Sensory Engage - Enable - Enrich In this month's Connections we will provide information and guidance to support your child with their sensory self.
Sensory Needs Did you know that we have more than five senses? Most of us already know of the basic five senses. •
Tactile ~ Sense of Touch
Visual ~ Sense of Sight
Olfactory ~ Sense of Smell
Auditory ~ Sense of Hearing
Gustatory ~ Sense of Taste
There are two important sensory systems that often get over looked, yet are so important in the classroom. •
Proprioceptive ~ Sense of Balance/ Body Awareness
Vestibular ~ Sense of Movement / Spatial Awareness
And an eighth sense, known as Interoception, has more recently become the focus of interest. You can find out more here - https://www.growinghandsonkids.com/interoception-8th-sensory-system.html Just like adults that don't like the texture of certain foods or have a constant need to 'fiddle' with something, children have similar sensory preferences. From a child who prefers messy play, to the child who prefers not to wear shoes, or the child that can get overwhelmed in a busy and bright classroom... we all have specific sensory sensitivities.
Support for success
It is worth noting that with any potential barrier to learning, no two children will experience sensory challenges the same way. It is better to consider that we all have a different tolerance for sensory input. For instance, overly sensitive children respond easily to sensory stimulation and can find it overwhelming. They may:
Be unable to tolerate bright lights and loud noises
Refuse to wear clothing because it feels scratchy or irritating (even after cutting out all the tags and labels!), or shoes because they feel “too tight.” • •
Be distracted by background noises that others don’t seem to hear
Be fearful of surprise touch, and avoid hugs and cuddling even with familiar adults •
Be overly fearful of swings and playground equipment
Often have trouble knowing where their body is in relation to other objects or people •
Bump into people and things and appear clumsy
Have trouble sensing the amount of force they’re applying; for example, they may rip the paper when erasing, pinch too hard or slam down objects. •
Run off when they’re overwhelmed; to get away from whatever is distressing them •
Have extreme meltdowns when overwhelmed
Meanwhile, 'undersensitive' children want to seek out more sensory stimulation. They may:
Have a constant need to touch people or textures, even when it’s not socially acceptable Not understand personal space even when kids the same age are old enough to understand it •
Have an extremely high tolerance for pain
Not understand their own strength
Be very fidgety and unable to sit still
Love jumping, bumping and crashing activities •
Enjoy deep pressure like tight bear hugs
Crave fast, spinning and/or intense movement
Love being tossed in the air and jumping on furniture and trampolines.
These behaviours might be confused as troublesome when we don't explore the possibility that what the child needs is an opportunity for movement or activities that will help them to be calm. Helping your child to reflect on how 'their engine' is running, will help them to develop strategies for managing and 'regulating' their responses to sensory input. Too fast (over excited) - The child cannot focus and needs to calm body and mind. Just right (calm) - The child can concentrate and is able to focus on the task. Too slow (sleepy) - The child cannot focus and needs an energy boost for body and mind.
It is always valuable to learn from the experience of others. We are very grateful to the families that share their personal stories in order to help us to better understand some of the challenges that our children might face. Should you be willing to share your story (anonymously if you prefer) please don't hesitate to contact us firstname.lastname@example.org (Jumeirah) or email@example.com (Arabian Ranches)
A Letter from the Mother of a Sensory Seeker I could write the whole story of our son, but I fear it would be too long. Firstly I’m no expert, but I live with a Sensory Seeker every day and I hope that this may be a little bit helpful from a parental view-point. I am also very happy to talk to any parent about my experiences if they feel it may be of any use. First thing I want to say is that if you have a sensory child or think you may have – congratulations, you have a child that doesn’t fit the ‘regular’ mold – whatever really that is. This viewpoint has taken me quite a while to feel and some days I do still struggle. Your child is more likely though to have the benefit of being a creative thinker, have an entrepreneurial spirit, or have the capacity to do different things. A non-conformist though (for want of a far better phrase), however, needs still to live in the world we live in and it is our job to equip them with the right tools to try and help them to selfregulate to enable them to cope in the education system that we all are in without crushing that charisma, that flair, that creativity, but most of all their confidence. We all want our children to be happy and to be able to cope at school and in society in general. It is really hard to not compare. The second thing I would say is really important - that you have not failed in any way. It is hard not to feel super emotional, confused, frustrated and you may even, like I did for a long while, feel that you have some way failed your child. It is hard when you are living it. I’m sure many parents may have felt that at one time or another. Also, you are not the only one! Give yourself a break and read all you can about the topic but most of all try to relax a bit about it. I’m not saying it’s a walk in the park, but a bit of knowledge to try and see the world from your child’s eyes can go a long way.
