Ideas for Living in a Sensational World

My children have different areas of sensory dysfunction. My son, 6, has full-blown Sensory Processing Disorder, and has problems with the areas of auditory, tactile, mild visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive input, as well as some modulation issues. The difficulties in modulating his sensory input creates a boy that very much resembles a child with ADHD at times, and who reacts emotionally to sensory overload.

Our daughter also has some sensory issues, though we believe them to be secondary to her ASD. She struggles with tactile, auditory, vestibular and oral input (she is very under-responsive to oral input, and therefore is an oral seeker). While the children share some of the difficulties, they affect them differently. For example, my son is  under-responsive to vestibular input, whereas my daughter is over-responsive. Whereas my son responds positively to deep-pressure therapy, my daughter despises it. I once read, “The only thing consistent about Sensory Processing Disorder, is the inconsistency,” and I would agree whole-heartedly with this.

It wasn’t until I started brainstorming for this blog entry, that I realized just how many sensory tools we have in this home! All purchased or made with the aim of making life easier for our two children, and in return, for the whole family. I’m very thankful that I am a resourceful and crafty person by nature, which  has certainly saved us money, and allowed us to have tools that others may not be able to afford. I wanted to share some of the products we use in our home, various tools of varying types, as well as some of my “go-to” links for all things sensory.

Our son’s sensory problems affect him the worst out of the two children, mostly due to his modulation difficulties. As I already mentioned he responds very positively to deep pressure therapy, so this is the biggest area of therapy we focus on for him, and this is also the therapy where there’s the largest selection of options. I will never be able to list all the products and/or activities available, because there is so much out there. I highly recommend using Google and searching for Sensory Activities, Deep-Pressure Activities, Sensory Bins etc… You can find a wealth of information. However, I will list the products and some of the ideas that we specifically have/do in our home:

Weighted blankets, vests and lap pads. I can’t say enough positive about weighted products. We have a weighted lap pad, a weighted vest and a weighted blanket for our son (and soon to have a weighed blanket and lap pad for our daughter as well). I made the lap pad and the blanket myself by ordering poly pellets from Quality Poly Pellets and just following online tutorials. My son loves birds, and his favorite is the Scarlet Macaw, so I was able to find some tropical bird fabric online, and I created my own template for his lap pad. We use the blanket around the home – he always has it at bedtime which helps him fall asleep, and we also use it during meltdowns when he needs to calm down. The lap pad we use sometimes during school lessons or if he’s watching tv and just needs a little calming,  or he’ll take it in the car with him when traveling.

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For the weighted vest, I had it made by Natural Remedies, an eBay store. I found that her vests were the most inconspicuous. We purchased some snowboarding fabric for the interior of the vest, for our Shaun White wannabe. Our son loves his vest, and finds it extremely comforting. We typically use this when we’re going places like church, a theme park, shopping – anytime we might be someplace that can be overwhelming for him.

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We did have to remove the four weight packs that were along the very back of the vest, as they were too “lumpy” for my son’s liking. It’s amazing how fast this vest can calm him down.  We would also like to look into a weighted teddy bear for him, and I may get him to choose one out of our (overflowing) bin that we have, and I’ll insert some weights into it. I’ve been told they can be comforting for children to hold onto, especially during times that they may be scared (like at a doctor’s office).

Sensory Bean Bags. I am in the process of making these using poly pellets, and I know they’re going to be a favorite tool in this house. Bean bags are a great tool for heavy work (which is calming, helpful with proprioceptive sensory input). You can toss them back and forth, do balancing games where they have to carry them on their head, crab walk carrying them on their belly, and do mid-line activities where you have your child throw the bean bags at targets that are on the opposite side of their body (ie. hold a bean bag in the right hand, have them cross their body and throw it at a target to the left of them). The bean bags that I am making will be made out of several different fabrics: fleece, cotton, satin, corduroy etc… so as to provide different tactile input at the same time.  Being a homeschooling mother, I plan on going a step further and appliqueing the numbers 1-10 on each side of the bean bags, so they can be doubled up for math games.

Sit n Gym balls & Trampolines. We have a ball for both of the children, one with a handle for hopping, and one with feet. My son’s has the feet so that he can sit on it while doing lessons on those days where he just needs a little extra input to help him stay focused. These are also great for proprioceptive play time, as any bouncing activity gives great input, and can really help the child focus themselves when done in a controlled manner (ie. Say to the child, “Bounce 10 times,” instead of letting them go crazy with it). Trampolines are also an excellent tool to have on hand. We have an 8′ one for the back yard, and are in the process of purchasing a small 3′ one to have indoors as well, for the winter months.

