to learn motor planning for symmetrical and asymmetrical movements, bilateral movements, crossing midline, learning to invert the head, and separation of upper body and lower body movements. ·         Practice riding a bicycle·         Practice reciprocal arm movements while lying prone on a scooter board.·         Jumping Jacks

·         Somersaults

 

Proprioception The ability to sense your body in space and movement of the body and its parts. Proprioceptive difficulty for swimming can present with little motor control, difficulty in motor planning, difficulty in modulating the sense of pressure and postural instability. ·         Water play in the bathtub.·         Heavy work and deep pressure input to the legs, arms and torso: log rolls, burrito rolls, nig bear hugs
Vestibular The vestibular system is controlled by the inner ear, mainly the movement of fluid within the three ear canals, and is the information gathering and feedback source for movements. All other sensations are processed in relationship to basic vestibular information. Swimming can be difficult in terms of vestibular processing due to head inversion, head turning and buoyancy. ·         Somersaults·         Swinging·         Jumping

·         Scooter board activities in different planes of movements: prone, supine, kneeling, criss-cross apple sauce,

·         Spinning

·         Log rolls

 

Tactile Water provides 600-700 times more resistance to the body than air. Movement through the water is a full body experience, thus providing tactile stimulation to every inch of the body. Water can also provide information regarding temperature. In addition, the act of swimming provides tactile input through the wearing of swimsuits, which can feel tight and restrictive in some cases. ·         Water play with warm water and with cold water·         Wearing tight clothing, similar to spandex or Under Armour·         Wearing swim suits and swim trunks as play clothing to get accustomed to the fabric; wear during dry and wet activities

·         Slip and slide activity

·

Auditory The amplitude of sounds underwater are affected by the pressure, which can cause a higher sensitivity to these amplitudes. This means, as sounds across air can be managed and integrated into your sensory system, the same sound under water can feel louder, causing discomfort in the ear drum. ·         Try wearing ear plugs while under water·         Play a sound game prior to swimming; place one ear in a small bucket of water and have one ear exposed to the air, listen to the same sound both above and below the water

Swimming can be both challenging and fun, but know your child’s limits as well. Continued exposure in a controlled and safe environment can help to establish safe and error-free learning along with confidence!


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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!

Kid chewing on a cup

Why Does My Child Chew on Things?

By the age of 3, children have typically completed the teething stage. This is when they chew on objects or fingers to mitigate the pain they’re feeling as teeth break the surface of their gums. Damp sleeves, wet collars on shirts, or constantly chewing on objects that are not typically supposed to be in the mouth can be everyday occurrences for some older children who have difficulties processing sensory information. Many parents wonder “Why do they do it?” and “How can I help?”

While no two children who have challenges processing sensory information are alike, oftentimes, kids who chew on their clothing or other extraneous objects enjoy the input they receive through their jaw bones and oral musculature with the pressure of each “chomp.” As a result, you may notice the Kid chewing on a cupfrequency of “chewing” to increase during exciting situations or during situations that your child perceives to be new, challenging, or stressful. By chewing on their clothing, kids may be attempting to provide their oral musculature and joints with proprioceptive input in order to self-regulate. The concept is very similar to the way adults may squeeze a stress-ball during times of high frustration or angst.

It isn’t uncommon for parents to feel effects of a social stigma when other adults or kids notice their child chewing on objects beyond the typical teething age range. They hope to find other ways for their child to self-regulate in a way that is considered more socially acceptable. Various online shops including www.funandfunction.com sell products that children can more discreetly chew on at home and at school. Products include everyday items such as pencil toppers and jewelry. Other options for kids who chew as a means to improved regulation, include participating in games or activities that provide input to their oral musculature. Examples include drinking through straws, chewing gum, eating crunchy foods, blowing up a balloon, and blowing bubbles.

