Tag: sensory integration

Teach The Alphabet Through Movement: ABC’s of Active Learning Book

I’m loving this new book written by pediatric physical therapist, Laurie Gombash, and want to share! You all know I love to encourage movement for all children. Teaching the alphabet and reading does not have to be a sedentary activity. This book has so many ideas for little learners to move and learn at the same time! I’m excited to have Laurie write about her new book below:

 

Thanks for this opportunity to guest blog and tell everyone about my new book, ABC’s of Active Learning©. Most people are attracted to a story. Skilled speakers know that a story can grab the audience’s attention and help them remember the lesson being taught. Children especially learn best when they are engaged in a literacy-based curriculum that is enriched with the arts and movement.

The ABC’s of Active Learning© offers a multisensory approach to recognizing the alphabet and learning letter sounds. Each of the twenty-six ABC’s of Movement alphabet letters is accompanied by:

  • suggestions for pre-literacy activities
  • a story
  • a fine motor craft
  • multisensory pre-writing activities that can be used and graded for learners of all abilities
  • skywriting instructions
  • sensory activities for taste and smell
  • a gross motor game

This book is fun, engaging, and filled with fresh ideas for multi-step crafts and movement activities that are fun for both children and adults. School support staff will especially appreciate activities that can be adapted to meld academic and therapeutic goals. Teachers and parents will have a book that makes academics fun. Grandparents and childcare providers will find the stories, crafts and movement activities great entertainment. The ABC’s of Active Learning© can stand alone or be a supplement to The ABC’s of Movement® activity cards.

The book and activity card downloads are available at ABCs of Movement. Amazon also sells the paperback bookactivity cards, and an option to buy the activity cards with music CD (Amazon affiliate links for Yums Theraplay).

 

Laurie Gombash is an experienced physical therapist who has a knack for turning ordinary items into fun therapeutic tools. She is also the brains behind The ABC’s of Movement®, and the webinars, “Pushing into the Classroom: Practical Strategies for Pediatric Therapists” and “Creative Pediatric Treatment Strategies Based on the Evidence” available through The Inspired Treehouse.

The Best Developmental Spaces for Your Baby (pssst… NOT a car seat)

A baby’s car seat is essential and one of the most important baby gear items you will purchase before your newborn arrives. The absolute best and safest place for a baby inside of a moving car is buckled into an appropriate car seat! However, outside of a moving car, a car seat is NOT the best place for a baby. Outside of the car, parents will want their baby in spaces and positions to foster their baby’s best development and a car seat is NOT one of those places. Hopefully, I can help spread understanding about the best spaces for your baby’s development and also spread understanding that the best place to leave your baby’s car seat is inside the car.

Car seats have been designed to be very convenient for parents to move and carry their baby for almost every activity except changing a diaper. You’ll see babies being carried in a car seat from their car into home, into the store, onto a shopping cart, into a restaurant, set up to the restaurant table, sitting in church, going for a walk that attaches to a stroller, sleeping at home… As a mom of three, I completely understand the importance of convenience on days when I am sleep-deprived and stressed to the max. (Those days happen too often!) But just like the convenience of feeding my older children fast food from the drive-thru each day, convenient options for parents are NOT always the best choice for your children.

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links as a convenient way to find recommended products.

WHY NOT A CARSEAT (OR OTHER SEMI-RECLINED BABY GEAR)?

A baby’s first year of development is primarily about learning through her sensory system, integrating the sensations she receives from the world, and producing important motor movements with the information she has gathered from her sensory world. The sensations babies are processing include: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, movement and muscle and joint input. As a baby begins to understand this sensory input, she begins to experiment with her own new body in response and in anticipation to these sensations. These responses may include calming and falling asleep when being swaddled, sung a lullaby and rocking back and forth in the arms of her sweet-smelling mama. Anticipation may include recognizing the face and smell of her mama who breastfeeds her or recognizing what a bottle looks like, showing exciting movements and opening her mouth in anticipation to suck her bottle, swallow her milk, fill her tummy and interact with her caregiver during her feeding. As a baby is exposed to the sensations of the world, she develops ways to move and navigate through her world, and as she moves more in her world, she learns more and more and in turn develops more and more ideas and skills, with the cycle going on and on…

Car seats, especially with a car seat cover (as cute as they are), significantly limit a baby’s ability to interact with his sensory world outside of the car seat. Sights are obstructed, sound is muffled, touch and smell are blocked, and movement, muscle and joint activation is limited when a baby is buckled into a car seat, therefore limiting a baby’s ability to learn and develop ideas and motor skills to navigate and understand his world.

