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for Parents of Special Needs Children

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Part Three: Other Suggestions

boy reading in library

How else can I help my child regulate in stressful situations? 
As with so much else in the life of a sensory child, you are going to have to use a lot of trial and error to find your individual solutions. Here are some suggestions which work for a lot of people.                                                  

Read social stories with your child
Social stories are short, individualized stories that give a child perspective on, and understanding of, a confusing social situation, using a familiar construct. The stories provide ideas and suggestions for what your child could do in that situation, while acknowledging your child’s possible confusion or other overwhelming response. They are meant to be re-read frequently so the child becomes accustomed to the concept, internalizes the ideas and suggestions, and thus is prepared to use them in real life. In essence, they give your child the control and tools s/he needs to cope.

When you encounter a situation from a story, you can give your child a cue, asking, for example, “Do you remember what Max did in the story about taking turns?”

Encourage flexibility
If your child is resisting a change in the schedule, or moving on to something else, your job is to redirect his or focus to the new activity or place. Speak animatedly and with enthusiasm to try to engage your child’s interest.

Once you can get your child to do at least one small part of the new activity with you, give him or her high praise for success, even if you did most of it. You are building behavior momentum by getting the ball rolling with small successes and your child will continue going, reinforced by the positive response and praise you give.

Teach your child self-regulation concepts
When your child is young, you can provide a lot of help regulating his or her behavior. But as your child grows, she needs to learn how to independently manage her own emotions, attention, and behavior. Your job here is to guide, to impart what you learn by observation and trial and error, so you share with your child what makes him tick and what ticks him off.
 
Ease transitions so they don’t take your child by surprise and trigger a meltdown
– Give advance warnings (“Five more minutes and then we go home!”) of changes and stick to them
– Use visual timers, sand timers or auditory timers
– Use transition toys or objects
– Use visual schedules
– First-then (either visual or verbal)
– Reward/sticker charts
– Give advance notice of even small changes to routine in order to mitigate anxiety
 
Experiment with alternative treatments to complement conventional ones

For example, therapeutic body brushing is a specific program with a surgical brush, often used on children (not infants) who overreact to touch.

The technique is very specific and needs to be performed correctly in order for it to have a positive effect on your child. It is important to note that you would need to learn it from your occupational therapist; this is not a program to begin on your own or by watching YouTube tutorials.

The OT, and eventually, you, uses a particular non-scratching surgical brush, making firm, brisk movements over most of your child’s body, especially the arms, legs, hands, back and soles of the feet. Following the brushing, the OT/you performs deep joint compressions. This process is performed six to eight times a day, for three to five minutes at a time, and is gradually reduced as your child’s response to touch normalizes.

In summary
You want to use, and teach your child to use, strategies that reduce the anxiety that surrounds situational challenges, new situations, changes in routine, and transitions from task to task or place to place, etc. 

Looking ahead:
In upcoming posts, we will discuss different types of therapies that can make a difference in the life of a sensory child: play, movement, art, and/or music therapy; the sensory diet (hint: it’s not about food!); as well as strategies and tips you can use at home, at school, and in public situations to make life easier — for your child and for you.

Have you developed any special or unusual tactics that work for you and your family? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Also, let me know there or via email what topics you would like to discuss or hear more about.

Feel free to share or quote from this blog (with attribution, please, and if possible, a link), and to repost on social media.

I look forward to hearing from you!

 
 

All the best,
Miriam

About Miriam:
Miriam Skydell MS, OTR/L is a pediatric OT with 30 years experience and a strong commitment to empowering every child and every family with the skills, confidence and emotional stability necessary for a meaningful, independent life. In addition to her Masters degree from NYU (1986) and membership in the AOTA (American Occupational Therapy Association), Miriam is a licensed Interactive Metronome®,  HWT (Handwriting Without Tears®), and TLP (The Listening Program®) provider.

Miriam performs preschool screenings, contracts experienced OTs, PTs and STs to schools, helped implement the HWT curriculum, and lectures extensively for parent and support groups and at teacher conferences for public and private schools throughout New Jersey. Through her private practice in Fair Lawn, Miriam Skydell and Associates, established in 1995, Miriam has helped countless children with a wide range of diagnoses improve functional living skills, manage the impact of sensory processing dysfunction, and meet their individual potentials.

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