Why Does Izzy Cover Her Ears? Dealing with Sensory Overload
by Jennifer Veenendall
Why Does Izzy Cover Her Ears? is a thoughtfully written children’s book by a school based occupational therapist. It is told from the perspective of Izzy, a first grader with sensory processing disorder (SPD). Izzy finds many everyday sensory experiences, from the sound of peers talking, to being bumped in the hallway to be completely overwhelming. Izzy is able to explain how her sensory system reacts in concrete, easy to understand language.
I’m a smart kid, but my brain messes up the signals sometimes. I have
a sensory processing disorder. When a friend brushes up against me,
sometimes my brain can’t tell the difference between a bump that
happened by accident and a threat to hurt me. That’s why I hit Alexander
one time, I didn’t mean to hurt him, but my brain thought I was in danger
so I defended myself by hitting.
The majority of the book is focused on the environmental changes and sensory diet activities that help Izzy to better cope with her classroom and be an active and happy learner. Her teacher is flexible and adjusts the decorations in the room and allows Izzy to switch the location of her desk. Izzy uses simple adaptations such as earplugs when she needs them and she discusses activities that help her with regulation in the class and in the OT room.
This book would be an empowering resource for elementary school aged children who deal with sensory over-responsiveness. A child with SPD may feel that he or she is the only one who struggles with the way things sound, feel or move, but this book may help to show that there are many children who experience the world in this particular way. This book would also be useful for siblings or friends of a child with SPD, to help them be more understanding and supportive. Why Does Izzy Cover Her Ears? is a must read for any family with a child with sensory sensitivities.
Arnie and His School Tools: Simple Sensory Solutions that Build Success
by Jennifer Veenendall
Arnie and His School Tools is a charming children’s book about a boy with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). The book was written by a school based occupational therapist and describes the difficulties a child with sensory under-responsiveness faces in the classroom. Arnie is a mover. He is a wiggler and a fidgeter who is easily distracted by sounds and sights within his classroom. Arnie explains his challenges and sensory solutions in clear language with examples children can relate to:
Recess is easy! I love to jump and climb and swing. But coming back
Inside is not always so easy. That’s when I have what we call my “job
time.” Mr. Dave is our custodian, and I am his special helper. Sometimes
I help him sweep the cafeteria floor. I also push a heavy cart to deliver
boxes of mail to teachers. Then when I go back to my class, my motor
isn’t running too high anymore, and I am ready to concentrate and do
Arnie acknowledges the fact that it may always be more difficult for him to concentrate and pay attention in his classroom, but he feels confident in the sensory tools he has available to help him succeed. This book is a great match for any child with a high engine, to help them understand they are not alone and there are strategies that may help them participate in the classroom and in daily life.
Why We Love It: This app is designed to get children moving. One of the activities requires your child to hold the mobile device and jump (a protective case may be useful!). As your child jumps, the frog on the screen jumps to catch yummy bugs as they pass by. This game can be played with a single frog, or as a head to head battle if you have two devices with the app installed. Jump Jump Froggy also includes modes to complete pushups with ants or sit-ups with a snake. This app is free and could use some improvements in the pushup and sit-up portions, but hopefully the developers will continue to release updates. All of these exercises will encourage your child to participate in proprioceptive activities which are beneficial for calming and regulation. This app is also appropriate for children who need to improve their strength and endurance and may not be motivated to simply complete exercises for the sake of exercising.
Why the Kids Love It: The frog is colorful and engaging and provides huge motivation to keep moving and the option to compete against a peer has been a hit. The app has one song that plays while the frog jumps, or you can tie in to your music from iTunes.
Available from iTunes FREE
“My child is bouncing off the walls and you want me to do what?”
Sometimes we as occupational therapists have to start our conversations with the families of our clients with “I know this is going to sound crazy, but I’ve seen it work for your child.” The natural instinct when we see a child running and quite literally bouncing off the walls (and the couch, and the bed, and his brother), is to try and calm him down by getting him to stop moving. Sit still! Stop jumping! Stop watching TV upside down! There are times when children do in fact need assistance to slow down their “engines”, take a break and relax. However, as Gwen Wild, the creator of Sensational Brain puts it: “there are times when children need guidance in how to burn off the extra fuel in their tanks.”
Children who are under-responsive to sensory input, particularly movement and body awareness, may constantly fidget and change position. This is not just a subtle pencil tap or foot wiggle that most children will display from time to time. This is more like spontaneous somersaults across the living room and gravity-defying chair tilting on a constant basis. The vestibular system is the sensory system which helps monitor changes in head position and movement against gravity. Children who are under-responsive to this input need more intense and frequent stimulation than same-age peers. Everyday movement activities such as walking, playing or swinging are simply not enough to be satisfying and regulating. These lower intensity movements feel bland and leave under-responsive kids craving more (and higher! and faster!).
