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Category Archives: Sensory Processing Disorder

Extending Christmas: For the Birds

We had a real Christmas tree this year. We debated much about what was most “green,” and I read several accounts that said a real tree, when recycled after use, is still “greener” than artificial options. Something many people don’t consider is the amount of energy that goes into producing and transporting (usually overseas) artificial trees. Added to that, most people only keep artificial trees for 5-6 years (average), which means the used trees simply end in landfills. Christmas tree farms plant a new tree for the one you cut, and, natural trees can be recycled into mulch when you’re finished. Most of all, we simply love the experience of making a day, as a family, to go out and choose a tree on a farm.

This year, we found another way to extend the life of our tree. Jenna was very upset to see the tree go, but my allergies were flaring up, and we suspected the tree (mold? pine?). In an effort to compromise, I suggested that we set the tree outside the French doors on our patio. Then, inspiration hit, and I suggested that we decorate the tree for the birds with peanut butter and birdseed ornaments. Jenna was sold.

Here’s how our project went:

First, we tied dental floss (any string/yarn would work) through the holes in Saltine crackers to make a loop. (We also decorated one cardboard toilet paper tube that we poked a hole in for hanging. I preferred the crackers because the whole ornament was edible.)

Second, I pulsed chunky peanut butter in my food processor with a little sesame oil to make it thinner and easier to dip. Those lucky critters got some organic peanut butter (Yikes! $$) because that’s all I had on hand. We poured the peanut butter in a glass for dipping.

Next, we dipped the crackers. We pushed them down in with a spoon and sometimes scooped the peanut butter up over the crackers to cover completely. We laid them out on wax paper to wait for the next step.

Then, we dredged the peanut butter crackers through the birdseed. We pushed the seeds in, to make sure they were stuck more securely. This was an EXCELLENT sensory exercise for Jenna, who did NOT like the way the peanut butter and seeds felt on her hands. She wanted to get them done to hang on the tree, so she stuck with it.

The finished product waiting on wax paper.

Next, we strung popcorn on dental floss. This was good fine motor therapy for Jenna, but she didn’t do it long. My needle-phobic girl (too many bad blood work experiences) was too terrified of the threading needle. Especially after this happened to Mommy’s thumb:

Finally, we decorated the tree:

Ta-Da!!

Now, to sit back and wait for the birds to come.  ……..

By that evening, our guests arrived.

They didn’t have wings, but they were still fun to watch. Within a day, we had six at a time climbing all over the tree and trying to pull the popcorn strings out! Within three days, the tree was bare. That’s OK! We can do it all over again. Christmas can last as long as the tree does. Then we’ll recycle it to mulch.

Next year, we’re considering finding a tree at a nursery that we can decorate for a couple weeks and then move outside for planting.

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Teaching Kids About Personal Space

Check out my review of the book Personal Space Camp at Shop Sensory today!

 

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A Labyrinth for Calming Stress Relief

Check out my post at Shop Sensory on a fun & calming activity for kiddos and adults alike!

 

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The Calming Effect of “Heavy Work” for Sensory Processing Disorder

Pull!photo by Steve Weaver

In therapist lingo, “heavy work” refers to proprioceptive input. The definition of proprioceptive is “the awareness of posture, movement, and changes in equilibrium and the knowledge of position, weight, and resistance of objects as they relate to the body.” Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder sometimes seek out proprioceptive input when they are looking for a way to calm and organize their nervous system. They may seem disruptive, full of excessive energy, or even unsafe. They might purposefully crash into things (or you), jump off of things, or seem in constant motion. Jenna seems to alternate between “sensory seeking” days and “sensory avoidant” days. When she’s sensory seeking, one of my first clues is that she purposefully bumps or crashes into me (or walls & furniture). I thought I’d share with you a list of suggested “heavy work” activities that our therapist provided to us, along with some of my own additions of what we’ve found that works.

To experience the calming effect, these activities need to be performed 5-15 minutes.  Slow, steady resistance that requires effort to be exerted against the muscles and joints is required. Avoid fast, “jerky” motions that will tend to gear up the nervous system and work against what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s important to pay attention to your child’s specific reaction. What works for one child, might not work for yours! Keep track of which activities seem to work best, as well as which activities they seem to prefer. You will generally notice an increase in eye contact as the child calms and becomes more focused.