Positioning and buckling a baby into a semi-reclined position restricts movement. If a baby spends too much time in this position, it can cause other developmental concerns, including flattening of a baby’s soft skull (plagiocephaly is the medical term) and muscle imbalances of the neck (torticollis is the medical term). Plagiocephaly or flattening of the skull may require a helmet to reshape your baby’s head. Torticollis or muscle imbalances of the neck can lead to even further developmental motor concerns for your baby if not addressed appropriately. Too much time in car seats, bouncy chairs, swings or other baby-holding gear with a semi-reclined sitting position can often cause and will always make both of these conditions worse. (Torticollis can develop despite good positioning habits, but good positioning habits are always an important part of a good treatment plan and prevention plan for plagiocephaly and torticollis.)

As an occupational therapist treating babies with developmental concerns, including torticollis, plagiocephaly, motor and sensory delays, I recommended that babies be in car seats, bouncy chairs, swings or other semi-reclined positioning baby gear no more than 20 minutes at a time and no longer than 2 hours a day, unless the baby is required to be buckled safely in a carseat for a longer car ride. I find that these are good recommendations for all babies to foster their best overall development.

WHERE ARE THE BEST SPACES FOR A BABY’S DEVELOPMENT?

The best spaces for a baby’s development is… (drumroll please…) BEING HELD IN YOUR ARMS or ON THE FLOOR or other flat surface! So simple, so inexpensive, but so important for your baby!

Hold your baby, snuggle your baby, rock your baby or recruit happy helpers to do this when your arms need to be doing something else. Don’t underestimate the importance of holding your baby! When my babies were little, I liked to pass hand sanitizer to any happy helper willing to hold my babies or at least wrap them in a blanket to avoid passing germs. Don’t be surprised if I happen to sit by you and your buckled baby and ask if I may hold him. (Yes, you can ask me to use hand sanitizer too.) When you are holding your baby, he is immersed in calming sensations similar to the womb from which he’s recently come.

Flat surfaces are best for your baby’s motor development. Lay your baby down on a blanket on the floor. Lay your baby on her flat crib mattress or in the flat surface of a playard (also called pack ‘n play or play pen). Lay your baby in a stroller that lays down flat. Allow your baby to lie on her back, on her side and yes, her tummy for essential tummy time to foster good motor development. (Remember when putting your baby down to sleep, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lying her on her back. Your baby’s supervised awake time is best for tummy time. Click to see the AAP Safe Sleep Recommendations.) Your baby can look around, focus on your face to smile at you, listen to the sounds around her, find her hands to suck on them, move her head from side to side, kick her legs back and forth, practice picking her head up… As a baby gets older and her motor skills develop, the floor is still the best place, but movement will include pushing up onto her hands while on her tummy, rolling over, sitting up, crawling and learning to walk. She can’t build strong foundations to learn or practice these motor skills well while buckled into a car seat or other baby-holding gear.

WHAT BABY GEAR WILL FOSTER MY BABY’S BEST DEVELOPMENT?

Going for a walk? Going to the store? Or even going to a restaurant? Use a baby wrap or baby carrier that can allow your arms to be free, but still allow the sensory experiences of being held in your arms. Strollers that can lay down to a flat surface are best for your baby until he has stable head and trunk control and can sit up in a buckled stroller seat. While lying flat in a stroller, your baby can still move freely and will not be positioned to cause developmental concerns, such as plagiocephaly (head flattening) and torticollis (neck muscle imbalance).

If you are concerned about putting your baby on the floor, use a playard with a flat surface. (Some playards come with “napping” attachments that are in a semi-reclined position. Don’t use these.) Some playards come with a bassinet option that is a raised flat surface. These are great sleeping and playing options for newborns that can’t sit up and reach over the edge. When your child is able sit or stand, you will want to remove the bassinet option and place her on the bottom surface. Flat surfaces for sleeping and playing are always best for the motor development of your baby.