This is the reason your child’s occupational therapist may recommend sensory diet activities that provide intense vestibular input for a child who is constantly on the move. Tools such as sit-n-spins, trampolines (with appropriate supervision and safety precautions), scooter boards, animal walks or structured exercises that include inverting the head may be useful in helping your child meet that high threshold that he needs to feel regulated. Our goal in suggesting these types of activities is to provide your child with safe, structured activities to take the place of body slamming the couch at Grandma’s house. If you have questions about sensory diet activities that may be beneficial to your child, talk about it with your occupational therapist.
It’s no secret that many children enjoy playing on their parents’ phones and tablets. While there are many apps that help teach problem solving skills or work on fine motor and visual perceptual skills, there are huge benefits from “real” play. Studies have shown toddlers and children learn better when actively engaged in play. You can use some of the themes and challenges of your child’s favorite apps by translating them to reality. Here are some ideas to start:
Angry Birds: save boxes from cereal, rice, and spaghetti. Weigh down the boxes by placing a baggie with a small amount of rice or sand inside the box and tape it shut. Gather small stuffed animals or socks to take the place of the pigs and use bean bags or balls to act as birds. Have your child build his own fortress for the pigs with the boxes, adding other items such as cookie sheets or plastic cutting boards for additional reinforcement. Then bomb birds away! How many birds will it take to demolish the pig’s fortress?
Mario Kart: create your own race track with obstacles. Mark a start/finish line with a beach towel on the ground and arrange garden hoses or long ropes on the ground in a large oval to indicate the borders of the track. Use placemats, Frisbees or cones as obstacles to avoid. Have your child ride his bike or push his scooter around the track and reward points based on time and accuracy.
As the holidays are fast approaching, we wanted to take the opportunity to offer some tips about choosing toys and games for your child. Here are some guidelines for how we choose new toys and activities for the clinic.
1. Will it last?
o Does the item appear sturdy? Are there small pieces to break off and get lost? If they do break off and get lost, can the toy still be used?
2. Can it be used in multiple ways?
o Does the toy lend itself to multiple options for play? For example, bean bags can be used for target games, scavenger hunts, hopscotch and more. Jump ropes can be used by one person or a group people, be turned into a wiggly snake, or be used as a boundary line.
3. Does it appeal to a wide age range?
o Is the product going to be used for a month and tossed aside by a young child who is quickly developing new skills? Can the item “grow” with your child by adjusting the height or the complexity of the task?
4. Does it offer multiple types of sensory input (without becoming too overwhelming?)
o For example, try musical instruments which provide opportunity to practice motor coordination while exploring auditory and tactile input, as opposed to items which play music and have blinking lights after simply pressing a button.
5. Can it travel easily?
o Wiki sticks, Play Doh and travel sized board games can provide structure while waiting at a restaurant or at a sibling’s sports practice.
6. Does it allow the child to create their own play schemes?
o Matchbox cars or barn play sets allow the child to come up with their own ideas for play. Baby dolls or other toys that “talk” may direct the play time for your child.
Are you planning a plane trip for school vacation? There are many aspects of the airport and plane that can be a challenge for children with sensory processing disorder. Here are some ideas to consider as you plan your trip.
- Create a checklist of the steps involved in air travel: parking the car/being dropped off, checking baggage, going through security, finding the gate, etc. Have your child check off each step as you complete it. You may want to add bathroom stops as required steps if your child is hesitant to use the restroom.
- Talk about the security checkpoints and behavior expectations. Frame your expectations in a positive manner, “The lines may be long, but I know you will do your best to have a quiet body.”
- Have your child wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off as they go through security.
- Make sure your child understands that TSA dogs are working and cannot be pet or played with.
- Have your child carry a small backpack through the airport for added deep pressure input.
- Find a quiet corner of the terminal and have your child complete wall push ups or other proprioceptive activities.
- Pack chewy snacks for your child to eat.
- Let your child chew gum during the plane’s ascent and descent. Make sure your child tries the flavor before the trip and understands how to dispose of the gum properly.
- Bring a loop of theraband for your child to pull on during the flight. Your child can stretch it with their hands, loop it under their legs and pull upward, or loop it under their feet and press down.
Tips for the Plane:
- If you are bringing a portable DVD player or using the in-flight movie system, make sure you pick a movie or show that is shorter than the flight time. Check with the flight attendants to estimate how long before landing the pilot will require passengers to turn off electronics. Or, be sure your child understands that when the pilot says to turn off the movie, it is time to turn off the movie, even if it is not finished.
- Bring extra batteries for portable electronics.
- Keep a stash of snacks in a small bag that you can stow under the seat in front of you. If there is heavy turbulence or your child gets hungry during the plane’s ascent, you will not be allowed to retrieve anything from the overhead bins.
