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“Special needs” kids can teach us a thing or two about humanity

“…much to unlearn”. Couldn’t agree with that more.

Karenwriteshere

As an aspiring special education teacher, I wanted to learn how to interact with kids with more profound developmental disabilities. I found KEEN, a nonprofit that pairs volunteers with special needs participants (kids and young adults) in a time of free play. I started two weeks ago; and as it turns out, there wasn’t much to learn at all — though there was much to unlearn.

My buddy, Charles, is an African-American male in his 20s. Because of his intellectual disability, he behaves like a 4-year-old, and would often repeat himself. His favorite lines are “How you doing?” and “What color is this?” Charles is also incredibly friendly, and would shake hands with anyone he meets. Sometimes, he would pick up your hand and sniff it (it’s his way of showing affection), which tends to startle people meeting him for the first time. He loves shooting hoops, which I happen…

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Sensory friendly holidays [3]: What do other experienced bloggers say

After I was done with my two posts about sensory friendly holidays: what to do at home and outside your home I realized that many other bloggers wrote about their own experiences. I may be a professional in the field of sensory integration and I try to soak all the stories I hear from the parents I work with to help others, but I do not have experience of living with a sensory kid myself. Closest I got was being an aunt of one <3. So, I would like to dedicate this post to all the families who have sensory kid(s) and are taking their time to write about it so we could also benefit from their knowledge. Here are three articles I found useful:

A Sensory Life: Sensory Prepared for the Holidays!

  • Keep in mind that 10-15 minutes at the holiday dinner table will likely be the maximum amount of time the child can handle.  A kid friendly side table with a ball chair as the seat would be best.

Happy Sensitive Kids: 5 Ways to Reduce the Festive Period Stress for a Highly Sensitive Child

3. Talk to Your Children’s Teachers

If you know what your children will be doing in school, and when, you can co-ordinate and keep things low key at home.

Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation: How to Make the Holidays Fun for Sensational Children by Lynn Witzen, MS, OTR

When changes in the school routine occur, it is important to compensate by providing greater predictability and structure at home. This is a great time to make a holiday calendar.

Thank you!

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Sensory friendly holidays [2]: How to help your sensory kid stay regulated – outside your home

My last post was about keeping your family traditions in the time of holidays but in a sensory friendly way for your little one – at home. This post looks at the possible situations you may find yourself in with your sensory kid outside your home.

At home, you are in control. But what happens when you go to a dazzling and loud shopping center, or perhaps to a guest’s house where the hosts enjoy a

good hearty laugh? Remember, the point is not to avoid these situations. There are a few things that you can do.

Prepare your sensory child for what is coming, in a sensory way. If you know your child is best regulated with some proprioceptive or vestibular stimulus, allow him some jumping, cuddling, spinning or swinging before he needs to do something sensory challenging. Knowing your child, you will also know what he/she does when disregulated – does your child have a tantrum, does he/she cover their ears or eyes, starts walking on their toes or starts jumping? Not only does this give you a hint to what stimulus your child needs, but also what you can do to help your child come back to the regulated state when a stress situation occurs. Have some sensory activities before going to the guests’ place or the mall, or even new years celebration on the main square. All of these places are loud, with many people talking, laughing, singing, being unpredictable, because they might also insist on communicating with your child in ways that are uncomfortable for him/her (looking in the eyes, hugging, talking too loudly, expecting answers, lots of social touching, etc.). Explain to your child, if possible, that these situations might occur but those people mean well and give some pointers on what to expect, how to react and how to handle their feelings.

Sensory kit: does your child need an occasional visual stimulation? Put some colorful balls that light up in his/her sensory kit – kit that consists of some sensory “first aid” items. For example: small hedgehog toy for tactile stimulation, colorful balls for visual, or a rubber to squeeze or pull for proprioceptive stimulation. See what items your child likes to play with and what gives him/her that sense of regulation and put those items in their personal sensory kit. Items should be well known to your child so he/she can feel comfortable and safe.
Have a sensory time out: if you see your child is getting overwhelmed, you might want to be proactive and find a quiet and calming spot for your child before he/she gets into a tantrum. Use that time and space to reconnect and re-regulate. If appropriate, jump a little, spin, give bear hugs, make a room dim or completely dark and slowly go back.

Follow your child’s sensory needs!

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Sensory friendly holidays [1]: How to help your sensory kid stay regulated – at home

It is that time of the year. Depending on which part of the world you are from, you either celebrated your big holiday and new year such as Diwali in India, or you are yet preparing your taste buds for all the flavors of Christmas, say somewhere in Europe. Well, sensory kids don’t really care about borders and some don’t care for the social conventions. But most of us still do. How to still celebrate holidays without stressing out your own child? To answer that question, let’s briefly discuss why our sensory kids become more “disregulated” during the holiday season.