Below are some examples of baby gear with options to position your baby and foster the best developmental opportunities so can you leave your baby’s car seat in the car and put away your semi-reclined baby holding gear. Click on the following link if you’d like to create an Amazon Baby Registry and add any of these items.

BABY CARRIERS:

Boba Wrap

Boba Wrap, Grey, 0-18 Months

Baby Bjorn Baby Carrier Original

Moby Wrap Baby Carrier

Moby Wrap Baby Carrier for Newborns + Toddlers Soft Baby Sling Baby Wrap, Ideal for Baby Wearing, Breastfeeding, and Keeping Baby Close - Black

Baby K’Tan Original Baby Carrier

Baby K'tan Original Baby Carrier, Black, Small

Onya Baby Infant to Toddler Bundle – Outback Carrier 

LILLEbaby Complete All Season Six-Position 360 Ergonomic Baby & Child Carrier

SIX-Position, 360° Ergonomic Baby & Child Carrier by LILLEbaby - The COMPLETE All Seasons (Stone)

Ergobaby 360 All Carry Positions Award-Winning Cool Mesh Ergonomic Baby Carrier

Tula Ergonomic Carrier with Tula Infant Insert (sold separately)

Tula Ergonomic Carrier - Urbanista - Baby                    Tula Infant Insert - Black

 

STROLLERS WITH A FLAT RECLINE AND/OR FLAT BASSINET ATTACHMENT:

Some travel system strollers with car seats included have great full recline or bassinet options. But remember that you will want to choose these full recline/bassinet features, not the “snap ‘n go” feature of using a car seat in the stroller. 

Graco Aire3 Click Connect Stroller

Graco DuoGlide Click Connect Double Stroller (The rear seat reclines fully, even though it is not pictured.)

 

Graco Modes Stroller

Evenflo Sibby Stroller (Although this picture shows the car seat  clicked into the stroller, I recommend using the stroller in the full recline position without the car seat.)

 

Joovy Scooter X2 Double Stroller (Both seats recline to “near-napping” position, even though the reclined position is not pictured.)

Joovy Scooter X2 Double Stroller, Black

Baby Jogger City Mini Stroller with optional Bassinet Kit (sold separately)

                   Baby Jogger City Select Bassinet Kit - Black

Evenflo Pivot Stroller

Chico Urban Stroller

UPPAbaby VISTA Stroller with Bassinet

UPPAbaby 2017 VISTA Stroller, Taylor

PLAYARDS:

Graco Pack ‘n Play Playard On the Go

Graco Pack 'n Play Playard On The Go, Pasadena

Evenflo Arden Playard

Evenflo Arden Playard, Sky Blue

Joovy New Room2 Portable Playard

Lotus Travel Crib and Portable Playard

4Moms Breeze Playard

*I am part of the Amazon Associates Program. If you choose to buy any of these products from Amazon, I’d love for you to purchase them through the links on my website to help support the work I do with Yums Theraplay! Thank you!

 

 

Fidgets in the Classroom: Why? What? How?

By Courtney Bills and Tera Robinson

We are right in the middle of the fidget spinner craze! The debates and rants have died down a bit because school is out for summer and no one has a problem if children are paying more attention to their fidget spinner than they are to their screens. Or the fidget spinners are inside while the kids are swimming, riding bikes and playing at the park. But… School starts soon and the discussion will surely fire back up! Hopefully, this post will help give some thought and good ideas to implement and help calm the craze, especially in our classrooms.

This time, I’ve teamed up with an amazing elementary teacher with 15 years of experience in classrooms, Courtney Bills. She has used fidgets in her classroom and gets everyday practice to implement sensory strategies into her teaching as she works with students, teachers and her own children who have sensory processing difficulties. We’ve collaborated together to help students and teachers for several years and she has some great ideas to successfully implement fidgets in classrooms. Courtney is going to share HOW she implements fidgets into her classroom at the end of this article.

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links as a convenient way to find products and tools recommended.

VIDEO: See Tera talk about fidgets in the classroom on FOX 13 The Place here.

