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.
“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.