Sensory Activities Around The House: Two Birds, One Stone

I first heard the term “sensory diet” three years ago, just before my son was diagnosed with autism and his associated sensory processing disorder.

When I read the worksheet the occupational therapist had given me, I felt sick. My first thought was, “No way can we pull this off.” My second thought was, “Are you serious…we have to do these things six times a day???” And my third thought was, “I am so tired.”

Sensory Activities Around The House #spd #sensoryprocessing #adhd #learningdifferences #occupationaltherapy

Fast forward to last week, and this was the picture on my Instagram Account

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Sensory integration anyone?

The truth is, I was overwhelmed in the beginning, for very good reason. I knew almost nothing about sensory processing disorder and even less about sensory exercises and “synching” the sensory system (and don’t get me started on the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol). But it seemed I was expected to head home after that first OT session, and immediately implement a daily sensory diet.

I felt overwhelmed, uninformed, and out of my league. Not because I didn’t understand the worksheet and brushing requirements, but because my son was in the throws of daily (read: three – four times daily) meltdowns. And the last thing he wanted me to do was brush his arms. In fact, after two days, he lost his mind when he even saw the brushes in the medicine cabinet.

But this is what the OT said would help with the meltdowns. This is the only advice anyone has actually given us. He has to do it,” is what ran through my mind every day for the first week. Then, my son melted down in the OT gym when the OT tried to brush him.

We got kicked out.

(This actually happened. We went to OT to help him with meltdowns and when he melted down, we were kicked out because he might hurt others when he melted down. I felt so ashamed and alone. I left that day, my son still pulling my hair and biting me in the elevator, convinced that my kid was so bad, so much worse than all the other kids, that he couldn’t even go to the place that would be able to help him.)

So after a few more months, when we finally had the autism diagnosis and a little more knowledge under our belt, we tried again with a new OT gym and private sessions. He still resisted. I still got the worksheet to take home (although I told her she should just hang on to the brushes), but this time was so different. This time, our OT  said, “Just try and do it as often as you can, in ways that he doesn’t even realize are therapeutic. Once he realizes it makes him feel better, he will want to do it more.”

She was absolutely right.

Within days, my son was asking to bounce on the trampoline with my husband. When they bounced, every once in a while, my son would bounce into my husband’s chest. “It’s proprioceptive,” I would say to my stricken husband.

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When I was bringing in bags from the grocery store, I would pretend to not be able to get the last two, and ask my son if he thought he could lift them. Wanting to prove his strength, he would and the heavy lifting seemed to help him feel more “synched”.

When we realized in the OT gym how much he loved the feeling of lycra on his body, we made lycra sheets for his bed, something that he still uses to help calm down.

It didn’t happen because someone handed me a worksheet, and it didn’t happen quickly. It took months to figure out what worked and didn’t work for my boy. Every week, I would share my observations with his OT, and every week she would suggest more things to try. More importantly, she was always quick to remind me not to force it. “He knows what his body needs. If he resists, we try something else. Forcing it will create the type of rigid thinking and anxiety that causes meltdowns. Just let him do what feels natural. We want him to learn to connect with his senses, and understand what works for him. Long term, that will matter more than any one exercise today.” (I know – I was totally spoiled by this sweet woman. She helped my son learn to live well. I will forever be grateful.)

If you are a momma trying to figure this sensory thing out, please know you are not alone. Please know it is not easy, simple, or quick. It takes time. It takes focus that you may not even feel capable of at this point. That is OK. Just try the next thing – whatever it is. And then the next. And the next.

I am not a doctor or an expert. I am a momma, just like you. I would like to provide some suggestions that have worked for us, but only with this caveat – what works for my son, may not be what works for your child. It doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong, or your little one is somehow beyond help. For example, although my son to this day can’t stand the idea of Wilbarger brushing, many other family’s have seen amazing success with it.

You know your child. You see first hand what works and doesn’t work. Take a deep breath, have another cup of coffee, and just keep trying.

Sensory Activities Around The House

Here are some options you might consider:

1. Lycra – it saved our life. We have his sheets and we also have large swaths of it in the house. At one point, my son asked us to wrap him up in it tightly and then wanted to go jump on the trampoline. He was calm and focused for the rest of the day. In fact, lycra has become so much a part of our life, we included this picture in our family Christmas card one year (because sometimes, you just have smile and accept the crazy!).