 

WHY USE FIDGETS IN THE CLASSROOM? (by Tera)

A fidget is one of many tools that helps students self-regulate their attention, behavior and learning. Fidget spinner marketers have done a fabulous job in gaining the attention of the general public about something people have been doing for ages and that occupational therapists have been recommending for decades! You’ve already seen fidgets in many forms, even before the invention of the fidget spinner! Twirling hair, tapping fingers, bouncing knees, clicking pens, doodling…

Fidgets can help a person who is having difficulty paying attention, holding still, or behaving appropriately to seek out movement (vestibular), muscle (proprioceptive) and touch (tactile) sensory input that will keep them alert, attentive and maintain appropriate interactions during important daily activities. For students in a classroom, appropriate daily activities would include sitting still, paying attention, listening to the teacher, following directions, staying on task, completing work assignments and participating appropriately in classroom activities with others nearby.

Maybe you know a student or two or three… who may struggle with some of these appropriate classroom behaviors. Students with the following behaviors would benefit from using a fidget:

  • difficulty paying attention, listening and following directions
  • difficulty maintaining alertness (may exhibit “dazed” looks)
  • difficulty holding still or staying in his/her seat
  • difficulty keeping hands to her/himself and staying in his/her own space

WHAT FIDGETS WORK IN THE CLASSROOM? (by Tera)

The key to a successful classroom fidget is that it that works as a tool, not a toy. Each student will respond differently to different fidgets. I’ve seen a variety of fidgets work very successfully in classrooms, including simple fidget spinners for a student or two and fidget cubes for a few more, but the key is still that it is used as a tool, NOT a toy. Students have many other classroom tools such as pencils, crayons, scissors, paper, desks, chairs, books, computers, iPads…  Teachers teach and maintain guidelines about appropriately using these classroom tools and not allowing them to become toys. (A few examples: A pencil is for writing, not sword fighting. Scissors are for cutting paper, not hair.) Teachers should also teach and maintain guidelines for classroom fidget tools. A successful fidget tool will not be the focus of a student’s attention, but will be used in the background with the focus of attention being given to the instruction, activities and learning in the classroom. Students should be able to answer questions, participate appropriately and not disturb others in the learning taking place while using the fidget. One reminder is that novelty will always create excitement, but once it is consistently used in the classroom, the excitement wears off. So if fidgets are used consistently in the classroom, they will become old news to many students and the ones who need them will keep coming back for them.

I really love this video that explains and gives guidelines on how to use fidgets in the classroom as a tool and not a toy: Long Story Shorts – Fidgets. Teachers and parents, show this to your students so they can learn how to use a fidget effectively to help them learn!

There are a few practical considerations to take into account when choosing fidgets for the classroom:

  • Price is important in a full classroom of young students. Expect that fidgets will be lost and need to be replaced, so I try to only buy fidgets that are about $3 or less.
  • The ability to use hands for learning activities is another important factor. Fidgets requiring two hands are fine for listening and discussion, but if a student is writing, at least one hand should be free to use a pencil. You can add a clip to tie to belt loops or a pencil topper fidget to avoid dropping or losing the fidget.
  • Simple and plain is best for classroom fidgets. Remember that fidgets should NOT be the focus of a student’s attention, so entertaining factors, such as stress balls with eyes that pop out when squeezing or bright, flashing lights or any noisy fidget, should be avoided in the classroom.

Several of my awesome teacher friends have helped me create a list of their most successful fidgets of the many that I’ve recommended in their classrooms over the past few years.

Boinks Marble Fidget

Tangle Jr.

Tangle Jr. Classics - Set of 3 Classic Tangle Jr. Fidget Toys

Stress Balls

Silicone Bracelets

Nut & Bolt Pencil Toppers

Fidget Pencil Toppers on Pencil, Set of 6 (3 Wing Nuts and 3 Nuts'n Bolts), Colors Vary

Coil Bracelets

Scrubber Sponges

Yarn

Lion Brand Yarn 545-201 Landscapes Yarn, Boardwalk

Sticky Back Velcro Tape

Model Magic Clay

Kneadable Erasers

Kneadable Eraser, 36 count tub

Elastics

Paper Clips

Binder Clips

HOW CAN FIDGETS BE USED SUCCESSFULLY IN THE CLASSROOM? (by Courtney)

Although many children can be taught in a traditional classroom without modifications, many children will find greater success with simple classroom adjustments. I have found that providing opportunities for children to discover their personal sensory needs enhances their learning, their motivation to learn, and their engagement in instruction.

