Saturday, July 9, 2011

Autism - Proprioception and Sensory Needs - What I Do to Help My Son Settle and Sleep

My four year old is a bundle of energy. He flits from one thing to the next without a breath. Diagnosed with Autism and also ADHD he has many of the usual difficulties faced by children with this diagnosis. When I talk about proprioception in relation to my son I am talking about some of these challenges.

Proprioceptive is about knowing where we are in our space. Most of us can tell if we are standing straight or leaning, near an object or farther away. For Billy this is not always the case. Before his diagnosis and before I had any sort of understanding of his world, he drove me crazy... Don't get me wrong, I love this little boy to the extreme, however - not one night went by without he ended up not only in my bed, but trying to sleep so pressed against me that I had to hold myself from falling out. Day after day, he would run around and around our house with countless bumps and falls. His constant need to feel surfaces against him as he ran would result in all sorts of injuries. As a mum it was horrible to see him bumping himself all the time, but because at that time I did not understand what he needed, the attempts to help him were not enough. Reading books and working with our OT has changed things for the better and once I began to understand my sons condition I could be more proactive. Taking a look at what I had been doing, I realised that I was on the right track, but I had to do more.

Problem - Billy needs to concentrate to gain sensory input from the world around him. Nuro-typicals do not.

The answer - Give him what he needs.

These are some of the strategies that I am using with Billy.

Swinging Hammock - Billy has a hammock that is attached under our veranda with both ends tied in the one spot. This means the hammock is like a pocket for him to climb into. He gets in on his tummy and can spin himself around, back and forth, side to side. While he is doing this he is getting a pressure feedback against his skin and body that is sending messages to his brain and allowing his system to relax and not have to think about where he is.

Trampoline - Trampolines are great in so many ways. Billys has a cover over it and he can go out there when ever needed. Sometimes he is so unsettled at night that he asks to go out and jump just to help him relax. He has a 2 minute timer that he takes with him. When the timer goes off he comes back in and settles down. The netted trampolines provide an enclosed place to play and also is a spot we use for his activities. Billy has many crash mats that we use for him to jump into and these can be put onto the tramp and he can jump around in them while bouncing. Like everything, you need to be careful while on the trampoline with children.

Crash mats - As I mentioned "crash mats" can be used anywhere. We have them on our veranda as well as in Billys room. They are mainly bean bags filled with foam offcuts but the ones that work best are the big ones made from old dooner covers. Just get offcuts from places like clark rubber and fill the cover, then sew it up. Make sure that there is enough foam in the bag for it to be safe to jump on and also provide a good safe area for them to play in while using it. Make sure little kids are not able to get under the crash mats especially while the big kids are using them.

Blankets - Squash Squash Squash - Billy and his brother love this game. Just pack some blankets under them and then also on top - make sure you only cover their mid section so that their head and legs are free. Light pressure only is needed, but make a lot of noise about it. I tend to say silly things like 'Im a squissy monster, I'm going to squish you" - They laugh at me and love it. Billy tells me he likes to be a Billy sandwich, meaning that he is in the middle of the blankets.

Obstacle games - These ones are great, you get them down on the floor going under things, using all fours (this is great locality sensation for their system and also has many other benefits in the cognitive functions) climb around and in between objects, make a pillow mountain to climb over and then do a puzzle while laying under the coffee table. (anything you can come up with that will challenge them safely.)

Weighted toys - Weighted blankets and toys are fairly new to me. Since diagnosis I understand much more, but before that when someone suggested a weighted blanket I thought the idea was ridiculous because my children never liked to have any covering on them to sleep at all and if they did it had to be the exact one that they had chosen. It did not make sense to me that a child that did not like anything to touch him, should have a heavy weighted blanket on him to help him sleep. - Then I found out what was really the issue with Billy and his brother. It is actually the light touch of the sheet or blanket that is the problem. It is not that they don't like anything touching them, it is that they don't like to light touch of things. It took no time for Billy to take to his weighted blanket. Not only that, he also has a 2 kilogram weighted snake that he runs with around his neck and also has beside him while he sleeps. Running with the snake does not stop him, but you would be amazed as to how much slower and safer he is with it on. ( It also has the added benefit of making him tired carrying it around ) Billy still sleeps with his favourite blanket and it has to be the right way around and very exact, however he also has the weighted blanket over the top. He still ends up in my bed, but thankfully not as often.

There is no 1 magic cure, working with your child to figure out what they need is the key. Don't worry if you are asking the right questions, just keep asking and listen to what they tell you. Many times I have heard my son trying to explain what he is needing but only since I have tuned into his needs am i really hearing him.

If you are reading this right now, you are already trying to understand your child and therefore are well on the way to providing them with their needs. Keep up the good work.


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