  • Push a loaded stroller or shopping cart (we have a play stroller & shopping cart that are great for this)
  • Shovel snow (or dirt if you need a hole dug!)
  • Push a dust mop, broom or mop (Jenna LOVES the dust mop)
  • Pull a rake, wagon, loaded sled, loaded laundry basket or blanket loaded with toys
  • Carry a bag of groceries, a diaper bag, a gallon of milk, a loaded backpack, watering can, garden hose, etc.
  • Move or push furniture
  • Ride a bicycle (Jenna has a bike she rides inside)
  • Joint compressions (simply gently/firmly squeeze joints – Jenna tells us how much to squeeze) We call this “Squeezies”
  • Tug of war with a theraband, broom handle, rope, blanket, etc.
  • Rocking gently back & forth while on all fours
  • Wrap a blanket around the child and massage (we call it a burrito)
  • Hang upside down on monkey bars or over an ottoman or bed (or you can hold them if it doesn’t wreck your back!)
  • Sitting with a weighted blanket or vest
  • Lay or sit on scooter board and use hands and feet to move
  • Play catch with a weighted ball
  • Make a kiddo sandwich with child laying on their back & you pressing slowly/firmly with large cushions or pillows
  • Jumping – trampoline, jump rope, hopscotch, on a bed, into a beanbag, etc.
  • Bouncing on a therapy ball (with adult support) or this bouncing ball
  • Lizard crawl on belly and pulling self with elbows
  • Washing windows, erasing a chalkboard, paint with water on a fence, the side of a building, or the shower wall, wiping down the shower walls
  • Cooking activities like stirring, pressing, kneading, or rolling dough
  • Brush a family pet
  • Squeezing a stress ball, theraputty, or playdoh
  • Use a paper punch to make confetti
  • Sand a piece of wood
  • Play “parachute” with a large, thin blanket stretched between you – hold corners, throw blanket up & then pull it down, try running under, etc.

Whatever you choose to do, making it fun makes all the difference! Take a deep breath, smile, and be calm and patient yourself (I know it’s easier said than done sometimes!). YOUR attitude is often contagious and truly makes a difference in their ability to calm.

Om & Namaste!

 

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Update

 

I think an update is long overdue. Somehow, the hours of the day always seem to get away from me, and even though I’ve been meaning to post, the words just keep piling up in my head and never quite make it to the computer. Thanks for being so forgiving!

Jenna celebrated her birthday and now proudly tells anyone she can that she’s FIVE! It’s amazing what a difference one number can make. When she learned her dentist appointment was approaching (routine exam & cleaning), she started crying and whining but then caught herself. She took a deep breath and said softly to herself, “I’m five now. I can do this.” and she DID! With no crying or freaking out. I was so proud of her.

She’s now 44″ tall and weighs in at 43 pounds. She’s right smack on the “average” line on growth charts now. Quite an improvement from not even being on the curve! The blenderized formula is going phenomenally well, and we will soon transition to including her overnight feeding in this switch. At that point, all of her feeding will be with homemade formula. Yay! My main hurdle for this is step is finding a way to keep the calorie count up, but make the formula thin enough to feed through her pump overnight. We still run into trouble with the pump when we try to push homemade formula through. Our other option is to move all of her feeds to when she’s awake, but this means 5 feedings during the day. When you consider the fact that she wakes at 8 am, naps from 1-5, and goes to bed at 8 pm, there aren’t a lot of waking hours left to squeeze 5 feedings in! She’s awake a total of 8 hours and there are a lot of other things she (and we!) would like to do besides sitting still for a feeding. *Sigh* We’ll figure something out!

On the homemade formula side of things, I’ve started branching out to more than just my basic recipe that I posted before. It started when I was in a pinch one morning. She needed fed, and I didn’t have all the ingredients for my recipe (sorry to disappoint you if you thought I was perfectly organized all the time – ha!). This led to me looking around at what I had and essentially throwing things together. That morning, it was some oatmeal, fruit, yogurt, kefir and hemp butter. I realized that I would be thrilled if she ate that by mouth, so it should be fine to feed her by tube! Since then, I occasionally just “throw” things together that are handy. Having the core knowledge of fat, protein and calorie content helps a lot. I just try to throw in things that are balanced with the goodness she needs. My base recipe is still my staple, and I usually simply tweak that a little with different fruit & veggie additions, but every now and then, I mix it up with a few leftovers from dinner the night before, or something I have handy in the pantry. We haven’t had any problems with her tolerating anything (I still stay away from cow’s milk, since it upset her stomach in the past). It’s nice to have the added flexibility, and she seems to be maintaining or gaining weight just fine.

