Does your child just need to crash? Are some activities too overwhelming?
Summer may offer a break from school and therapies, but there are still plenty of ways to fulfill your child’s sensory needs. Whether your child is sensory seeking, sensory avoiding or a little of both, read on for ideas to help them cope – and to make these summer days easier for your whole family.
First, let’s break down Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Sensory processing refers to the five senses we always talk about – vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch – but there are two other sensory systems, vestibular and proprioceptive. Those last two are the ones that cause challenges for many children. The vestibular system is responsible for knowing where your head is in space, and how you can handle movement. Children who have trouble with their vestibular system either feel overwhelmed by movement, or they never feel like they can get enough. The proprioceptive system allows your body to keep track of where it is. Kids who have proprioceptive challenges may walk down the hallway with their hand on the wall, to know where they are. Or, they may either constantly bump into other students OR find it difficult to stand in line because they can’t handle being right next to someone else. Kids who seek vestibular input often crave tight hugs or need to jump and crash.
Miriam’s head occupational therapist, Cindy McFarland, has suggestions to help keep your kiddos’ SPD in check and have a calmer, happier summer – whether you are at home or out on the town.
Regardless of your child’s age, or the size of your house, there are a wide variety of ways to help meet their sensory needs. Here are just a few suggestions.
- Set up an age-appropriate obstacle course in an open area of your home. Just 15 minutes of activities like jumping on a small trampoline (or even the couch!), crashing into pillows, hopping from one tile to another and doing a few somersaults can get your child moving and make a world of difference in their ability to remain calm and concentrate on a task.
- Squish your child. (Stay with me here!) To do this, simply have them lay stomach-down on a mat or pillow, and roll a yoga ball over their back with your weight on top. Adjust your pressure based on their comfort level.
- Push them on a swing. Swinging, whether outdoors or indoors, is a perfect sensory input activity. For those who crave even more movement, spin them while they swing!
- “Heavy work” to engage their proprioceptive system. Heavy work is any activity that pushes or pulls against the body. These activities can help kids with sensory processing challenges feel centered. Heavy work can include pushing a heavy box across a room, carrying a full laundry basket, doing the wheelbarrow walk with an adult holding their feet, climbing on a playground, and pushing a vacuum cleaner.
Some outings are inherently perfect for kiddos who seek sensory input.
- Places like Bounce U and Monkey Joe’s offer safe spaces to jump, climb and slide.
- Swimming pools provide a fun, active environment, with pressure from the water helping keep their proprioceptive system in check.
- We Rock the Spectrum is specifically designed for children with SPD and other special needs, providing safe, fun, sensory friendly activities.
- Hiking offers plenty of physical activity, as well as sensory opportunities such as crunching leaves, feeling the water in a creek and listening to the sounds of nature.
Many St. Louis landmarks provide spaces, days or times specifically for children with SPD and their families.
- The Magic House Calming Corner, located on the lower level near the Star-Spangled Center, offers a soothing space with soft lighting, neutral colors, quiet games and a mesmerizing 6-foot bubble tube. When the excitement of this amazing St. Louis landmark gets a little overwhelming, head to this spot to take a breather.
- The Louis Zoo is better prepared than ever to assist those with sensory challenges, thanks to staff training and a Sensory Inclusive certification. In addition to staff knowledge and understanding, the Zoo has installed signage indicating areas where there may be sensory triggers, such as noise, temperature or smells, as well as quiet spaces for relaxing.
- Several local live and movie theaters offer special showings for kids with SPD. These may include a lower level of sound, lights on during the show, and more freedom to get up and move when needed. For instance, check out Circus Flora, Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Marcus Theatres.