I have learned a few things over the years in using fidgets and other sensory strategies in my classroom: (Although this article is specific for fidgets, all points in this section can be applied to any sensory strategy, such as seating options and brain breaks, used in the classroom.)

  • All fidgets should be taught with procedures and purpose just like turning in an assignment, sharpening pencils or lining up. You can eliminate almost all misuse of fidgets with proper training and procedures.
  • Provide more fidgets than children. Only a handful of children will “need” a fidget during carpet time, but if all children have the option, no one feels different or singled out.
  • Don’t use fidgets as a punishment for not being able to sit still or poor behavior.
  • Don’t take away fidgets for not following directions, using fidgets incorrectly, or not sitting still. Don’t misinterpret the fidget to be the cause of poor behavior, but lack of training and understanding the proper use of fidgets.
  • Most importantly, help children self-regulate and recognize when and if a particular fidget is helping him/her engage in the learning.

To help students learn how to self-regulate by using fidgets, ask questions such as:

  • How did having this fidget help you participate during carpet time?
  • Why did you choose to use this fidget to do your assignment today? Did it help you or distract you?
  • What fidget could you try next time that may help you stay focused?
  • I noticed that this fidget seemed to help you get your work done. How did it make you feel inside? Why do you think it helped you?

Fidgets are one of many sensory strategies that we use to support student success at school. Ask your occupational therapist for recommendations to meet the specific needs of your individual child or student. You may also be interested in learning about the importance of full recesses and seating options for sensory strategies to be used in combination with fidgets at school.

Every Minute of Every Recess for Every Student!

Classroom Seating Options for Students Who Struggle Sitting Still

 

Courtney Bills is a wife and mom of three awesome kids with their own individual sensory needs. She has taught in elementary classrooms for many years and is now a National Educational Consultant, with a focus on literacy instruction through C & B Reading, LLC. She works locally in Utah to help integrate an inclusion model for all students by providing necessary accommodations in the classroom for engagement and success of all learners.

 

*I am part of the Amazon Associates Program. If you choose to buy any of these products from Amazon, I’d love for you to purchase them through the links on my website to help support the work I do with Yums Theraplay! Thank you!

Toys and Activities to Keep Kids Active and Meet Their Sensory Needs in a Small Home

Have you ever seen an occupational therapy sensory integration room? (You’ll be jealous of my OT job if you have.) It is a fabulous, big gym with swings, balls, trampolines, mats, bolsters, crash pads and looks like a child’s dream room. If you have a child with sensory processing or sensory integration difficulties and have received therapy in one of these rooms, you’ve wished you could take this room home to help regulate your child’s sensory system each day! And if any child with or without sensory difficulties has been in a sensory room, they’ve begged their parents for a room like one of these in their own home (my own children included)!

Some families are fortunate enough to be able to replicate a big sensory room in their own home, but many simply do not have the space. Parks and outdoor play are the best sensory input in good weather, but snow, rain or even extreme heat may keep you and your child with high sensory needs inside for days at a time. Families can create environments in their own small homes to support their child’s sensory processing needs! Be inspired by this family of 5 who lives in a small home (2 1/2 small bedrooms) and has used their small amount of space wisely.

For about the past 2 years on and off, this family and I have worked together to create the appropriate environment with the right equipment and key activities to help their children regulate their sensory systems at home. They wish more than anything that they had a designated sensory room, but for now while space is very limited, they’ve incorporated important pieces throughout their home. They’ve slowly added equipment throughout the last 2 years so the expense wasn’t so big to start. I’ve asked them to share what the most important equipment and activities they use to help their children regulate their sensory systems and stay active. Even if you don’t have a child with a sensory diagnosis, be sure to look at these ideas, because any child can benefit from being active and having fun in their own home! (And any parent’s sanity can benefit from non-screen activities and equipment like this when their children are cooped up inside!)

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This family actually bought much of their equipment from Amazon. I’m hoping this post is informative, but also that these links will help families save time and energy if interested in using some of these ideas in their own home.

VIDEO: See Tera talk about these toys and activities to keep kids active with FOX 13 The Place here.