The help at school for our son is brilliant. I cannot express how grateful we are for the support. It wasn’t always like this when there was less specialist help available, we have more resources now and a better understanding. With great collaboration, there is a far better understanding, we meet to put strategies in place and review where needed. So my third piece of advice is therefore to work together with the school, use the resources that are there, the younger the better and then the sooner your child can learn to regulate themselves. If you are unsure about something don’t keep it to yourself, voice it, you will be met with such support. It won’t red flag your child, you are your child’s champion so it’s
up to you to stand behind them in their corner and the school want all the children to be happy, confident, independent and challenged to be the very best that they can. In the past two years especially the school have gone to great lengths to support my son, everyone is learning all the time. The school know that not every child thrives in the traditional method and do all they can to ease the journey so that the aim is that they leave primary school with the resources and tools they need to regulate themselves and to be independent enough to thrive in the next phase. I have gone from a couple of years ago of a what felt like a barrage of comments about my son’s behavior, always tempered with very clear statements about his great qualities too – we tend to remember the struggles don’t we – to now a real 360 approach which involves the amazing Oasis department, the on-site OT, the senior management team, the class teacher and the school counsellor. Things which have helped me: Knowledge – read up and talk to people about the diagnosis. For example I found that a tough birth and the fact that my son did not crawl are common traits for sensory issues. A Sensory seeker may not feel ‘safe’ in the space around them and therefore can be very touchy and hug lots and too tight or launch at things, press too hard, fine motor skills may take a little longer etc. With my Sensory Seeker when he hugs a lot – that means he needs more hugs, I love a hug – who doesn’t! – but apparently they are seeking it so give them more. This is tough at school where physical touch is an issue understandably, so alternatives are required. Maybe they should push away at the wall or do animal crawls, or move around, do some heavy lifting work, or have a weighted blanket on them. Can’t sit still: My son has got better at this, but I know that wobble cushions can be a great help for many. My son does well to get up and have a ‘movement break’. Spinning is a great one or jumping. Routine is important: All children benefit from a good routine, but for a sensory child this is important to keep them feeling safe. Less is more: Limit the screen time if you can so as to not over simulate the senses. I keep it for weekends only. Also smaller groups of children. Places with less stimulus – although my son craves it and there’s a time for everything, if you want focus and see ‘behaviour’ change, perhaps alter the environment a bit or smaller groups or maybe just one child on a play date. Focus and Regulation: This may be different for different people. I know if my son is feeling like his engine is running too high he sings – thankfully in tune – for which I believe his class teacher is most grateful – but in all honesty it needs to not be disturbing others, so the other tactics need to come into play in class. He is a big fan, as are we as parents, of the music department, playing a saxophone takes a lot of puff and is a great regulator. If you don’t have a saxophone to hand, there are other tactics of course! Drink a thick shake/smoothie through a straw. Blow a ping-pong ball across the bath with a straw. Oddly blowing bubbles is regulation…good luck with that one in restaurants. He also would rather be swimming under the water than on top. The breath is important I’ve found. Running and spinning and jumping all help so, if you don’t have one, get or find access to a trampoline or a swing and do 5 or 10 minutes before trying to do a task that requires focus. Animal walks help or get your child to push his hands forward against your hands and try and move you backwards across the room with his strength. Carry the shopping bags, or make up spurious heavywork jobs. My son really enjoys rugby and I think any sport is a benefit. Rugby works well for my son especially as they are now training for contact. It’s sensory heaven for him.
Food – there’s a lot of advice on this and I’m still learning, but simple things like eating crunchy food before a task which requires concentration can help focus. Drinking with a straw. An apple in the car on the way to school. Just because your child doesn’t look at you when you are talking to them or explaining something doesn’t mean they are not listening. This I find tough to understand. Also my son likes to fidget with things, so play putty or a fidget spinner or a squishy ball can help. Memorising and learning – my son likes music and learns really well with music. It has been useful with times tables and some spelling. Emotionally, as a parent of a child that is sensory can be really hard to understand and come to terms with. Your child is not naughty or less bright – far from it - they just learn in a different way as they don’t see the world in the same way you do. It is not always so obvious and of course not all behaviour will be put down to sensory issues, all children will make bad decisions, but don’t be too quick to chastise your little one – check the scenario first – see if you can alter it. Maybe they just need a movement break. I’m learning all the time, I’m more relaxed than I was about it and the collaboration and support the school give without judgement has alleviated a lot of angst. All of us are learning through it, I make a lot of mistakes but I enjoy him much more. I’m very proud of him, I encourage activities where he gets sensory input in a positive way and well I am hoping to hang on for the ride! If you would like to speak to this Jumeirah parent please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we can connect you.
Learning aids You may recall in our introductory Connections, we shared information about 'learning aids'; a few additional tools or strategies to help them to be effective learners; a fidget aid, a wobble cushion, a theraband, a movement break... these are used to help children in class that may need some support to manage their sensory needs. We may recommend that your child try using some of these resources to support their focus and attention. Introductions of such aids must always be done in consultation with parents and class teacher. The child will be shown how to use the aids to ensure effective learning and concentration.
By now you will have learnt that if your child is seeking sensory input then the best activities are those that require movement and if they are over stimulated they may needs opportunity to be calm. Here are some apps that might help...
1 - Brain Works - great for selecting appropriate activities to help with regulating.
2 - Pocket pond - great for calming
3 - Ooze (one of many from 'Sensory Apps') - great for calming
4 - Laser lights - great for calming
A good book
Every month we make a recommendation for a book (or two!) that offer helpful information and advice. These titles offer, to those who are interested, a more detailed insight into sensory integration/processing, alongside practical strategies to support.
5 - Author: Carol Kranowitz (This books is one of a series dependent upon the age of your child; The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun, The Out-of-Sync Child Grows up, Growing an In-Sync Child).
6 - Author: Angie Voss
7 - Author: A. Jean Ayres (Developed the Sensory Integration Theory)
In the news... JESS Jumeirah and JESS Primary are looking forward to the imminent arrival of resources that will be used to support sensory needs within school, including balance stilts, exercise balls, a spandex tunnel and a 'casper suit'! We are confident that the children who will use these resources, will benefit greatly from the opportunity to better manage their sensory needs.
At JESS AR we are trialling a maths support programme called Power of 2. We hope to extend the trial to more children next term. You can read about the programme at https://www.123learning.co.uk/maths-support-book-power-of-2/ And... In April, JESS Arabian Ranches is looking forward to hosting a workshop on dyscalculia for SENCos and maths coordinators from a number of schools. Dyscalculia is a specific maths learning difficulty particularly affecting number sense. https://www.understood.org/en/learning.../dyscalculia/understanding-dyscalculia