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2. Trampoline – Almost every family I know with sensory needs has one or regularly visits someone who does. Something about the bouncing makes a tremendous difference for our children. But be warned, if you buy one, they will wear out with daily (sometimes three-four times daily) use. We are on our third in as many years, and I know another sensory family that is on trampoline #5.

3. Cleaning Routines – Because my son has tactile defensiveness (and I suspect my youngest son is a seeker), I have learned to incorporate water and child safe cleaning products into our daily routine. For example, in the first picture above, my son is “helping me” mop the floor. You know, with his entire body and a mild soap, but mopping just the same. Shave cream makes a great shower cleaner, but can also be used for drawing and writing, squishing between fingers and toes, and rubbing on arms and legs. The good news? You can always rinse it all off your child when he is finished up, he will be happily occupied for an hour, and your house will be cleaner as a result.

4. Cooking – Baking cookies and hand mixing the dough, making meatballs or hamburger patties, getting the heavy mixer out from the cupboard and lifting it to the counter – all have helped us incorporate a sensory diet into our day.

5. Gardening – Getting hands dirty and learning to not freak out, lifting bags of soil, dragging a hose, and smelling different plants/fertilizers have been some of the activities that have helped my son in our own backyard.

6. Wrestling – My son loves to “wrestle”. However, most of the time, it involves more of my husband standing firm,  and my son throwing himself against him. (My husband and I joke that “It’s proprioceptive,” has become an explanation for everything around here.)

7. Massage – We have incorporated massage into our days as much as possible. Foot massages help with his tactile defensiveness (so much so that every once in a while, my son asks to wear real shoes instead of crocs!) and allow us to experiment with different essential oil blends. Also a deep pressure back massage helps my son when his body feels out of control or sluggish.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you would like more suggestions, I highly recommend The Out-Of-Sync Child Has Fun  by: Carol Stock Kranowitz. In it, you will find so many suggestions (but please don’t panic – try one at a time as you see fit for your child. When I first read it, I was terrified. I thought I had to do all the sensory things, but I was wrong. One exercise here, one exercise there – it goes a long way.)

No matter what you decide, no matter what your approach, you can do this momma. You know you child. You have the greatest motivation of all to figure this out –

Your mother’s heart and so much love.


 

9 thoughts on “Sensory Activities Around The House: Two Birds, One Stone

  1. I absolutely love your blog. First, as an OT I want to say how sorry I am your first experience with OT was so terribly negative. Your description made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up and it made me angry. The first thing I learned many, many years ago is that you NEVER impose brushing. It is too intrusive. If a person says stop, your stop. There are other forms of pressure touch that are less intense that can be just as effective (the lycra for example or pressure vest). Obviously from the meltdowns it caused it was not the right choice for your son. Bless you for trying again and bless your OT for helping you have a positive experience and help change your sons life.

    As a Mama of an Aspie, I know that there are no two nervous systems alike. It takes time and great effort and yes, a lot of research to figure out what works best for your child. And it is important to know that sensory needs change as they grow. Defensiveness can come and go depending on what is going on internally and externally. So, know your child well enough to see those changes and continue to seek help for him like you are. You are doing a great job.

    I would also love to add to your recommendation that parents that are new to the world of Autism and or Sensory Processing Dysfunction read Carol Kraonowitz’s first book “The Out of Sync Child” prior to “The Out of Sync Child Has Fun” which does a fantastic job of explaining sensory processing and how it presents. It is the first book I recommend to parents that are new to this experience. For parents of school age Aspies I also recommend the workbook, “Asperger’s, what does it mean to me”. This book was one of the most helpful books we read together shortly after our sons diagnosis at 8.

    God bless you and prayers for you and your sweet family as you walk this path.

  2. EXCELLENT blog post! I enjoyed it so much, I’m posting it everywhere and trying to get it to as many parents as possible.

    Our son is only 5, but we thank God daily for our amazing OT. She listens to our struggles and gives us new things to try. She celebrates our highs like knotting his shoelaces or playing with sticky stuff, and she works with us through our lows like the hitting and biting phases.

    Every kid is different, so know your child. This is perhaps the best advice ever. Also, let them lead if they are able to do so. I find my son coming up with ways to “treat himself” for a lack of better phrasing. We have installed an IKEA swing in his room and there is a mini trampoline in the only open space in our house which happens to be between the living room and dining room. We don’t have a large house, so it’s starting to look a bit like an OT gym as we build a place that is safe, calm and therapeutic for him. I want to stress that you do not have to spend a lot of money on this. There are great deals on Amazon & eBay, the Buy Nothing Project landed us a bunch of non-irritating clothing and the trampoline, Craigslist has stuff you can incorporate, essential oils last a long time if used well, and the outdoor air is free. Our swing outside is a small log on a rope. He loves it.