We’re still not having much improvement with oral eating. She nibbles, and she’ll occasionally try new things, but there aren’t too many calories being consumed that way. Suggesting to her that eating by mouth will mean no more tubes and pump is only met with extreme distress. She WANTS the tube to feed her! She NEVER wants her “special button” to be taken out. I think part of this is due to her thinking that taking it out permanently will hurt, but I think most of it is simply due to the fact that it’s all she has ever known. It’s kind of a part of her. Taking it out is the “unknown” and the unknown is usually scary. Our one bit of leverage is that she HATES having a new gastronomy button placed every 4 months. With a passion. She’s a little more receptive to the idea that eating by mouth means that we don’t have to keep changing the button, we just refrain from mentioning that there would be a one-last-time removal of the button along with that. The bottom line is that I think she just has to do this in her own time, when she is ready. I think we just have to stop trying to push our schedule. Always easier said than done.

We have basically hibernated through the winter and are feeling a little spring-feverish. We’ve worked on PT and OT here at home (though not as rigidly as if we had attended appointments), and we see improvements in lots of areas. She still really struggles with holding anything to write or draw with for an extended time. She fatigues very easily, and gets frustrated when she can’t make straight lines. Because she has no measurable grip strength, her lines all look very shaky and uneven. It’s a lot of work for her to control her muscles and a pencil or crayon. It’s hard for me to see her get so frustrated. She LOVES anything art-related, and loves to work at her easel, but she quickly fatigues from standing in one place. I finally found my way to an IKEA store (I had never been in one before) and found a Mammut stool that is PERFECT for her to work on at her easel. Sitting is hard for her to do for very long, too, but this makes it easy for her to stand for a while and then sit for a while.

Side note: I thought she might be struggling with some hyperactivity issues because she constantly shifts and fidgets when she’s sitting. She frequently slides one leg off the chair so that one knee remains on the chair while the other leg stands. I asked our therapist about this and she adamantly said that it’s NOT hyperactivity, it’s incredibly low core strength. She said that sitting still in a chair requires much more core strength than most people think and it’s very wearing for CP kiddos. So, really, ANY position for extended periods of time is tough for her, since she has low muscle tone everywhere.

Her sensory processing issues are much, MUCH better overall. She still hates loud noises and will cover her ears and complain, but at least she doesn’t immediately meltdown or scream in terror. She is still very sensitive to bright sunlight, but as long as we always have her sunglasses along, she manages without melting down. She has much more tolerance for touching a variety of textures and will now even play with her “slime” or in sand without freaking out and resisting. She still has definite sensory seeking or sensory avoidant days, but we’re getting used to her signals and learning how to adjust to what she needs. We were having a lot of trouble with her settling for sleep, but then remembered her weighted blanket (thanks, Jenn!). It makes a world of difference, and she’s been sleeping with it every night. Her other big hurdle was her oral fixation and the tendency to put fingers and objects in her mouth. Her chewy necklace has really helped with this. I actually ordered the Kid Companion necklace for her, and she hated it. Boo. She said it was “too hard.” She loves that the teether is more “squishy” and has more give when she bites. The good news is, I kept the lanyard from the Kid Companion and used it to solve our necklace problem. Perfect! She does get a few weird looks when she’s wearing a teether in public, but who really cares?

She struggles a lot with shortness of breath and wheezing. It’s frustrating for her when she’s around other kids, because she wants to run and chase like they are, but when they are just getting wound up, she is exhausted. She frequently has to announce that she needs to rest and sits down, gasping for breath while the other kids continue obliviously. It’s hard for me to watch because I feel sad for her. Our pulmonologist appointment is coming up in May, so we’ll see what he has to say at that point.

We thought we had escaped the dreaded crud of cold and flu season this year, but yesterday she started with something the doctor thinks is viral. She’s completely congested, running a fever (101 this morning), and coughs whenever she lays down, which makes it really hard to sleep. We’re pushing lots of fluids, trying to make sure she gets lots of rest and starting Rynatan to hopefully dry up all the mucus before it moves to her lungs. We’ve had a lot of success over the last year if we start Rynatan at the first sign of any cold/flu congestion. It’s such a relief to have something that helps us dodge pneumonia and hospitalization.

