Sensitive Sam by Marla Roth-Fisch
Sensitive Sam is the story of Sam, a young boy with sensory over-responsivity. He is more sensitive to the way things smell, sound and feel and has difficulty with daily life activities such as getting ready in the morning and playing at school. The book describes many of the sensations that Sam experiences as overwhelming. At times, the language can sound a little negative, but by the end of the book Sam works with an occupational therapist and discovers sensory diet techniques that help him tolerate the sensations inherent in his day. In the end, Sam concludes: Take it from me, Sensitive Sam, That things will be okay. By doing things a little differently, I can have fun EVERY day! Sensitive Sam would be an appropriate book for children who have sensory over-responsivity. They may feel alone in their experiences, and the book offers comfort that they are not the only ones who hate the feel of clay or the sound of a toilet flushing. We appreciate the author writing this story about a boy with sensitivities, as young boys may face more social stigma than girls with sensitivities. The book does not go into detail about the sensory diet activities Sam uses to help with regulation, but the book would be a great jumping off point for a family to discuss the sensory strategies that work for their child.
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
If your child is learning to shampoo her own hair but has difficulty grading the force needed to squeeze an appropriate amount of shampoo out of the bottle, try cleaning out an old pump bottle of lotion and refilling it with shampoo. Teach her to use 1-2 pumps of shampoo.
“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.
Halloween is almost here! Are you ready?
- Have your child try on his costume ahead of time. Layering tight fitting clothing, such as Under Armor, may help decrease the discomfort of novel fabrics. Be willing to adjust your expectations of what constitutes a costume. A simple pair of black sweatpants and a favorite Batman shirt could be a Batman costume.
- Face paint and masks can be difficult for children with tactile sensitivities. If your child wants to have a mask but cannot wear it, attach a dowel to the side so she can hold the mask up when she wants to.
- Canvas your neighborhood before Halloween. Avoid houses with motion-sensor decorations or warn your child ahead of time if he has auditory sensitivities.
- Role-play the social interactions required during trick-or-treating. There are many “hidden curriculum” items involved with Halloween, such as:
– skipping houses that do not have lights on
– taking one piece of candy instead of a handful
– waiting in line behind other children who arrived first
– some adults wear costumes while others do not
– other children may wear the same costume as you
– some people wear scary costumes while others do not
– if it is cold outside, you may have to wear a jacket over your costume
– if you do not like any of the candy that a person is offering to you, you can say “No, thank you” or politely take a piece to share with someone else in your family
- Children who are sensitive to smells and tactile input may be able to participate in pumpkin decorating by painting, drawing or placing stickers on their pumpkin instead of carving.
- Know your child’s limits. Some children can only tolerate trick-or-treating at a few homes. Watch for signs your child is becoming overwhelmed or over stimulated and take a break.
- Have a plan and discuss it with your child ahead of time. When will you go trick-or-treating? How much candy will your child be allowed to eat that night?
- Use sensory breaks. Bring along a drink in a sports bottle or let your child chew gum for organizing oral motor input. Have your child pull a wagon or do a quick set of wall push-ups against the car or an understanding neighbor’s house.
- As with any holiday, try to keep a reliable schedule at home during the week of Halloween.
- Most importantly, have fun! Halloween is not about making it to every house in the neighborhood; it is about the quality time your child can enjoy participating in the festivities in a way that works for them.