- Talk about the plane’s bathroom ahead of time. Look at pictures online together. Discuss that the bathroom is likely very small, the toilet water may be blue and the bathroom may have a strong air freshener. If your child is bothered by sound, let them use the restroom and wash up, then let them leave before you flush the toilet. Make sure your child uses the restroom prior to the plane’s descent, because once the fasten seatbelts sign comes on, they will not be allowed to get out of their seat.
- As the plane is descending, take a moment to remind your child that even after the plane stops, you will have to wait a few minutes for the people towards the front of the plane to gather their belongings and get off the plane.
Have a great trip!
Why We Love It: Little Finder is a more structured take on classic hidden picture activities. The images are presented in a grid, ranging from 2×2 to 7×8, and a friendly voice calls out the name of an image for the child to locate. If the child takes more than 5 seconds to click on the item, it begins to subtly bounce to provide a visual cue. Points are awarded for the speed of finding each item. The game can be set for 1 minute, 2 minutes or an untimed “zen” mode. The pictures are high quality images of animals, food and household items on a plain white background. As with all of the products from Alligator Apps, the settings provide a wide range of challenges that can be customized for the child such as the level of cues, the option to rotate some of the images for an additional challenge, or even customizing the audio cues for the image.
Why the Kids Love It: If traditional hidden picture activities are difficult for a child, the additional visual structure of this app is very helpful. Many children who have a hard time focusing on a task for a prolonged period appreciate the short, timed rounds. As always, the ability to earn points and beat the high score is highly motivating. The game can also be played as a two-player head-to-head activity to see who comes out on top.
Available: iTunes FREE
Cooking with your child is a great way to teach about food and nutrition, math skills and science. Mixing, chopping, pouring and decorating are all opportunities for children to work on arm and hand strength as well as fine motor dexterity. Visual perceptual skills are used when searching for ingredients on a spice rack or in the refrigerator. Emerging readers can look for sight words on recipes or product labels. Cognitive skills such as sequencing a multi-step task, prioritizing tasks and managing materials are inherent in cooking activities. And perhaps most importantly, cooking together provides you the opportunity for quality time as a family.
Is your child reluctant to try new foods? Don’t worry; part of typical child development for children ages 2-6 is to avoid trying new foods. Talk with your pediatrician if you are concerned that your child’s picky eating is impacting their growth. Your OT may be able to help you assess your child’s food preferences and identify trends in texture, color, temperature or flavor, and suggest new foods to introduce. With that said, picky eaters should still be invited into the kitchen. Just being near a food provides visual input, introduces the child to the smell, how a food breaks up: Does it crunch? Does it mush? and more. Participating in any part of meal preparation is a step towards accepting new foods.
Wondering where to start?
Here are some kitchen activities for different age groups. Keep in mind these are general activities; some children may be ready for “older” skills and others may need to master “younger” skills before moving on.
- 2 year olds are developing control over arm movements and using two hands together. Invite them to participate in scrubbing fruit, wiping tables or counters, tearing bread or lettuce, dipping vegetables and pouring pre-measured dry ingredients into a bowl.
- 3 year olds are developing improved hand control and can start pouring small amounts of liquids, mixing soft batter, kneading dough, shaking pancake mix, learning to spread (it will be messy!), placing raisins or other toppings and sorting ingredients by color.
- 4 year olds are gaining hand and finger strength. Your child can help by peeling an orange after it is started, squeezing fruit, mashing soft fruits or vegetables, unwrapping packages, pressing cookie cutters into dough or bread, helping to count and measure, helping to gather ingredients and pressing number buttons to set a timer.
- 5 year olds are developing more mature finger dexterity and cognitive skills. Have your child assist with measuring ingredients, grating long carrots or large pieces of cheese (with close supervision), using an egg beater, cutting soft ingredients with a dull knife and decorating with icing or other ingredients.
- Older children can practice math skills by doubling a recipe, figuring out how many servings a recipe will yield, and cutting a tray of brownies or bars into a given number of portions, etc. They can take ownership of a meal by planning and choosing recipes.
Things to remember:
- Children always need supervision in the kitchen.
- Teach your child to wash his hands before cooking or eating and after touching raw eggs or meat.
- Expect spills and messes.
- Expect the task to take longer than usual.
- Repeat directions as needed.
- Don’t forget to have your child help with clean up.
If your child is on a special diet, snack recipes can be a challenge. Here are some recipes put together by a speech pathologist, including some which are gluten or dairy free
For more articles like this, visit Penn State’s Better Kid Care website.
Check out this blog for step-by-step instructions on how to make your own finger paint at home from simple ingredients. We love her idea of storing the paint in squeezable containers!
Just remember, if your child has tactile defensiveness, don’t force her hands into the paint. Try a paintbrush, q-tip or cotton ball. Some kids prefer to wear a rubber glove. When your child is ready, try cutting off the tip of the glove on one finger. Slowly work towards cutting the glove further down, or taking the tips off of other parts of the glove. Dive in and join your child in the fun, praising your child for interacting with the paint.