Tips for Sensory Problems

Nadia Shanab | autism, general advice, parenting
28 Jun 2010

These simple tools can be used at school and at home. They are easy to acquire and they don’t take too much room.

1- The “Write-on Wipe-off” board

I simply called it the “white board”. I bought it at Lakeshore  (it is learning store) for $4.95, it is a two sided board, one is lined and the other is blank, it is 13 inches x10 inches. There are different sizes but this is a reasonable size for desk work.

One of the students with poor verbal skills used to write in the air as if he was writing on a paper. I couldn’t decipher what he was writing. When I gave him the white board he used to write an erase non-stop. I learned from his writing that he watches T.V. and DVDs intensively. I also learned that he knew the alphabet of his native language, and many more details. He got obsessed with the white board and had a fixation on its use. I used to give him the board just for a break or as a reinforcement. I would set the visual timer for five minutes. He was still frustrated.

I decided to turn this obsession into something useful. I kept the white board on the desk as a tool to be used for work. Any work he needed to do, I had him write it first on the board then I had him copy in a notebook or on a worksheet.

To my biggest surprise the obsession started to fade out. The fact that the board was available and visible reassured him. It is true that it takes longer to get the work done, but on the other hand the behavior has diminished a lot. Writing on the board replaced writing in the air. This is appropriate.

Thanks to the white board that I could know what’s on his mind. From here we started to communicate more and he started to talk more.

Writing in the air indicates that the child is under stimulated (hypo/under sensitive) to certain inputs from the environment to his senses. The use of the white board channeled the obsession toward something useful.

2- The Weighted Vest

It is used by many occupational therapists. It is a heavy vest that the child wears for twenty minutes then should be removed for an hour and half, then worn again for twenty minutes and so on. It has a very calming and comforting effect on hyper active children and for those who need deep pressure. It should be size, age and weight  appropriate. The vest is the most popular weighted item, but there is also the weighted lap pad, the weighted blanket, and different items to be worn on the hands (it helps improve the handwriting too). The weighted items are expensive but there is an easy way to make them. Just use beans (like pinto beans) to stuff the garment or pad.

Important Note: Make sure the weighted vest is used according to the schedule. Twenty minutes ON and ninety minutes OFF unless otherwise advised from a specialized occupational therapist.

3- The Trampoline

The one-person trampoline is very practical because it can be moved and carried around easily. It helps kids who need a strong input from the environment because they are under stimulated. This translates a vestibular disorder. In other cases, it helps take the wiggles out, for hyperactive children who are over stimulated. It would be a nice idea to use the trampoline in circle time, it make the children more attentive and interested and looking forward for their turn on the trampoline.

I used the trampoline with a student who needed frequent breaks and who was resisting to do the jumping jacks, he enjoyed it tremendously. Like all physical activities, it boosts the mood and relaxes the body.

If you can not afford to by a trampoline, there is a trampoline-like activity on some playgrounds and parks. I called it “the wiggly bride” or “the suspension bridge”, children can jump on it, and some of them enjoy pacing (walking back and forth) on the bridge for the wobbly, shakey movement it gives them.

Important Note: Please make sure the child is supervised, and remind her/him to stay in the center or in the middle of the trampoline at all times.

4- The Massager

Who doesn’t like massage!!!

It is a little four legged vibrator that works with two AAA batteries. Most kids love it and ask for it, and those who are less verbal just snatch it and give themselves a massage. It is used to soothe many kinds of sensory disorders.

It might be a good idea to start off the day with a five minute massage for those who need it. Before I apply it, I show it to the child and ask him: “Do you want it on your back?” if she/he agrees, I utilize it for two minutes than ask again: “Do you want it on your arms, on your legs, or on your head?” And so on and so forth. The child will make you understand. Always take your clues from the children. Some children love it on their faces (cheeks).

Last Friday, a five year old couldn’t wait his turn and snatched the massager from my hand and placed it on his tummy and kept moving it around his tummy. I couldn’t interrupt him. He was in a deep need for it. I had to forget about the rule of taking turns. Sometimes we need to ignore the rules.

You wouldn’t believe how impatient the kids are to get a turn for a massage!

It is so funny when even the adult team in the class start asking for a turn too. It helps us keep up the good mood and it takes us through the day.

Repeat the massage throughout the day as needed, it is not harmful. On the other hand there are a few kids who don’t like it. Respect their needs. Surprisingly these kids use the massager as a toy and enjoy watching it moving around on a smooth surface. Why not? Let them relax by watching it running on the floor, not on their backs!

Tip: I keep extra batteries available, I don’t want to get stuck missing this amazing tool.

Click here to read Part II.

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  1. […] the child got over stimulated from his environment and was unable to tolerate all these sensory integration issues that bombarded his […]

  2. Hulew says:

    nicely written, Enjoyed reading !

  3. weight loss says:

    I enjoyed reading & I must say that I was very impressed with your writing skills. Keep up the good work it’s very refreshing to see someone like you 🙂