No matter which holiday you would like to celebrate, mostly all of them involve bright lights, different foods that are mostly not eaten throughout the year, having guests over or going to other people’s homes to celebrate (social gatherings) and music. The point is not to avoid these situations, but to make it possible for your child to enjoy them. You probably already know very well what your child’s sensory needs are, but if you are new to this whole sensory world, try to see what is that your child adores and practically hates. For example: your child loves to jump all day, walk on cushions, run, adores your bear hugs, throws himself on the couch, cushions or mats, or “accidentaly” bumps into other people and kids? If these are true for your child, then he/she might be hyposensitive to proprioceptive stimuli which means his/her brain is asking for more of that kind of stimuli. So, according to your child’s sensory needs, you can plan your holidays.

Things you can do at home:

Lights and decoration: if your child is hypersensitive to light, you may want to either start using more lights in the house a while in advance or use dim lights, follow your child’s reactions and adjust accordingly. If you plan a Christmas tree, see if lights are necessary. If they are, perhaps don’t have them on the blinking mode. And try using a color scheme for your lights and decoration that is more soothing and pleasant for your child. Perhaps bright white is a bit overwhelming, but a deep green is more relaxing.

Food: if your child is not keen on trying new flavors, textures etc. see if you can prepare a separate well known meal just for your child. With all the other stimulation coming from the holiday fun, perhaps this one thing that means a lot to your little one can stay regular. If you would still like to give your cranberry sauce a shot with your child make it in a way you know your child would prefer: certain texture, in a certain bowl, with some other ingredient they like.

Music: Holiday songs are a big part of the atmosphere builder, but for the sensory kids it can be a deal breaker, too. Not only do we play Christmas carols on the CD player, but we enjoy the sing-along as well. Introduce your child with these songs ahead of time and start with low volume if necessary. See your child’s reactions, perhaps he/she might enjoy a few songs, but those other ones might throw him off.

For all of these, I suggest you try the novelties out for the first time when your child is at his/her best in terms of regulation. Perhaps, a good time would be during or after a nice sensory play. In those moments, your child is likely to be regulated, thus more up for trying something new, something that is out of the routine or something that is not in their list of preferences. Feel free to have more of good quality sensory time during the holidays or prepare a sensory kit that your child will carry around with him/her to use in times of disregulation. Unless you already have, prepare a room or part of the room in a sensory way for your child to go to when necessary.

Happy holidays!

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How to make baby friendly and safe colors at home?

If you would like to give your baby some colors to paint, that is terrific! I did it, too. However, I am following an organic, gluten-free, no sugar, salt, oils kind of diet for my baby. Since, my 8 month old was putting everything in his mouth, I did not want to give him even those food colors that we put in icing for example. I wanted it to be something even more nutritious in case he decides to lick his fingers. With such small babies it is important to have something to dip their palms into and for the colors to be bright. So, for my son’s first art piece, I prepared:IMG_7789

GREEN – spirulina algae and water

PINK / RED – beats and water

YELLOW – turmeric powder and water

ORANGE – carrot or sweet potato

BLUE – blueberries*

*in this photo the blue doesn’t come from the blueberries.

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How to know if your baby has some sensory processing / developmental difficulties

This is a list of reactions that show parents there is something a little unusual with their baby and want to have a clearer picture of what is happening, are these situations alarming and what do they actually mean. Here is a checklist of just a few items that might help you understand if your baby has sensory difficulties:

For newborns:

[ ] my baby cries a lot and often even after feeding, change of diaper or after a good sleep.

[ ] my baby stretches and has his/her legs stiff often.

[ ] my baby doesn’t move much

[ ] my baby doesn’t move his head left or right when positioned on the tummy (2-3 week old)

For infants up to 12 months:

General movement:IMG_7621

[ ] my baby is not very active.

[ ] my baby has stiff movements.

[ ] my baby turns his/her head on only one side.

[ ] my baby’s hands shake when he/she reaches out for a toy.

Auditory hints:

[ ] my baby doesn’t respond to sudden loud sounds, continues with the activity as if nothing happened.

[ ] my baby doesn’t turn towards the source of the sound.

[ ] my baby becomes very irritable when there are more people around us who are talking, laughing or trying to communicate with the baby.

Vestibular hints:

[ ] my baby doesn’t like the tummy time.

[ ] my baby cries a lot when I put him/her on the swing and rotate.

[ ] my baby cries when I hold him/her in my hands and play the “flying airplane game”.

Visual hints and Communication:

[ ] my baby doesn’t follow an object that is moving in front of his/her eyes.

[ ] my baby doesn’t look at me in the eyes.

[ ] my baby flaps his hands next to his/her eyes many times in a day (e.g. when excited or angry)

[ ] my baby doesn’t smile at all, doesn’t do goo-goos (and should be according to the age).

Proprioceptive and body scheme:

[ ] my baby doesn’t like to be cuddled / hugged.

[ ] my baby likes to stick his/her head in the couch cushions, sometimes even hits the wall a bit.

[ ] my baby doesn’t like to put his palms on the floor (e.g. while sitting).