    The other great piece of advice in this article is not being overwhelmed. You don’t have to do ALL of this at once! I felt the same way as my son had OT and PT and both therapists were giving me homework plus I was doing a ton of reading on the subject. My brain was fried and my stress level went up which only made his problems worse.

    Finally, I too recommend the Out of Sync Child books, and if you don’t like your OT, try to find a new one that works with you in an appropriate way.

    Today we are picking up a used iLS system. Another tool in the toolbox. It has taken almost a year for me to feel like we can actually incorporate this into our sensory diet at home, and I am both excited and nervous. I never know when a new thing is going to create bliss or meltdown, but we cannot give up on trying. Gal. 6:9.

    Sorry this was so long. I REALLY enjoyed this post, and I am passionate about helping kids be the best person they can be. It’s hard to find your passions, dreams, and skills when you’re locked in a sensory overload cell. It’s been amazing watching our son as he moves from overload to calm, and the creativity that abounds from him when he’s in the green zone.

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  3. I really enjoyed reading your post. I have a son with severe autism and we learned at a young age that he LOVES the trampoline. He is 17 years old now. Fortunately, he doesn’t have melt downs, he is actually SO laid back that it is hard to motivate him for anything. If you have suggestions for motivation, it would be greatly appreciated. 🙂

  4. Great post-thanks! One other book in addition to those mentioned above that we’ve found really helpful with our son (who is nine with autism and some major sensory hurdles) has been Understanding Your Child’s Sensory Signals by Angie Voss. It’s breaks down behaviors and likely sensory triggers along with solutions to give our kids what they need without spending a fortune on specialized equipment.

  5. I really needed this one today. My kiddo has SPD and at 11 is resistant to traditional therapy. I have to get creative to get his sensory diet filled. I also have to let go of the, right way to do things. As long as it’s getting done, it’s getting done and that’s all that needs to matter.

    So the garbage has to be taken out of the door that is on the opposite side of the garbage can, instead of the one right next to it? Garbage got taken out, and, we got some heavy work in the process.

  6. Thank you for this post. I am literally wiping the snot from my face & the tears from my eyes…

    Max is my 2 year-old son who will soon be diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (all his “T”s know what is going on with him, we just need to get a Doc to proclaim it). I’m a single mom with just under 6 years free of drug/alcohol addiction. I didn’t plan on having kids, & I certainly didn’t plan on Daddy D-bag relapsing on Heroin as soon as our boy arrived. I was 2 internships away from earning my degree & starting my life when I got pregnant, but since it was my SIXTH pregnany with no kids to call my own, I figured there was a Higher Power at work here & it was time for me to be a mom at age 41.

    I’m so tired. I’m fortunate that I’m able to survive on what meager income I have without having to hold down a 9-5 job. But being a mom to Max is a 24/7 job with NO PAY, NO benefits, NO vacation days, NO sick time… I’m a prime candidate for spinal fusion surgery, but I can’t get it because it will take a MINIMUM of 6 weeks to recover, & that’s assuming that it will help rather than hinder. I don’t sleep. I live off of Max’s left over meals (a few bites a yogurt here, a handful of cheerios here) & coffee. LOTS & LOTS OF COFFEE. On good days I feel like the luckiest momma on the earth (& these are few & far between). On bad days, I desperately yearn to go back to being a garden-variety crackhead where my only “problem” was finding money for the next high… On those days I’m sure that God hates me.

    I HATE the word “sensory.” I’m so overwhelmed by all this, I don’t even know what it means anymore. I’ve read that 1 in 20 kids have Sensory Issues, but I’m baffled because I’ve never heard of this crap before & all my friends are married with children. I know HUNDREDS of kids & only my little Max has Sensory Issues. All these new terms – sensory “diet”, vestibular, proprocen… whatever – make my skin crawl & turn me into a blubbering mess. I am ANYTHING but “not alone.” I have ONE family member that comes anything close to “helping” out, but she undermines my “authority” as a parent on a (multiples times a) daily basis. I am BEYOND overwhelmed.