If you find that these socially appropriate avenues are not meeting your child’s oral needs then contact a speech and language pathologist, occupational therapist or your primary care physician to determine the best possible course of treatment and to eliminate or to eliminate other medical concerns.

Does Your Child Need Feeding Therapy?

There are a variety of reasons why a child may need feeding therapy. To many of us, it would seem like eating should be a basic instinct. However, eating is one of the most complex activities we do, especially for the developing, young child. Eating involves several processes in the body, including sensory, oral-motor, muscular, neurological, digestive, and behavioral systems. Feeding problems can arise involving any one of these systems, and often more than one of these is implicated.

The following are reasons why a child may have a feeding problem:

  • Sensory processing issuesFeeding Therapy
  • Food allergies or severe reflux
  • Autism
  • Developmental delays
  • Complex post-op recovery course
  • Transition from feeding tube to oral nutrition

Feeding therapy is usually done with one or more clinicians. Depending on the type of feeding problem, therapy may involve a speech language pathologist, an occupational therapist, a registered dietitian, a social worker or behavior therapist, and/or a physician. Read more

Bed Time Strategies for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder

Bed time can be a difficult time for any child.  It can be even more of a struggle for a child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).   

Bed time strategies for child with SPD

Throughout the day, all children engage in various activities that excite them, including interacting with peers, playing on the playground and fighting with siblings.  It can be a challenge to calm kids down from a daytime of activity. This can be even more of a challenge for a child with SPD.

 As adults, we are able to engage in various tasks to relax our bodies after a busy day.  Children with SPD need the same input, but they are not cognitively aware of their body’s needs.  For example, if an adult has a stressful day, he or she may drink a hot cup of tea, read, or place a hot towel on their face as self-calming techniques.  A child that had a rough day may act out or refuse to go to bed because he or she doesn’t understand what his or her body needs. 

The following strategies can help your child with SPD calm down and improve the process of getting to sleep:

  • Have a Strict Nightly Routine– Completing a predictable bedtime routine decreases anxiety, gives your child control and establishes healthy habits.   A visual schedule of the routine can assist the little ones with understanding the steps.
  • Incorporate Rocking- Typically, slow linear (back and forth), vestibular movement creates a calming effect.  Rocking in a rocking chair or swing is a great activity to help your child wind down.
  • Enjoy Bath Time– Warm water is calming.Incorporating a nice, warm bath at night not only provides your child with calming sensory input, it also provides an opportunity for you and your child to bond over bath play time.  This special, nightly, one-on-one time will also ease the minds of children who may worry about separating from their parents.
  • Read a Favorite Book-Reading your child’s book of choice provides your child with some control.  It is also another great way to relax mind and body.
  • Avoid Excitatory ActivitiesAvoid engaging in alerting activities before bedtime, as this might make it difficult for your child to calm his or her system down and go to bed. Spinning and jumping movements are excitatory and alerting.  In regards to proprioceptive input or heavy work, light touch, such as tickling, is excitatory and alerting.  
  • Avoid Screen Time-Create a rule:  1-2 hours before bedtime no electronics or TV.  This will promote a smoother transition into quiet time.

If your child with SPD needs help with bed time, or if you need more information on Sensory Processing Disorder, contact one of our pediatric occupational therapists today, or download our free SPD infographic.

Sensory Strategies and Other Ideas for Kids with Autism

Sensory strategies are associated with a variety of diagnoses and conditions through childhood, adolescence and adulthood.  These strategies are non-invasive accommodations that can be made in any context, to all daily activities in all environments. Sensory strategies are often referred to as “movement breaks,” or other similar titles, but provide the same suggestions and are truly sensory strategies at their core.

