Wednesday, July 31, 2013

3 New (to me) Sensory Tricks and Other Faves

I take a lot of pride in providing my children's therapy. It's been a long, mostly lonely yet always fulfilling, road requiring research, an enormous chunk of finances, die-hard determination, focused follow-thru, and lots of life-style changes.

After nearly ten years, I have quite an education in occupational therapy, speech therapy, and sensory integration and feel confident working with my kids and hey! the proof is in the pudding!

Until I feel insecure...

Awhile back, I started worrying, "am I doing all I can for Izaiah?" Big doubts from someone who is known for advocating for parents to provide their own therapy!

Defeated, I lined up speech and occupational therapy from a private provider in our city. After some evaluation, the speech therapist decided against working with Izaiah until after some OT.

So, off to OT we went. We are doing sensory integration and so far, we haven't done anything I can't/don't already do at home. But, I have learned 3 techniques to help soothe a brain which abnormally processes sensory input aka SPD (sensory processing disorder.) I want to share them with you.

Therapeutic Brush
1. Brushing.  I purchased the therapeutic brush (left) from our OT for $2.50. I start at the top of the arm and while pressing down firmly on the brush, I move from the shoulder to the fingers in one, slow, stroke. Repeat 10 times, then do the other arm. 

For the legs, I start at the thigh and brush down to the toes. Brushing can provide up to 4 hours of sensory relief!  This brush is unique in that the harder you press, the softer it feels, so you do need to press down firmly so it doesn't hurt or tickle. *NOTE if you are dealing with eczema, do not 'brush' during a flare. If you have eczema you may not want to do it at all.  ** Do not use on palms of the hands or soles of the feet.

Joint compression at the elbow
2.  Joint Compression. With my hand on either side of a joint ( the elbow is shown here) I gently push the two sides toward the joint, then I gently tug away from the joint, compressing and releasing, pumping, for a count of five. In an organized fashion, I usually start at the shoulder and move down to the elbow and wrist. For legs, I do hips, knees, and ankles the same way.  Laying down is a great way to do this too.

When the joints compress, they releases fluid to the brain that is very calming. All the light bulbs went off in my head when I learned this because my guess is the same thing happens when our children jump all the time. The spine, with all its vertebrae, is releasing large amounts of fluid as our children jump, quickly providing relief from overwhelming sensory input. Smart cookies, aren't they?! 
Use a chair with arms for safety!
3.  Spinning.  Using an office chair with arms for safety, I spin Izaiah at a rate of 1 rev/2 seconds (if you are counting out loud, 1 thousand one, 1 thousand 2, at the count of one, your child will be facing away from you. When you get to the count of 2, your child will be facing toward you.) I do 20 revolutions in 40 seconds for him to be sufficiently dizzy. If you do not get to the point of dizziness it can cause hyperactivity instead of calm (yikes!) so be sure to spin enough to 'fill' that tank.

To determine your child's 'dizzy point' check the eyes for nystagmus immediately after spinning. Nystagmus is a physiological reaction in one's eyes when the body is stopped suddenly from spinning. During spinning, the eyes adjust to keep up with the environment as it flies by. When the spinning suddenly stops, the eyes bounce quickly, back and forth, horizontally, as they readjust to stopping. A person is officially dizzy when nystagmus happens. I tried spinning Izaiah at 1rev/2secs for 20 seconds and he did not reach nystagmus. So, I doubled the amount of spins and time. Sure enough, the same rate for 40 seconds did the trick. Your child may need much less. If your child does not enjoy spinning, do NOT do this.

Remember, not all kids will like all of these methods, they might only like one or two of them, or perhaps none! If they like it, you know you are filling up that sensory 'tank' but if they hate it, you need a different type of sensory 'diet'.

It costed a precious penny to learn these precious few things but I am overjoyed at my new tools and at being taught correctly. It was a confidence boost to learn that we are doing everything we can do at home and I'm  reassured in my belief that parents can and should  provide their own therapy while not being afraid to seek out help if needed. 

Some other ideas we use at home:

4. A fourth method that we use at home is Vibration.  Vibration can go either way, either your child will love it or hate it.  If they hate it, don't do it.  It is very 'disorganizing' to people who dislike it and you are defeating the purpose.  But, if your child loves it, look for toys, stuffed animals, or pillows that vibrate. There is also the Z-Vibe which I have at home that is helpful too. Do not vibrate the stomach area, that usually doesn't feel good for anyone. But, the limbs and back can be great areas. The Z-Vibe gets into the mouth as well - but do understand how to use one beforehand.

5. Lights. Turning off unnatural lighting calm and slow down.
6. Music.  A big favorite at our house.  Music and dance is a useful way to expend energy, exercise, and teach the alphabet, numbers, really any idea can be put to a tune. We often use the music from the Wiggles, Barney, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, Christian Children's Music, and even old hymns.
7. Quiet Place. A blanket over a table to create a quiet place underneath with just one toy or pillow.
8. Weighted Gear such as vests and blankets.
9. Climbing. Izaiah has recently begun throwing the mattress of his toddler bed on the floor and climbing the slats and guards of the frame. He also likes dragging the bed around his room; it is on wheels and so moving it over the carpeted floor is a resistance he enjoys.
10. Walking through water.  It's summer time now so we are usually at the pool.  Izaiah likes to be chin deep in water and systematically wade through it - it's a fabulous resistance that he loves and can do for hours each day, when the weather cooperates.
11. Jumping. Of course most of us are used to the endless jumping and running required. We make good use of our trampoline.
12. Heavy Manual Labor. I've gotten countless great ideas from other friends for labor while hiking, digging, hauling, gardening, repairing, and being outside. These ideas greatly influenced where we decided to purchase a home and I plan to blog about those more as Izaiah ages.

So often our kids need a rich sensory diet. There are so many more examples I could write about, but mainly just wanted to make notes about the 3 newest in our life. I realized while writing this that my two autists have taken very different routes regarding their sensory issues. My daughter has been doing acrobatics mentally. She could read at age 2 and has a photographic memory. She overcame what ignorant people called a low IQ.  My son has been doing acrobatics physically and is overcoming his very weak muscles, poor balance, and poor coordination. 

I stick by my reasoning that these kids stubbornly and obsessively do activities we don't understand because they instinctively know what they need to function. It's up to us to respect that and provide the tools they need to succeed.

Annie Eskeldson writes for parents of young autistic children. You can check out her books by clicking icons around this blog. Thanks!

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