Sensory problems are very, very, very common in children with autism. But sensory processing disorder can occur on it’s own, without autism. Sensory issues need to be understood, as they really can be the cause of many behaviors of many “typical” children and those individuals that have developmental disabilities.
I love this quote from Donna William, an adult with autism:
“I had always known that the world was fragmented. My mother was a smell and a texture, my father a tone, and my older brother was something which moved about. Nothing was whole except the colors and sparkles in the air. The lack of integration of my senses became the lack of integration of my emotions with my body and my mind.”
We all have our own sensory needs- do you always chew on your pencil, or need gum or lifesavers? You may have oral needs. Do you constantly rock or fidget in your seat? Maybe your needs are vestibular. Do you crave big hugs and heavy blankets? Maybe proprioceptive is your thing. The list could go on and on, but if we are “typical” adults I’m willing to bet you have noticed these things about yourself and you have adapted your life to make sure you get this input. Children with these problems do not always know how to regulate these feelings or adapt their environments. Also where our eyes will eventually adjust to the bright light that bothers us so much, theirs may not.
To help occupational therapists can help plan a sensory diet. Of course, those of us in the game for a while are pretty good at knowing what our kids need already and giving them that. A sensory diet should typically follow the sequence of movement, heavy work/proprioception, a calming activity, and then the functional activity.
I have this great handout from a course module developed by Amy Delaney, MS, OTR/L that lists a lot of behaviors common with ASD and then sensory diet activities that can help work on that. Here’s a few that Brian still struggles with.
* Hand flapping: from a sensory perception this would show your child is seeking heavy work to muscles and joints: you could do chair or wall push-ups; provide fidget toys; wear a weighted vest or blanket
* Difficulty maintaining personal space: could mean decreased proprioceptive and vestibular processing: Provide a cushion or carpet square that delineates the person’s space; provide strong all-over-body proprioceptive input; strong movement like swings, ziplines, and sit and spins
* Visual stimulation (finger flicking in front of eyes, over-focusing on parts of toys, odd eye movements): Decreased vestibular processing and/or difficulties with visual perception: Provide strong, varied movement input; limit extraneous visual stimuli; perform activities that couple vision with movement (ex: targeting from a swing)
Another issue a lot of parents complain about is the dreaded BEDTIME! Brian actually 90% of the time goes to sleep without a problem and *knocking on wood* has been staying asleep since I’ve made all our changes following the Thoughtful House visit. But before that night-time waking was a huge problem.
Some suggestions from Lorna Jean King (she first noticed these problems in her clients who had schizophrenia) for bedtime is eliminating rough, rowdy, over-stimulating play a couple hours before bed- this includes television! Quiet activities for a period before bed. Also
*If a bath is part of the routine, do an extra five minutes of rubdown with the towel (unless they have tactile sensitivity like Brian)- use downward strokes.
*Lotion could also be used.
*Back-rub: start with the back of the neck and go down to the base of the spine, slow, rhythmic strokes
*Use a soft musical background that has a definite predictable rhythm.
*Does your child like stories? Use ones with strong rhythm and rhyme.
*Sleeping bag can be used to give a slight pressure along with warmth.
Hartley’s Life with Three Boys has been celebrating this cause the whole month of October by featuring different families. She’s trying to raise money and if you chip in you will be entered to win some pretty cool prizes.
Dotcomkari is giving away a weighted blanket on her blog- read the post to figure out how to be entered! But you better not win, because I want it. 😉
Hopefully this blog gave you some tips or new ideas and if you are ever interested don’t be afraid to email and ask- I have so many handouts from different conferences I’ve gone to. I have no problem scanning and sharing!