These strategies have been found to be very useful for children with Autism who also have sensory processing challenges:

  • Mother plays with childUtilize a visual schedule throughout the day (both at home and at school).  Visual schedules are often easier to understand for a child with autism, or any young child, as there is a pictorial representation of each activity or time of day.  Using a visual schedule more clearly outlines the expectations that you have for the child and gives him/her a sense of control over their day.  A visual schedule may also be used as a tool to develop a morning and bedtime routine and increase independence in self-care activities, such as brushing teeth and getting dressed.
  • Allowing the child to take a 2-3 minute movement break every 10-15 minutes.  This break should involve intense movement when possible, such as jumping jacks, pushups, jumping on a trampoline, etc.  When intense movement is not appropriate, breaks may involve the student walking to the drinking fountain, getting up to sharpen his/her pencil and/or walking to the bathroom.
  • If an assigned task involves intense academic work, such as testing, lengthy projects or problem-solving assignments the child should be given the opportunity to take a longer break (approximately 10 minutes) to allow time for more intense physical exercise.

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  • Utilize a timer during activities and make sure it is visible to the child.  Timers can be either visual, meaning that there is an area of the clock that becomes shaded and as time elapses the shaded area becomes smaller and smaller however there is no noise associated with it, or auditory, in which there is a digital display and an alarm that sounds when the time has fully elapsed.  Using a timer is especially helpful during preferred activities, such as free-play, as it sets a clear limit for the child regarding how long they will have to participate in this designated activity.  This makes the environment and the activity more predictable and eliminates any element of surprise which is present during verbal warnings such as “2 more minutes,” and should make transitions happen more easily.
  • Along with a timer, providing transition warnings and using transition items will help a child with autism move from one activity to the next.  A transition warning can be used in conjunction with a timer to create more clear expectations surrounding transitioning from one activity to the next.  A transition warning involves setting the timer for how long the child will have until moving on to the next activity, as well as verbally or visually communicating that the transition is approaching.  For example, if a child has 5 minutes of free play prior to a structured task, when I set the timer for 5 minutes I would tell him/her “You have 5 minutes to play and then when the timer beeps it is time to go sit at the table.”  Then when there are 2 minutes remaining on the timer I would follow-up with “Look at the timer, you only have 2 more minutes until table time.”  If a child does not yet understand the concept of time, the visual timer would be the better choice for a timer as you can clearly see the shaded or colored area disappearing.
      • A transition item is a physical thing that the child is allowed to bring from one activity to the next.  If a child was playing with blocks and it was time to go to the table for a writing activity, a transition item could be allowing the child to bring a block with to the table.  Or substitute an item, such as allowing him/her to bring an action figure, small doll or ball with him/her from the block area to the table.  Transition items help stop “tantrums” or the feeling that something is being taken away form the child and make the transition smoother.
  • Provide a toy or item for the child to manipulate during solitary work.  These items are often referred to as “fidgets,” and provide the child with an outlet to release their restlessness.  Rather than continuously moving his/her body, the child can move his/her hands quietly in their lap or on their desk while manipulating the fidget.
These sensory strategies can be implemented in the classroom, at home and in most other settings where a child is expected to be able to sit and attend to a task (church, Sunday school, music lessons, camp, etc.).  Incorporating these strategies into particularly difficult parts of the day can also have an immense positive impact on the child; for example, incorporating physical exercise into transitional periods may lessen the stress that these times put on both the child and the adult.  These sensory strategies are not strict rules to abide by, but are general guidelines to be expanded upon or adapted to fit each child’s individual needs.

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Swimming- A Fun and Beneficial Sport

Swimming is a great sport and pastime, particularly for children with sensory processing difficulties, as the waterBoy in swimming pool provides a multi-sensory experience for the body. Swimming also addresses a variety of skills, ultimately improving your child’s sensory processing, strength, endurance and coordination.

Proprioceptive/tactile processing: The feel of water on the body gives proprioceptive input, the input to the muscle and the joints, and gives a sense of where the body is in relation to other body parts. The constant sense of the water against the skin provides deep proprioceptive input and helps with developing body awareness.