Tactile hints:

[ ] my baby has a gag reflex or spits if I give a food item that is new, of a different texture or of a different warmth than usual.

[ ] my baby screams when I wash his/her hair or shower him.

[ ] my baby has a gag reflex or cries a lot when he/she touches foam, sand, sawdust or alike with hands.

These are some common reactions children with sensory processing disorder and some developmental disorders have. If your child has the same reactions to perhaps one or two things from the list, perhaps you don’t have to panic. Rather, call a professional in your local community and schedule a visit, check up with an OT, physical therapist, pediatrician etc. If your child has many reactions found in this list, you should definitely consider having a Sensory Integration profile done with a certified SI therapist. It’s always great to notice the difficulties early and start working on them as the results can be much greater, too. Have in mind that all kids are different and do not take this as medical advice. If you think there is something unusual about your baby, it is always better to check with a professional than to ignore.

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We all just love IKEA, don’t we?

Yes, this is my second post about IKEA. But can you really blame me? Let me first give you a couple of reasons why not and then I’ll show you what I have done in my apartment in terms of sensory integration and motor development.

3 reasons why you should not think I am a loser for loving and writing about IKEA, again!

1. I lived in a country without an IKEA store most of my life. While I had a pleasure of living in the States for a few years, I had been a poor student on two scholarships and three faculty assistant jobs to sustain myself.
2. IKEA just recently opened up its (first) store in Croatia so I’m still exploring all the designs and styles though I know the whole website by heart.
3. IKEA’s designs are creative enough for the price. They are modern and of an ok quality. They organize their items in the catalogs in a way you would love it all, including the old fashioned, shabby chic drawer unit even though you are a simplistic, clean, geometrical line kind of person.
So, bear with me.

Now the important thing. I actually noticed that many of you search for some sort of review of IKEA’s items and many of you want to incorporate their children furniture items or toys into your houses. My recent post was about the three IKEA items I liked in terms of their usage in sensory integration. But I would definitely add more. And I actually did buy more:
1. Drawer unit with deep and shallow drawers where I keep:IMG_7599
– sensory materials such as flour, raw pasta, sawdust, chestnuts, sand,…
– thematically organized toys: auditory, visual, tactile (papers of different textures bought in ikea)…
Check my other posts for ideas on what to do with these materials.
What I like about this unit is that it’s sturdy enough for kids to walk on. If you buy two, you may put on next to the other and kids can use it as a staircase. The unit is finished from all the sides so you can have it in the middle of the room and it will still look good. However, to avoid unfortunate slips from the unit, I used the anti skid net from IKEA and pasted it on top of the stairs.
2. Tent and the tunnIMG_7073el combo: I actually mentioned this combo in my first post about IKEA‘sIMG_8165 items but back then I didn’t have this idea in my head – I just turned the tent around a bit and made it into the ball pit. I bought 150 colorful balls elsewhere and put them into the upside tent. Works well for babies and small kids. The tent also has Velcros around the entrance so the tunnel can be stuck onto it.
3. This anti skid material I used for its original purpose – I put it onto the floor and children’s carpet from IKEA on top. But I left it big, I didn’t shorten it to the size of the carpet. It’s veryIMG_8164 warm to walk on and holds all the crumbs. When my 8 month old son threw down a big bucket of sawdust onto it, it did not spread the sawdust all over the room but kept it local until I came with a vacuum cleaner. Of course, it serves it’s purpose well and helps in preventing the unfortunate slips. Negative side to it if you use it like I did – needs a lot of effort to vacuum it properly.

4. Another, but white anti skid material from IKEA I used to put on the drawer unit (explained above) so if a child decides to walk on it, there’s less chance they slip.

5. Transparent IKEA boxes: Love them for storage of sensory materials such as flour or sand. Kids can take it themselves, open the lid and start playing. They can see through the box so they can take the material they want without opening each aIMG_8459nd every box, there is a lid so even if it falls down it can keep it safe from opening and spreading all over and easy to just store back after the kids are done.

6. Long sleeve apron proved to be an awesome buy! I use it on my 8 month old when he eats or doeIMG_7789s his artwork or on even bigger kids when they uIMG_8468se water colors. Don’t worry, this baby is using only edible colors. Will write about that in my next post!

 

Other than these 6, another few items you might have noticed in the photos above:

  • table and chairs for kids. They are a standard. Nice round edges, great colors, durable, easy to clean.
  • mirror tiles, you get 4 in a pack. I was worried they would be too heavy for the little stickers that you get along, but boy was I wrong. I pasted the tiles very low, almost on the bottom of  the wall so babies can see themselves while exercising and crawling. My son adores looking at himself. Finally some baby company for him 🙂
  • paper of different textures. This is still in a planning stage. So I don’t have a personal photo of this. But the plan is to make sensory panels out of these sheets of paper and some other textures. Yet another topic that deserves a whole new post.

I hope enjoyed reading about these items as much as enjoyed writing about them!


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