We interrupt your regularly-scheduled programming
We’re going to take a short break from discussing how to ease transitions in general for sensory children, and focus specifically on how to handle the crisis around us.
Quarantine: a recipe for sensory overload
The whole family! Home all the time! Chaos! Noise! Bright lights! A maelstrom of emotions ranging from excitement to aggression to depression to anxiety! No escaping to the playground! Routines are different or non-existent!
That sounds like a bad dream to anyone, right? But from your sensory child’s perspective, it’s even worse. She’s scared — all these changes, and they all happened at once, with no preparation.
Adapting the recipe: the quarantine routine
Changes in routine may upset your child at the best of times, and this is far from the best. So you want to create a routine that is as close as possible to your sensory child’s normal routine and try to stick to it as closely as you can. It’s okay if it’s not exact — it can’t possibly be; with no ‘outside,’ there are no playground breaks, no school, etc.
Any routine you create will be calming. Every child with Sensory Processing Disorder needs and thrives on structure and predictability.
If your child attends school and has online school now, that’s already a big help in establishing a new routine. If he has no online school, you can include learning time in your schedule at your own pace.
Every family’s schedule will look different, but a ‘typical’ schedule will most likely have a wake-up time, lunch time, snack times, sensory break times, dinner time, bedtime, (and screen time if that is part of your child’s life). Using that as a framework, you can designate the larger chunks of the day for education and/or activities such as “arts and crafts,” “playing in the yard,” “reading,” “cooking or baking,” “school” (if your child is in online school now) or your own lesson plans).
Establishing a new norm
If your child is old enough, involve her in creating the schedule — the more control she has over the changed situation, the better she’ll cope.
Put up the schedule in a visible location so your child always knows what to expect. For an older child, you’ll write it out, and for a younger child you can use pictures or visuals so your pre-reader can see what comes next in the day. Your child can use a dry erase marker or stickers to cross off each activity.
Be sure to keep the activity times flexible: you don’t want to lock yourself down to precisely “10 am to 10:30 am finger painting” — you don’t know which project is going to be so much fun that you haven’t allocated enough time to it, and, conversely, which project is going to tank spectacularly and be abandoned in ten minutes when you’ve allotted an hour. If you structure your schedule along the lines of “Morning: arts and crafts with two movement breaks,” you can go along with whatever is engaging your child.
When following the schedule, be sure to give your child a three-minute warning before transitions. You can use your phone timer; let the timer be the ‘bad guy’ rather than you.
In addition to transition warnings, movement and sensory breaks are also key.
It’s survival of the fittest — and here’s how to stay fit
You’ve got to move it, move it …
You need to build regular movement into your child’s day so you head off problems before they happen — expend that excess energy before it explodes. Here are some easy, instant action breaks your child can take in your home or yard:
— Jump on a trampoline
— Run an obstacle course you create with household items to crawl under, over, around and through
— Crash into couch pillows which you have placed on the floor
Once your child has gotten some energy out, you can begin transitioning to a calmer state. Here are some ideas for ways to do that:
— Have your child stand quietly and count to 10 before each crash. This helps with self-regulation (going from calm to excited and back again) and helps decrease overstimulation.
— Make a hammock out of a sheet and put your child in the middle. Pretend it’s a washing machine and swish the ‘laundry’ back and forth and side to side. Slow the machine down at the end of the cycle.
…and sometimes you’ve got to stop moving it…
Sometimes your child needs quiet breaks to lower his sensory load. You can use pillows and blankets to create an area for him to relax, cool down and become calm. Put stuffed animals, squishy balls and textured toys in this area. If he enjoys reading or looking at picture books, you can equip his special quiet place with a small bin of books which you may want to change occasionally so they keep his interest.
…and sometimes you’ve got to squish it
Your child also needs tactile sensory breaks, or longer periods of time with tactile activities. Here are a few ideas for shorter breaks:
— Play with play dough
— Sift through a box you have filled with rice and/or beans to find small objects which you hid there
— Finger paint with shaving cream
A few words to the wise:
— When you plan your child’s schedule, keep your schedule in mind too. Don’t schedule activities your child needs a lot of help with at times when you aren’t available to help.
— Do schedule ‘thinking’ work or schoolwork for times when your child is most responsive, perhaps right after an exercise break.
— Do keep using the strategies which you have previously determined help your child cope. The familiarity alone will be helpful in stressful times, and the techniques are already proven. At the same time, keep in mind that different strategies may work at different times, which is why you need a lot of strategies in your backpack.
Fun activities while living in captivity
Being inside doesn’t mean you don’t get to have fun. Here are some ideas for easy, everyday fun activities to shake things up and get you all in a good mood:
— Turn on the music and have a dance party
— Get into bathing suits and have a pool party in the bathtub
— Spread out a picnic blanket and have lunch in the den
— Tack up paper from a large roll to an empty wall, cover the floor in front of it, and paint a mural
— Look for kid-friendly routines online and have an exercise party
— Play bird songs, ocean wave or rain forest sounds, find some props and an appropriate book or video, and “take a trip” to an exotic locale
— Drape a blanket over chairs or other handy furniture and camp out in the living room
— Play a movie on the largest screen you have, pop popcorn, and make it movie night
— Create a scavenger hunt
— Grab some art supplies and your imaginations and turn an empty carton into a habitat for one or more small toy animal figures
— Have a costume or dress-up party — encourage your child to create costumes out of old clothes and household items, the wackier the better
Resources to help you be resourceful
If you run out of inspiration at home, do not panic! Many organizations are offering virtual services for free, everything from movies and TV shows to music, exercise classes, games, and much more. For example, most museums and many zoos have virtual tours and also offer kids activities online. You can borrow books online from the library to read to your child on your tablet, and audiobooks for when you get tired of reading out loud.
Plus, here are some sites which have compiled links to lots of fun stuff.
is an amazing resource with links to tons of free activities for special needs kids
is great for meal planning tips and tricks as well as free online resources
has a lot of ideas aimed at toddlers and, as they say on their page, older kids will find some of them fun as well
We’ll discuss more survival tips in the next post. I hope and pray that you are all staying safe, healthy, and inside.
How are you coping during the pandemic? 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!