Vestibular processing: Somersaults under water or headstands at the bottom of the pool provide vestibular input, as the body is responding to the changes in head position and assisting with balance to complete these tasks.

Auditory processing: The pool environment typically provides a loud and vibrant auditory experience, as children’s laughter and happy shrieks are heard while they play in the pool.

Strength: Moving the body against water when swimming is a workout for the muscles! The water provides natural resistance for muscles, which in the long run, builds up overall body strength.

Endurance: Not only does the resistance of the water against the body make the body stronger, it also assists with endurance. As the muscles become stronger, they will be able to endure swimming and other activities for longer periods of time.

Coordination: Swimming strokes are very complex. The brain must take in all of the sensory information from the environment and act quickly to move the arms, legs, torso and head in a coordinated fashion to produce the movement.

So many children find swimming exciting and fun, and love spending summer days at the pool. Parents can also appreciate spending time at the pool knowing that this activity is not only fun, but also good for their child!

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How to Teach your Child with Sensory Processing Difficulties How to Ride a Bike

Learning to ride a bike can be a scary and overwhelming adventure for both the parents and the child involved!  There are many components required for bike riding, such as motor planning, body awareness, trunk control, balance, self-confidence, following directions, safety awareness, timing, and sequencing.  However, one of the best things about bike riding is that the child is typically very motivated and excited to do it, as he sees his friends or other children in the neighborhood doing so already.

SPD Child riding a bike

Below are several strategies on how to get started:

  • Practice lots of balance activities:  balance is a huge part of bike riding; therefore, it is important to strengthen these skills by challenging your child’s ability to maintain various positions including standing on one leg, sustaining yoga poses, walking across balance beams, or kneeling on an unstable surface such as the bosu ball.
  • Incorporate a variety of activities with wheels:  while being able to ride a bike independently might be the ultimate goal, it is beneficial to incorporate other similar skill sets into your child’s play experience.  This will help you and your child to take the emphasis off of the fact that he does not know how to ride a bike and help to focus on the excitement of trying new things (e.g. scooter, skate board, tricycle, roller skates, etc.).  Similarly, your child might really excel at one of these activities, in which this activity can then be used as a confidence booster when the child has already mastered it.
  • Practice inside:  have your child practice simply balancing on the bike/sitting on the bike in a safe environment, such as inside (e.g. basement or playroom/living room if appropriate).  Place large pillows/beanbags next to the bike so the child feels secure, and if he falls, he will crash into the pillows.
  • Involve different family members/friends:  bike riding can be a very complex task; therefore, it can be extremely beneficial to involve different family members/friends to help with the process. Different people have different strategies and ways of motivating and sometimes one strategy will really hit home for your child.  Similarly, then the same parent and child won’t get so frustrated with one another.
  • Visual schedule:  help your child to make a visual schedule/calendar to illustrate when the child will start practicing and what skill he will work on each day (e.g. getting onto bike; peddling with both legs; ride to the corner etc); then the child can put an “x” or a sticker on the chart when he completes a day of practice, or practices a skill etc.  Visual schedules can be motivating for the child, and provide structure.
  • Take the pedals off:  taking the pedals off of the bike helps initially with learning the feel of the bike/balance. Take the bike to a small hill and have the child ride down without the pedals, this provides an introduction to moving and balancing on the bike without needing the coordination to pedal.

Learning a novel activity can be intimidating for a child, as it is a totally new experience and requires a significant amount of following directions and motor planning.  Similarly, teaching  novel activities can be nerve wracking for the parents, especially if it is a skill they have not taught before, like bike riding.  As parents, it is important to keep in mind that every child learns differently and requires different levels of support when learning a new skill.  Make sure to constantly praise your child during this challenging activity, even if it seems like the tiniest accomplishment (e.g. buckling bike helmet independently; putting kickstand down independently).  As always, feel free to talk with an occupational therapist or physical therapist if you need more individualized strategies or have other gross motor concerns for your child.

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