 

GYM1 INDOOR PLAYGROUND (PREVIOUSLY NAMED GORILLA GYM)

One of the hardest pieces of equipment to replicate at home from a full sensory gym is a swing. Yet, a swing is also one of the most powerful pieces of equipment to help regulate a child’s sensory system and ask any of the kids, it’s also the most fun! The Gym1 Indoor Swing is a fantastic way to get a swing into your home without a big price tag, large space or expert installation. The Gym1 package has a pull-up bar that can be installed onto a door frame without drilling and comes with attachments that can hang from the bar. The Gym1 Indoor Playground Deluxe Package includes a pull-up bar, swing, trapeze bar, rings, rope ladder and rope that attach to the pull-up bar and can be used in an open doorway. The Gym1 Indoor Playground Package includes the pull-up bar with a swing, rings and rope ladder. Or there’s the Gym1’s Indoor Swing Package with the pull-up bar and swing only. I LOVE the these indoor swings, so do the kids who live in AND the kids who visit this small home!

ROCK CLIMBING WALL

Climbers need a place to climb! Rock walls are perfect for a small home because you already have all the space you need! Dad built this wall fairly easily. He used some extra backer board leftover from a tile remodeling project. Although, he says most people typically use plywood on the walls. He used these Rocky Mountain Climbing Gear’s kids’ rock climbing wall holds with hardware. (Be sure to order child-sized holds for small hands.) The mounting hardware is easily screwed into the wall through the center of each hold. Really, rock climbing walls can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. And there’s no reason you can’t add onto it later and let it continue to grow or shrink as needed.

MINI TRAMPOLINE  

Big or small trampolines will be great investments for your child’s sensory needs. I love the handle bars on the mini trampolines for stability and more sensory input into the child’s arms as they lean into it while jumping. A trampoline helps give great input in one contained spot in your house. This family bought this Little Tikes mini trampoline from Amazon. I’ve also had good experiences with the Fold n Go mini trampoline. For bigger kids, the Pure Fun mini rebounder trampoline is a good option.

POP-UP TENT AND TUNNELS

Small, enclosed spaces can create a sense of safety for an overwhelmed child needing to calm down. Pop-up tents and tunnels are great for this purpose. Tunnels are great to crawl, hide and play inside because moving inside a small space gives more proprioceptive (muscle and joint) input and creates a higher demand on the body to move than a wide, open space. If space is a concern, buy tents and tunnels that can be folded up and stored in small spaces, like this package of 2 pop-up tents and 2 pop-up tunnels or this set of one tent and one tunnel.

KIDOOZIE SUPER SKIPPER

Mom happened to find this toy in a small toy store on the clearance shelf in Wyoming. This was a great find and she says they use it every day at their house. The toy is placed on the ground and when turned on, the sticks spin and the kids jump over it again and again and again. We haven’t seen this exact toy again, but found this similar KidSource Musical Hop Skipper on Amazon.

AMERICAN EDUCATIONAL PRODUCTS’ GONGE CAROUSEL 

Spinning is intense vestibular (movement) input and is great for children who have a hard time keeping their bodies still. Spinning will meet movement needs quicker than back and forth movement. This family used an old office chair to spin until little baby brother’s arrival and they had to replace their desk and office chair for a crib. Now they use this fun Gonge Carousel! The Gonge Carousel spins easily without a constant push. Its uneven mounting causes spinning with the body weight of even small children. It’s also low enough to the ground that a child can stop quickly by putting their foot down. If you have a small home and a child who loves spinning, you need this!

POOL NOODLE SWORDS

A couple of years ago, I happened to see these pool noodle swords at a farmers’ market in North Logan, Utah made from PVC pipe, pool noodles and duct tape. They were a great price, so I also bought some larger batons (think ninja warrior equipment) for my own older kids at the same time (and they STILL love them). These pool noodle swords have proven to be perfect for this family to help regulate their sensory systems. The pool noodle is soft enough to not cause injury. The design with pool noodles on both sides seems to keep them from falling apart after almost 2 years of play. Visit Kid’s Armory Facebook page for contact info if you’d like to try these fun pool noodle swords and batons also. (In case Utah is too far away, I found this package of 4 pool noodle swords on Amazon. I’ve not used them, but wanted to give a link to find something similar.)

