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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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Activities at home

Verzija na hrvatskom jeziku (In Croatian language)

Your house or apartment is the place your child knows the best. They will always act a little bit different at home than in other places. Children whose body schemes are not yet fully developed will feel more relaxed and secured in an environment they know well. So, trying out new activities will work better at home.

We know that when you are at home, you most likely need to take care of the household; laundry, dishes, breakfast, lunch and dinner (especially if your child or other family member requires special diet), cleaning etc. So, you cannot constantly play with your child. That’s ok! However, that doesn’t mean the child cannot get the sensory input they need. Make your home sensory friendly and let the child be drawn to the input they need. Please, make sure you do not overstimulate your child. I cannot emphasize enough how unique each child is and how differently they react to each activity. Even the same child might react to the same stimulus differently at different times. What was fun and amusing in the morning might become the worst enemy five minutes later or by the end of the day. And that’s ok, too! Easier said than done, but all you need to do is observe your child through the sensory glasses.

You can designate a part of your home or child’s room to specific stimulus (tactile, vestibular…). Some parents I work with even made sensory rooms in their basements. This will enable your child to get the sensory stimulus they need easily. However, because the point is to integrate the stimuli, we can always add some spice to it. If your child really wants to swing, rotate or walk on something high, they are most likely looking for some vestibular stimulation. Let them have it for a moment and slowly engage them in another activity, perhaps a song, or some body schema activities or some visual fun.

girl playing with water

Girl (15 months old) playing with water and moist cloth, using these materials to engage in pretend play. As she is still new on her feet, I added sandy’s step factory product popularly called “room beach” for her to stand on, instead of a plain concrete backyard floor.
Permission to post this girl’s photo acquired from her parents.

To be more specific: while your child is swinging have them throw some pillows of different weight into a basket, or have them sing a song in the rhythm of the swing. If you don’t have a swing, you can easily make one out of a blanket and swing your child in different directions, different rhythms and ask your child if they want more. Always wait for their response: a smile, a cry, a yes or a no, or any kind of movement that will indicate their desire to continue or to stop and be respective of it. These activities might be very short and even though you would love your child to swing for 5 minutes, sometimes a swing or two is just enough for them and please respect it. Your child might be sensitive to this kind of stimulation and you do not want to overstimulate them.

If you need to do your chores around the house and the child needs to be on their own for a while, try giving them a small task that you feel they can do on their own, whether in their rooms or with you in the kitchen. Perhaps you can make a line of obstacles through the house or a hallway that the child needs to overcome to get to the kitchen. Make it in a way that you know your child can actually go through it successfully (not too easy, but not getting them to heavy frustrations). You can also incorporate some additional activities, like finding toys and balls and collecting them into the basket in the end of the line. This will give your child sense of beginning and end, it will give them a purpose and ultimately sense of achievement. That’s why it is very important to make the activity challenging enough, but still possible to overcome.

If your child is still too small to be on their own, or you feel it is not safe for them to be alone, you can have them with you, say, in the kitchen, they can play with different textures of foods such as beans, cereals, raw pasta, or even sticky dough made out of water and flour. If you want to go crazy, why not coloring pieces of that dough with food color and have them make something out of it. If you make your dough harder, a good proprioceptive activity is to pluck a small piece, make it a small ball among your fingertips and stick it to a paper in a shape of a line or a circle, heart etc. Of course, have in mind that all these foods can end up in your child’s mouth so make sure they can use it safely and to use those foods they are not allergic to (e.g. gluten, peanuts…)

If you noticed your child doesn’t like to have dirty hands, this next activity will be very challenging and it might take months for them to accept it, but try introducing it little by little: playing with foam. It is a very tactile sensitive texture that a lot of kids cannot stand at first. Usually it happens because the foam doesn’t have proper edges as it is soft and goes through your fingers easily so the brain is having a hard time defining it. It can get scary, too. Some of the children I worked with even wanted to throw up when they touched the foam. So, be slow, go gradually and don’t force anything. You can use the foam on a mirror or glass door to make shapes, prints and drawings. Some children who are less sensitive to taste like to try the foam, so be careful of what kind of foam you give them (shaving foam, whipped cream etc.)

Girl and a boy playing with shaving foam.  Permission acquired from their parents.

Girl and a boy playing with shaving foam. Permission acquired from their parents.

For those kids who are less sensitive to tactile and proprioceptive inputs, try making or buying an uneven surface to put on the floor where your child plays the most or spends the most time. I love this “sandy step factory” product made by a Croatian orthopedic surgeon, dr. Stosic.

You can use your creativity and try making a surface on your own. How about if you used a duvet cover and filled it up with small balls or granulated styrofoam. This is a safe place for your child to jump on (unless the balls are too hard!), walk over, crawl over, roll over or just lay down on. Or just give your bean bags another role.

Check out Making the house sensory friendly post for more ideas!