Choosing Sensory Solutions
We all have sensory needs and it is helpful to find sensory solutions. Babies are born with sensory needs. Sometimes they figure them out on their own, and sometimes we, as adults, have to help them out a bit. As parents, we become in tune with our babies sensory needs, but as they grow, we are not as keenly aware. Often enough we will see their sensory cravings through inappropriate social behaviors such as nail biting, banging, pushing, pinching, and shoving, or in children with autism we might see behaviors such as rocking or hand flapping.
Is it sensory or is it behavior?
Which came first? We do know that behavior will manifest itself either positively or negatively depending on whether sensory needs are met. With that said, we have to teach children (and adults), to step gently out of their comfort zones so that their sensory needs do not constantly dictate their behaviors. Sometimes you have to wait. Sometimes you have to sit. Sometimes you have to say “hello.” One way to do this is to provide a sensory diet and a good behavioral plan. Think of it like this: If you don’t eat, you may become cranky. You don’t have to wait until you’re cranky to eat. Eating throughout the day can help you avoid the crankiness. It is the same with a sensory motor diet.
Try out a few of these easy sensory motor activities, add in an age appropriate behavior plan and you might miss a few meltdowns too.
- Heavy Hand Work: You can buy a stress ball, fidget toys, or get some balloons! You want to be sure the object is filled with either non-toxic gel or sand. The balloons are easy to fill up. Just put a straw into the balloon. Open the straw up on one end and fill it with sand. Tie up the ends. Now squeeze and squish away. This activity keeps hands busy and ready to do some focused work like handwriting!
- Up Up and Away! You’re going to have to invest in this one, but if you’ve got kids, you must have a swing. No reason you can’t have one inside your house either. Purchase a hammock or net swing. Have your child lie tummy down with arms out forward. Place a cone or objects in front and have them swing and try to knock them over. Great for building core and giving them a heavy workout. Or they can relax and chill out while reading a good book.
- Putty. It’s squishy, it's smooshy and sometimes really tough, but putty can be a great stress reducer and hand builder. Kids can make shapes, pinch it, pull it, stick things into it while creating calm. In general working with their hands is a great sensory processer.
- Crashing. This is where you let your kids jump onto pillows, roll around on the floor and just get a bit wild. Kids need heavy work, and one of my favorite products is a crash mat or crash pad. These are generally filled up with foam and kids can jump onto them, chill out in them or roll around on them.
- Spinning. The vestibular system can act as a great filter! Swinging and yes, spinning can be used to help kids regulate their nervous system. Over spinning can be counter productive, so you may want to check this one out with your local occupational therapist, but all you need is a spin board.
- Chewing. Studies have shown that kids who chew gum score higher on standardized tests. The problem is most teachers don’t want gum in their classrooms. There is plenty of time to chew outside of school and plenty of chewies to choose from to use as an alternative to chewing gum. In addition, crunchy foods, such as nuts, apples, carrots, and celery provide a great part of a sensory diet and healthy diet!
Balancing. It seems like this should be ingrained in every child, but some kids have it and some don’t. Providing balance challenges is a fantastic way to develop great bodily awareness, help with development and prepare kids for a lifelong healthy body. To provide a great balance challenge try placing spots on the floor to walk on (like stepping stones), lay down a beam, create an obstacle course, get a rocking board or therapy ball.
- Balloon up. This is a great game for visual processing and hand-eye coordination. Blow up a balloon and have your child keep it up in the air. Start with one balloon and now try and keep two balloons up. For advanced stage have your child keep the balloon up while sitting on a therapy ball or standing on a cushion.
- Space Exploration. A great way to understand your body and its movements is to provide boundaries. This is easily done by getting inside a box, a tunnel or stretchy fabric and exploring all directions. Create a fort with blankets or an obstacle course with whatever you have.
I'm a sensory adult. I love to swing, tap dance, hike outside, and I love a lot of weighted covers when I climb into my bed at night. I also like my little dachshund snuggled up next to me. This drives my husband crazy…both the weight and the dachshund. He can’t stand anything other than a flimsy sheet. So he tosses his covers on top of me, and we’re both happy, the dachshund and I. I also love tight, stretchy clothes. They keep me happy all day long. It is important to find the sensory solution that works for you.
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