I have decided to share more of our experiences in OT and other areas of our sensory processing journey. When I go online to find information I can find a LOT out there, but it’s mostly all from moms like me who want to share what they have learned.
I want to be careful about how I share the info I receive as well. I am not an OT (though we have a terrific one) and all kids will need slightly different sensory input depending on their individual needs. For example, my son does NOT need help getting “woken up” for school, but there are some people who need more “alerting” input. Some children may be very quiet and shy and even tired most of the day. For the most part my son is the opposite. He needs “calming” strategies more often so he can sit and attend to his work. What works for one child may not work for another. In preschool I was given a list of things to try for my son’s sensory diet at home, but was given no real instructions as to what he might need before school or before bed. The OT there also seemed to use more alerting strategies for him instead of calming strategies. I think it made his time in preschool worse. To be fair, her main focus was on fine motor skills and gross motor skills and those sorts of things – so she was probably not the best expert to ask. I didn’t realize this. As soon as we got to the private OT, it made such a difference. She specializes in sensory needs and she was able to tell right away what he needed, what could help. Even with an expert though, there were a few things that normally calm kids down that stimulated my son. (My main point: it will go much easier for you if you can see an expert OT in sensory issues even a few times to help you find what works for you.)
I would also like to point out that all young children and even teens and adults can benefit from sensory experiences incorporated into their daily lives. Children especially benefit because they are still discovering the world with all of their senses and stimulating that helps them to learn.
I have been concerned about going back to school because at our school in first grade the children only have one recess for 15-20 min right before lunch. The things that help my son organize and calm his body down are all available to him at recess. Stomping, jumping, climbing, swinging, running – those are all terrific things for sensory kids to do in order to allow their bodies to be prepared for later in the day. I have been concerned about his sitting so long and being able to attend in school. So, I asked our OT to help me get a good morning routine going for us.
I have generally been a very laid back morning routine person. I get my son up extra early so he doesn’t have to rush to get ready and can take some time to wake up. She has asked us to try introducing a very structured routine that uses a timer to help the boy learn to organize his time better as well as help him prepare for school.
I have some great tips from her that will help any child I think.
1. Add protein to the morning meal. My son has eating issues and so I can’t just give him some bacon with his cereal or something like that. But the OT said that protein and healthy fat will help his brain perform the higher functioning skills he needs for the morning. She suggested a few things: high fat/high protein yogurt. She specifically suggested a brand – Greek Gods Greek Yogurt is one of them. It has 11 grams of fat per serving of plain and 17 grams of fat per serving of the fruit blended yogurts as well as 4 – 8 grams of protein. There is also another locally made yogurt (I don’t know where it’s available right now) called NOOSA yogurt. It is also very high in fat and protein. She also mentioned Van’s Power Grain Waffles – it has protein in the waffles. My son doesn’t eat peanut butter, but she said peanut butter toast or waffles or even a sandwich is a great breakfast because it has that healthy fat and protein as well. She also suggested some rice protein powder shakes or smoothies. She makes yogurt/fruit/protein smoothies and freezes them in a popsicle mold so there is also sensory input from sucking on them.
2. Cartoons. We have allowed our son to watch one cartoon when he first gets up in the morning. Even on school days. I know, many people don’t and they think it’s unhealthy or distracting. I honestly agree. But he has always watched a little as he wakes up and while I take my shower. She said that it’s actually fine as long as he isn’t sitting and watching all morning, AND as long as it’s a certain kind of cartoon. She would also prefer that he sit on an exercise ball or in a rocking chair while watching as well. I think live action shows are ok too, as long as it follows the following recommendation. So, which shows ARE ok to watch before school? There was a study that came out a few years ago that said that certain cartoons cause a child’s brain to shut down higher functioning skills for a certain amount of hours after watching them. If watched repeatedly over time, they actually change the way a child’s brain works. It particularly targeted shows like Spongebob. What was interesting though, is it wasn’t the content of the show, or the words they use or if they are educational or not. It was the movement in the background. If the background movement is fast paced and changes quickly and often, that is the sole indicator that seemed to affect the brain. I am actually very sensitive to this myself. I can’t stand cartoons that are racing across the screen and I can’t stand video games because of the same thing. It actually kicks up my fight or flight response and makes me feel anxious. But most people don’t understand what I am talking about when I say that, so I am going to give you two examples. Please pay attention to the BACKGROUND of the show. (hint: Disney Jr has a real problem with this in my opinion – just like Spongebob.)
Example 1 – fast paced background: In this Scooby Doo clip the background is moving or changing most of the time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWClniEx2W8
Example 2 – Slow paced background: In this Arthur episode the background changes much less and is slower paced as well. (once you get past the intro) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBrqaAdJefg
Our OT said if I allow him to watch the shows that have fast paced backgrounds I am basically turning off his brain and sending him to school. Wow. That’s a wake up call. We are trying to slowly eliminate movies and tv in our home – I think my son acts like a different person the more he watches and the more game time he has. I don’t want it affecting his brain in that way. But for now, I am glad I at least know which shows are better and which are worse.
3. Movement. Kids need to move. Kids like my son who need help organizing his body need to move in certain ways. We call it heavy work. She suggested we break it into two times – 15 mins or so of each. The first category would be heavy work chores. Some examples of heavy work chores would be making the bed (pulling blankets, lifting pillow, etc), vacuuming, pushing in chairs (mom pulls them way out, kid pushes them in), carrying or pushing a basket of laundry, even carrying his somewhat heavy backpack. The second category would be fun heavy work – like wrestling with dad, jumping on the trampoline (or couch or bed right now since we don’t have our trampoline set up), running, jumping off the couch onto a big cushion. I know, some of that sounds like it wouldn’t be calming – but putting major pressure onto the joints of the body, especially the spine is very calming after you are done. Swimming is a terrific calming exercise for the whole body, so the family I know that does swim team practice in the morning is in excellent condition for school.
Here is a list of some heavy work ideas: http://www.sensory-processing-disorder.com/heavy-work-activities.html (while this site advertises all of the products people might need for sensory work, they are also a terrific place to find information on all things sensory, including a description of how it feels to have sensory problems.) Remember, some of these things might fatigue some children and might make other children seem hyper (alert them) so I would try them out before you do them in the morning before school and see how they react. My son usually seems worked up by jumping and crashing into cushions, but within a minute after he stops you can see his body is calmer, he isn’t fidgeting or walking around in circles, etc.
Now, she also didn’t want to fatigue him too much before school, so she also helped me think of some ideas for having a “heavy work breakfast.” A heavy work breakfast would include things that work your mouth and jaw. Some ideas she gave me were: sucking yogurt through a straw (or a milkshake), switching out a crunchy apple for our normal strawberries or grapes, trying some fruit leather (very chewy). Anything that really works the jaw. A short list of ideas is: apples, carrots, nuts, grape nuts cereal, Pretzels, flavored ice cubes (made with juice), corn chips, fruit leather, gummy candies, beef jerky, or using a straw to suck up pudding or smoothies.
She also suggested letting him chew gum the whole morning besides when he is eating. Mouth heavy work really works well for him.
One more suggestion that has worked well in the past – we used to do a kiddo sandwich or burrito – we would put him between two couch cushions and push on him (make sure you don’t push hard enough to hurt him, but enough to give him a good pressure) or roll him up tightly in a blanket or sheet and keep him there for several minutes – let them push their way out as well.
It all makes sense when I think about it. My body does better when I get the proper nutrients, the proper exercise and when I am able to control the way my body feels.
I will continue to post the things we try and what progress we see as we continue our journey.