Seat/Balance discs.   Again, we have one of these for each of the children.  We use them during times when we need them to be focused, or calm/quiet, they normally go with us to Mass, and then I also use them sometimes for my son during his lessons. However, these can also be used as balance discs, which is great for vestibular input. Most of the discs come with a side covered in bumps, which gives you the added bonus of having tactile input, too.

Fidgets. We have a few different fidgets in our house: Tangles, Bendeez, pencil fidgets, and an Inside-Out ball. Fidgets are great for different inputs depending on the fidget, but for our son it’s normally about tactile and proprioceptive input, helping to calm him during times he needs to focus. Again, this might be used during Mass, during lessons, or even during times when we’re just trying to get him to calm down a bit, but recognize he still needs a bit of input.

Balance Beam. My husband is in the process of building my son a balance beam to use at home, to replace the one we have on loan from his PT. The balance beam is great for vestibular input, and we use it mostly for sensory play.

Those are the products we have. On top of those I try and do sensory bins with the kids, using different bases, anything from rice, poly pellets, beans, shredded paper, cut up bits of rafia, water beads etc… The children both love sensory bins. I would like to slowly work my way up to stickier things like GAK or a sticky play-dough, as my son is extremely sensitive about anything sticky on his hands.  We work many of these tools into my son’s sensory diet. For us, our sensory diet at home is not necessarily a scheduled “Do a vestibular activity at 1:00 pm”, as much as just learning what he needs, when. We know that if we need him to focus, then we need to do a Heavy Work activity, which is normally a proprioceptive activity. We know that he needs structured active input during the day, or else he will enter his seeking mode, and once he enters that, it normally ends in tears. So, we make sure we give him time throughout the day to have active input, which normally consists of vestibular activity.

We keep a printed chart on our fridge that is broken down into three columns, each with the header of a different type of input and when to use it. Then, under each column we list activities we can do. Since we require our children to do chores around the house, I try and choose chores for them that can double as sensory input. This is the chart that we have, which is by no means a complete list of all the sensory activities you can do, but our favorites in this house:

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One of the biggest things that has made a difference in our lives, is the implementation of a visual timer, and also a visual schedule.  As are many children with SPD, my son and daughter both are extremely visual, they do not register auditory input very well. We were really struggling with transitions for our son, so his OT recommended we use a visual timer. We bought this one from Learning Resources. I have to say it really did make transitions easier, when he could see that the time was nearing, and then up.

His OT also recommended a visual schedule. She put it this way: when you have Sensory Processing Disorder, you are constantly bombarded by overwhelming sensory input. They often live in fight or flight mode. So to add constant confusion about what’s happening next, not knowing what to expect, can be a very scary, overwhelming feeling for the child. Having a routine/schedule, knowing what to expect is comforting to them. After having bought ours and putting it into use, I would agree. Our son especially really does better when he can see what is going to happen during the day. We purchased this schedule from schKIDules, and love it. We do vertical columns instead of horizontal, for morning, afternoon and evening. It helps keep all of us on track. We also have a sequence strip just for his school time, so he knows what’s coming next.

Again, in our home we have just touched the surface of what you can buy and do, to help your children with their sensory needs. I drool my way through therapy catalogs, the way children do through the Sears Christmas Wish book.  My favorite website of all for purchasing tools is Therapro. They have I think the largest selection and best prices. There are many products I would love to have for our home one day. Heck, I’d love to have an entire sensory room someday! But, until that winning lotto ticket comes in…

Lastly, there are many books you can get. The Out of Sync Child, and The Out of Sync Child Has Fun, are perhaps the two most highly recommended books there are. I own and love The Everything Parent’s Guide to Sensory Integration Disorder. And while I haven’t read it yet, I did recently order The Child With Special Needs: Encouraging Intellectual and Emotional Growth. While designed more perhaps for children with ASD, it is supposed to be useful for children with varying disorders, and I think it will come in handy for SPD as well. It also talks a lot about the “Floor Time” approach (which you can Google).

Anyways, hopefully, I’ve given you a few ideas on things you can buy or make to help your child, and given you a few ideas on ways to use them, and activities you can do!

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