WEIGHTED PILLOWS AND BLANKETS

Weighted pillows and blankets are great way to help children to settle and calm for a midday nap or after a long day of play. My favorite local Utah company, Comfort Weighted Blankets, is where I usually recommend buying weighted blankets. (Not only do I like to support local companies, but I’ve found that buying from local companies can decrease the shipping cost on weighted items.) You can also find other companies or you can make your own. Here is a link to a child’s weighted blanket from InYard on Amazon. This family loves Minky Couture blankets, also a favorite local Utah company. These aren’t as heavy as weighted blankets, but use a super soft material that is quite heavy. Because this family has so many, they usually pile several minkies on top of their kids for deep pressure, especially when it’s time to calm and settle.

This little guy has a very favorite old throw pillow and loves to chew on the corner of it. Mom decided to make it into a weighted pillow to help him calm at night with deep pressure. She sewed pockets of rice into old fabric, unstitched the side seam of the pillow, put the rice pockets inside and then stitched it back up. It was easy for even a mom who claims she doesn’t sew. He uses it every night and asks for it when he needs to calm down as he sets it on his lap and chews on the corner. You can always add weight into pillows, blankets or stuffed animals on your own with rice, rocks, or plastic pellet stuffing, etc.

EASY OR NO-EQUIPMENT-NEEDED ACTIVITIES

DANCE PARTIES : Only music needed to get your dance moves on!

BALLOON TOSS: Blow up a balloon and try to keep it in the air! (Easy activity for kids to do while parents are occupied.)

CLIMB, JUMP, CRASH: Jump from the couch, stairs or beds into blankets, pillows, cushions, bean bags or stuffed animals. You can always buy a crash pad or make a crash pad, but a pile of blankets, pillows and stuffed animals on the floor to crash works well also. Your children will incorporate more intensity on their own if they need it with somersaults, flips, etc. (Bunk beds are the preferred jumping spot in this house.)

WRESTLING: A great way to keep kids and adults active! (P.S. Dads and uncles are wrestling all-stars!)

TWISTER: A classic game that can be fun for all ages!

Please share if you have great equipment and activities you use to meet your children’s sensory needs and keep them active in your home!

*Be sure to follow all product safety recommendations. Always supervise your children to help them stay safe with all equipment and activities.

*I am part of the Amazon Associates Program. If you choose to buy any of these products from Amazon, I’d love for you to purchase them through the links on my website to help support the work I do with Yums Theraplay! Thank you!

How to be a Friend to Someone with Autism

Happy Autism Awareness month and Happy Occupational Therapy month this April! What better way to celebrate than by sharing some tips on how to be a friend to someone with Autism from an OT!

Most likely, you know someone with Autism. Most likely, you want to be kind and friendly with them, but are not quite sure how to interact and go about building a friendship. They may act differently from you, but they share a similar desire to have a friend with whom they feel safe. They and their families appreciate when someone will take the time to really get to know them and build a friendship. Over many years, I’ve been able to enjoy many friendships with people who have Autism. My Autistic friends make me smile! I’m grateful for the many lessons they’ve taught me and the memorable moments we’ve shared.

VIDEO: See Tera talk about how to be a friend to someone with Autism with FOX 13 The Place here.

 

CHARACTERISTICS OF AUTISM

When interacting with someone with Autism, it’s important to recognize the basic defining characteristics of Autism. As you’ll notice, these defining characteristics listed below make social interactions especially difficult for them. Recognize that all these characteristics may make the Autistic person uneasy with a new person initiating social interaction, but does not mean people with Autism do not want friends!

  • Social Skill Difficulties
  • Communication Difficulties
  • Repetitive Behaviors, Routines and Isolated Interests
  • Sensory Processing Difficulties

“THE SPECTRUM”

“Autism Spectrum Disorder” is the official name of the Autism diagnosis. “Spectrum” is used to define a very wide variety of behaviors that encompasses the above characteristics. Each person with Autism will exhibit these characteristics very differently. Each person with Autism is unique and building a friendship with them will mean you must get to know each individually. Below are some clusters of behavior you may see from people on the Autism Spectrum.

Social Skill Difficulties: 

  • May not make eye contact; may be uncomfortable being close in proximity to new people; may find different ways to get your attention, such as throwing objects.
  • May not recognize social cues as to when to stop talking; may not recognize how to enter a group to socialize; may have difficulty learning to share with others.

Communication Difficulties:

  • May not speak, but understands many words or phrases; may only repeat words or phrases; may use alternative ways to communicate, such as pictures or hand gestures.
  • May speak and understand well, but very literally; may not communicate tactfully; may talk excessively.

