Tuesday, October 23, 2018

5 Simple Hacks That Can Help a Child with Seeking Sensory Processing Disorder

I've written about our struggles with Sensory Processing Disorder, which seems to be more and more common among children, and even more common among adoptees.   

We've learned a thing or two (or a hundred) about some of the tools and techniques that you can use to help your kiddo who has SPD.  Here are my favorite five SIMPLE hacks:

1:  Gum.

Chewing gum is great for a seeker.  (It can also help those with anxiety.)  It satisfies some of the need to seek without being cumbersome or big.  I have found that the sensory chewie necklaces are great at meeting oral sensory needs, but I struggle with one, their cost, and two, the fact that they're so germy!  A kid's necklace touches surfaces, hands, etc. and then goes into our child's mouth.   Gum is inexpensive, it's easy to carry, and I've heard from some other moms that gum is even in their child's IEP!   My recommendation is to be selective in which brand you buy.  We avoid artificial food dyes (as they tend to cause mood changes in kids).  There's the debate of which-is-better:  artificial sweetened gum or real-sugar gum.  We choose to stick with this brand of gum.  We do require that gum stays IN the mouth.  If it's becoming a toy/distraction, it's gone.  Luckily, my kiddo doesn't know how to blow bubbles.  

2: Backpack with weights.  

We carry a small-ish backpack with us everywhere we go and use it as-needed.  The trick?  We put ankle weights at the bottom of the backpack!  These serve a dual-purpose.  First, they weigh-down the backpack, providing sensory input.  Two, they can also be taken out and worn to provide sensory input.  Voila!  Just make sure the weights aren't too heavy for your little one and the backpack has good strap-support, as well as straps correctly adjusted to fit the child.  My son uses this backpack, and we got ankle weights at Five Below (for yes, $5).   

Other items in the backpack can be gum (point #1), small sensory toys, or just favorite toys in general.  One day I realized that my kiddo with SPD already had the perfect fidget toy:  a small Transformer! (I stress the "small" part as smaller toys and pieces help with fine motor skills/strength).  So don't feel that you must spend a lot of money on designated sensory toys.  You can often find "sensory toys" in the dollar spot bins at Target, for example, or other items at your local dollar store.  

3: "Let me see those eyes."

Ok, you might be a little lost on this one.  Let me explain.  When an environment is too sensory-stimulating, you may notice your child's eyes darting about.  It's hard to focus with all the stimuli!  The voices, the lights, the temperature, etc.  We have a saying:  "Let me see your pretty brown eyes."  It might take a few reminders, but it works.  I get down on the child's level, I rest a hand somewhere on the child's body, and I ask for their eyes.   This isn't a new trick!  My mom required us to look in her eyes when we were kids.  It's a way of connecting BEFORE correcting/communicating (thank you Dr. Purvis!).   

4:  In-place exercise.

We cannot always stick to a routine.  For example, in the summer, I established a routine for my children that alternated gross motor time with other activities.  I worked hard to incorporate heavy lifting/pushing work for my child with SPD into almost all our routine.   

But there are times you just cannot.  So we established a few in-place exercises:  wall push-ups, squats, jumping in place, and "punching" (where I assign them to "punch the sky, punch the floor, etc.") where they air-punch the direction I give them.   My kids LOVE to take turns being the exercise leader.   You can do this in almost any space.  

We also like to do yoga.  I'll burst out, "Yoga!" when things are getting out-of-hand:  and they'll assume a quiet/calm yoga pose with their eyes closed and hands in front of them at heart-center.  Yes, this can get a little silly at times, but it does help!  (You can also put on a free Cosmic Kids Yoga video:  I swear they are magical!)

5:  "I'm feeling ______."

This is a simple tool I use with all my kids, SPD or not.  When they're upset or struggling, I say, "I'm feeling..." and they know to fill in the blank.  For example, they might say, "I'm feeling sad."  Then I say, "Why are you feeling sad?"  We walk through the feelings.  Now with a child with SPD, they're likely over-stimulated, under-stimulated, or simply overwhelmed.   Once they can name their feeling (remember, anger is a cover emotion!), we work through meeting their needs.   (In order to get them to the "I'm feeling..." place, you first need to perhaps follow #3 (establish eye contact).  

What are some of your SPD hacks?  

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