We’re heading to FL for a couple of weeks in just a couple of weeks. The sunshine and warmth will be good for us all. Jenna’s uncle is getting married down there, and between a wedding, seeing her grandma and grandpa and the fact that we’re renting a PINK cottage, she couldn’t be more excited.

I’ll try to do better at posting more ideas for home therapy and maybe a recipe or two now and then. Until then, if you have any questions about where we’re at or what we’re doing, please feel free to ask in the comments or email me at psychmamma1 {at} gmail.com.

 

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Fine Motor Home Therapy Activity

A quick, fun & easy fine motor activity for home is simply threading beads onto craft wires/pipe cleaners (whatever you choose to call them). We stood the wires in the holes of a basic salt shaker (99¢ at Target) and then threaded the beads from the top. You wouldn’t have to use the salt shaker, though. Simply crimp one end of the wire so the beads don’t fall off, and thread to your heart’s content. You can bend the finished product into bracelets, or you can simply take the beads back off and start again. We did this at Christmas and shaped the beaded wires into teardrop shapes for colorful, homemade ornaments.

Happy beading!

 

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Sensory Urge to Chew or Bite

Like many kiddos with SPD (sensory processing disorder), Jenna often has a need for oral input that manifests itself in chewing or biting. She’ll seek out toys or other objects to put in her mouth, but most frequently, she chews her fingers. Our largest concern with this is that she’s transferring the germs from whatever she touched directly into her mouth and body, and we’re doing everything we can to protect her fragile immune system. We started keeping teething items of different shapes and textures in the freezer, but found we were frequently prompting her to remove her fingers from her mouth to go get a “chewie” from the freezer. Her fingers were just always more immediately available. Then, I saw an ad for this product at the website Shop Sensory (which I love!). A chewable necklace that looks “fashionable” (OK – by kiddo standards) AND is readily available for sensory seeking chewing. Brilliant! BUT. Then, I noticed the price and the fact that the company is Canadian, which equates to a hefty charge for shipping. Ugh. I stored the information away, bookmarked the site, and frequently considered a purchase.

Time passed, and I noticed the chewies we were storing in the freezer were getting worn and ragged looking. I again considered a purchase of the Kid Companion. Soon after that, I happened to be at Target, and I noticed teethers on sale for a very reasonable price for a package of three different shapes. I picked up a package and brought them home. Then, something clicked. Why not make my own necklace chewie? Here’s what I came up with:

It’s a pink, star-shaped teether on a sturdy turquoise shoestring. Voila! Jenna LOVED it the moment I showed it to her and wears it all the time. I don’t think it’s as “fashionable” as the Kid Companion – in fact, I think it looks pretty obviously like a teether on a shoestring – BUT, she’s worn it out a couple times already, and she’s gotten compliments from people that they “love her necklace” which just makes her glow. And just check out the wonderful bumpy texture on the chewie:

Jenna says: Sometimes I like the bumps, and sometimes I like the stripes!

The other thing that I don’t like as well is a somewhat bigger deal. The Kid Companion comes with a breakaway safety lanyard, so that if the string circling the neck gets caught on anything, it releases instead of choking the child. I’m currently on the lookout for a similar lanyard to purchase for Jenna’s chewie. I haven’t found any with a breakaway feature yet. Most require manual clipping (like a five-point harness on a carseat). I don’t fret too much about it at this point, because I’m always with her when she’s wearing it. The main level of our home where we spend most of our days is a completely open floor plan, so even if I’m working in the kitchen or at my desk, I can easily see her. I would NOT let her play outside with this on (and quite frankly, she rarely seeks oral input when she’s engaged in outdoor, gross motor play), and I wouldn’t send her to school or another child’s house with this. I’m still considering the Kid Companion for times like those, but would also feel a lot more confident if I could find a similar breakaway lanyard. I noticed that you can simply purchase replacement lanyards from the website, and that might be what I end up doing.

This little invention solved our immediate problem very cost effectively, but I have to say that I think the Kid Companion is a fantastic idea, especially for older kids who might be more put off by the “babyish-ness” of a teether on a cord.

 

Update: I was just cruising the Kid Companion online store and saw a notice that they reduced their shipping rates! Hooray! Sorry! I should have checked before I posted.

 

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