Repetitive Behaviors, Routines and Isolated Interests:

  • May use movements, such as flapping hands or rocking back and forth, when excited or nervous; may enjoy playing with the same objects or doing the same activities over and over, such as lining up cars or watching fans spin; may get nervous and upset when going to new places, getting new shoes, having furniture moved out of their familiar spot or having new people in their safe environments at home or school.
  • May want to talk about the same topic in detail all the time, such as Minecraft, Pokemon or dinosaurs; may not recognize subtle social cues that you are ready to change subjects or stop talking; may get stressed or not function well through seemingly small changes, such as a new haircut, long holiday weekends or an assembly that changes the school schedule.

Sensory Processing Difficulties:

  • May be over-sensitive to normal amounts of sensory input around us: such as lights seeming to be too bright; noises seeming to be too loud and needing to cover his/her ears; being startled and seeming to over-react to accidental bumps or a pat on the back;  refusing to touch or wear certain textures; being bothered or distracted by smells; being unable to tolerate tasting a variety of foods; being scared of movement activities, such as swinging.
  • May be under-sensitive to normal amounts of sensory input around us: intensely staring or watching others or objects, such as spinning fans or wheels; frequently humming or making his/her own noises; craving hugs, always fidgeting or seeking out certain textures to touch; smelling people and objects; licking, mouthing and chewing on many different objects, not just food; craving movement, such as spinning, jumping and rocking.

HELP THEM FEEL SAFE

When you approach someone with Autism, address them by name in a pleasant, non-intrusive way. Be calm, avoid light touches and loud entrances so you don’t startle them until you become familiar with their sensory processing preferences. Be sure to be predictable or tell them what you’re doing so they know what to expect.

Watch and observe to see if they have a toy, a book or maybe a shirt that they may have an interest in. How can you find a way to interact over something that feels safe or enjoyable to them? With people who speak, you can discuss the subject, listen and ask questions and share their interest. With people who don’t speak, how can you enjoy an activity together? Maybe you can hand them cars from a pile as they line them up, careful not to interfere in their routine. Maybe you can both hit balloons up into the air together.

LET THEM SET THE PACE

Some people with Autism may need to take your interaction slower than you’re used to. They may not be ready to look at you, respond to you or answer your questions. These behaviors don’t mean they’re not listening. You can tell them, “That’s ok. We can talk more in a while. I can wait.” Try again later. It may be that you have to do this over several encounters until they are comfortable with you. They might be willing to give high fives or fist bumps before they are ready to talk.

Don’t give up! And don’t ignore them! Most people with Autism understand more than you realize and feel the effects of being ignored. Be patient and keep trying to be friends with them.

Some Autistic people will be overly excited and want all your attention. When you’re first making friends with them, share that excitement and give them attention. After your friendship is built and you learn to trust each other, you can start to change the pace slowly to also meet your needs by talking frankly, but politely. “Hey, how about you spend a few more minutes talking about Minecraft and then I can tell you about the new things I did yesterday?!”

DON’T BE OFFENDED BY THEIR BEHAVIOR AND COMMUNICATION

Don’t assume that people with Autism are being rude, disrespectful or selfish as they interact with you or others. If you find yourself thinking that their behavior or communication is any of these things, remember they inherently process information and think differently than you, especially social communication. Quickly forgive any offense and be patient as they learn. Just as you are learning how to interact with them, they are learning how to interact with you.

Be sure to clearly tell them what behaviors you appreciate in your friendship, such as, “I like when you smile at me when you see me! It makes me feel like we are friends!” or “Thank you for sharing your toys with me! I have fun playing with you!”

POLITELY ASK SINCERE QUESTIONS

If you ever have questions about how to be a friend to someone with Autism, be sure to ask parents, teachers or friends who know him/her well. They will have insight into their interests, comforts and unique ways of socializing and communicating with others. Many parents and teachers are very happy to help others willing to take the time to understand and get to know their child/student.

If you are in a teaching capacity for someone with Autism, recognize that maintaining a safe and trusting relationship with these principles will create a crucial foundation before you can help them stretch outside their comfort zone.

Enjoy the journey of friendship with your unique friends with Autism!

 

“The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend.” –Henry David Thoreau