Occupational Therapy (OT) is defined as “a form of therapy for those recuperating from physical or mental illness that encourages rehabilitation through the performance of activities required in daily life.” With the challenges that Autism has brought to our family, we are constantly using various OT techniques with the kids.
We have always been taught that there are 5 senses. smell, taste, touch, sight, and hearing. There are two other senses that are often overlooked: proprioceptive and vestibular. These senses tell us where our body is in relation to our surroundings. When these 2 senses aren’t functioning properly, a child may appear clumsy or frequently bump into things. They may have a difficult time judging where their bodies are in space or always seem to be in someone’s “personal bubble.” They could have a hard time determining how much force is needed in completing tasks. For example, they may break items by using too much muscle, be unable to push things due to lack of force, or appear to play too rough. There may also be a need for pressure that hides itself in behaviors. Our Madicyn used to throw herself off of her top bunk bed. At first, we tried safety measures like bed rails and a better ladder. She started breaking all of the bed rails by climbing over them to jump. Once we thought about her behavior through the eyes of Autism, we realized that this was not a negative behavior, she was simply trying to regulate her vestibular and proprioceptive senses by getting the sensory input that she needed. Once we realized this, we became determined to help her do it safely. We bought crash mats, which are huge pillows for the floor. We always start with deep pressure in her hands, arms, legs, etc. If she needs more pressure, we move onto big bear hugs and squeezes. If that is not enough, we pile up the pillows and mats and have her jump into the pile. We rough house and wrestle with her. Thankfully, we also took down that dangerous bunk bed. When she is getting her much needed deep pressure, you can actually see her body relax and the smile come back to her face. We work on these things at home as well as with our occupational therapist. If you saw the shelves in our exercise room, it could be mistaken for an OT facility! These are some of the techniques and equipment we use regularly to help combat sensory issues:
Headphones: Sensory sensitivity is common in people with Autism. Our kids can often be found sporting their signature red noise-cancelling headphones. This is because the sound that we hear is magnified to an overwhelming level for them. For example, when she hears the blender, our Elli had developed a routine of running to another room, holding her hands over her ears, and talking very loudly in order to drown out the unpleasant stimulus. The headphones filter the sensory input, and bring the sound to a level that is more comfortable for the children’s sensitive ears.
Weighted…Everything: The introduction touched on the kids’ need for deep pressure. One way to provide this is through the use of heavy things. We have weighted blankets, as well as wrist/ankle weights, and medicine balls. This can be done with common household items as well. We often have the kids lie face down on the couch and push a pillow firmly down into them, from top to bottom, applying consistent pressure. We usually alternate between fast and slow speeds, depending on what the kids choose.
Chewies: Another habit that stems from sensory processing difficulty is chewing on everything, sometimes including people. Chew toys/necklaces are a helpful tool to redirect this behavior. They come in many different forms, including the fabric type that Elli is pictured in below, as well as harder rubber and plastic, providing a range of different textures suited to one’s specific preferences.
Trampoline: One of Charlie’s favorite things to do after school is jump on the trampoline. Besides being a good way to tire him out, trampolines have many benefits to people with special needs including allowing them to get a feel for their body in space, improving proprioceptive sense, and helping with gross motor skills and coordination. We have a large outdoor trampoline, and a small one in the living room that is used for breaks between tasks or just when the weather doesn’t allow us to use the outdoor one.
Additional topics coming soon….