    I’ve heard that God doesn’t give you more than He knows you can handle. Apparently my Higher Power believes in me a lot more than I believe in myself. Max already has so much stacked against him in life – a single-parent home, coming from a long line of addicts (on both sides) – & now this??? He deserves a better hand than what he’s been dealt & it’s hard not to blame myself for his situation – I was on a Class X medication (which means there’s not been enough research to denote if it’s affects a fetus or not) throughout my pregnancy (all my doctors were aware of my medication regimine & of my pregnancy). Why else would this have happened when there aren’t any other “Sensational” kids (I EFFIN’ HATE that term – Max is a pretty sensational kid WITHOUT this disability!!!!) in my family. Living with this kind of guilt, in addition to the pressures of being a “Sensational” (HA!) mom & keeping sober, is practically unbearable.

    Max is in Speech, Developmental & Occupational Therapies each week. I’ve been told that the OT is the cornerstone of all his progress. I have an insanely HORRIBLE OT woman who is too busy to bother with Max. He THRIVES on schedules (he’s set up his own daily routine & if there’s variation, it’s because I’ve followed HIS lead), & I’ve had to switch him up several times because of her rigid schedule. We’re waiting to get into Clinical OT. Despite his disability, my son is a pretty good judge of character, & he wants NOTHING to do with his current OT. As his mother, I don’t want to force him to do his therapy with her, but what option do I have? Where I live there is a MASSIVE shortage of pediatric OT’s with SPD experience, so it’s either this lady or no one. & since his ENTIRE progress is contingent on OT, then I have no choice but to force him to work with this lady for the time being. To be honest, I don’t even know what to look for when it comes to “progress.” Will he suddenly start speaking to me? Will he suddenly start behaving like other kids his age? Simply because he “plays” with these 3 women each week? I am in so over my head…

    I really don’t know where I”m going with all this… I guess I’m having my own sort of meltdown. I’ve got “The Out of Sync Child” book, but I have to put it down ever day for a day because I get so stressed out over all this stuff… I guess this is my personal outreach for help. If anyone knows of any support for parents, or anything AT ALL. I would be grateful. if nothing else, a small prayer would work wonders for the both of us.

    Thank you for being so courageous as to share your personal experience. It truly touched my soul.

    1. My daughter is going to be 7 in a few weeks and she has SPD. She was out of control as a young child with extremely difficult and heart wrenching outbursts! We were kicked out of a psychologists office for her outbursts. She did not like this lady for whatever reason and one day she had such a meltdown that she relentlessly attacked me before she even got in the door. I have learned over the years that she has the BEST instincts on people that I have EVER encountered and have come to trust her judgement. If your child doesn’t like your OT, trust them and move on! Also, as far as God not giving you more than you can handle…although I truly believe that to be so, please believe that for the rest of your life, your child will teach YOU things. That is God’s blessing to you. As difficult as your child’s life is going to be, as difficult as it is going to be watching him struggle through his beautiful life, he will show you what true beauty is and what it really means to LIVE. My daughter also has ADHD, nephrotic syndrome and agammaglobulinemia. She has been in ICU twice and hospitalized other times all before her 6th birthday, BUT I have seen more strength in her than any other person I have ever met, more compassion, more selflessness and more inspiration than should be possible. These children are assigned to us for a reason! Maybe you’re not supposed to be his savior in life, maybe he’s yours. I’m not going to make you feel better by telling you it gets easier, it doesn’t always. I will tell you though that once you find an OT and a routine that fits your family, and your child’s eyes light up when they realize that they can be successful at something, be prepared, because it will bring you to your knees and you will understand what true love is.

  7. Hi Max’s Momma – I just found this site and read your letter and I hope things are going better in your life. I’ve been through a lot of stuff, but different kinds of stuff – I don’t have the problems you have – I got off drugs about 40 years ago so I am a bit older than you – but I just want to encourage you that there will be a day that things aren’t so tight around you. Abraham Lincoln said “This too shall pass.” and it will.

    People like to say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle” but God doesn’t go around giving people unbearable burdens – not the God I’ve come to know and love and who loves us all.

    May he bless you richly, beyond measure!

  8. Oh wow…I saw my son a lot in this. He is high-functioning, but we have also been thru multiple trampolines (ours is an inside exercise type). He throws himself into people, and is constantly touching people (he knows enough to limit his contact to family and friends). I appreciate your blog so much. You’re in my prayers.

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