Before Ethan was even diagnosed with Autism or Asperger's, we got the diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder. Sensory Processing Disorder is a neurological disorder, a virtual traffic jam of the brain. Information from all the senses are misinterpreted which can cause the child to misbehave. After receiving that diagnosis and starting to receive occupational therapy, we were taught several strategies to help his behavior at school. The best strategy being to stop the negative behavior before it started. We figured out the negative behaviors were due to over-stimulation and he simply was unable to tell us, or did not understand what was happening.
This is a bubble seat that we would put in his chair or he could move it to the carpet during story time. The cushion had little bumps on the surface and it was almost like he had to balance himself on it...that core work would somehow organize his brain and help him concentrate on his work or the story or whatever they were doing as a class. He used that from his preschool class up until the middle of 2nd grade when he told me he did not need it anymore. We just keep it at home now in one of the kitchen chairs that he sits in. But it was worth every penny I spent on it!
These are fidget toys. There are many different ones out there and they size, shape and type you buy will really depend on your child and what your child's teacher will allow them to have. We have had several different ones over the years. The first ones we had were like these. I think we got them at Cracker Barrell. He liked them because they were wooden and there was a string that ran up through the middle and you had to find the exact way to twist and bend them. We have also used squishy balls, balls that the eyes popped out, and things that are sticky and squeezy. It is really a personal thing and again, what the teacher will allow them to have.
This is a sign we printed up that the teacher would place on his desk when she would see him not paying attention. It tell him "STOP-What are you doing? What should you be doing?" We felt this was a better way to redirect him than to constantly have to call his name out. Since he is severely ADHD and at the time he was just start medication and we had not quite found the right dosage, his teachers were sensitive to the way his peers saw him. They did not want the other children to see him as the "bad kid." We also used a red card/green card system....just putting a red card on his desk when he was getting frustrated with his work as a sign to stop working and wait for the teacher or a green card as a sign that he needs to get to work. That also worked well.
Chair dips were a great way to work off some excess energy or frustration. Several of his teachers would just have the whole class do them. They work for all kids...and adults!
The same goes for Wall push-ups. Sometimes, he would do these when they came back from lunch. That would be a time when he was really over stimulated and really the whole class would be. All of them enjoyed the times that they got to participate with Ethan in these exercises.
By trial and error, we found that when it was time for his class to walk in a line, the best place for him to be was in the back. At the time, he was really into trains, so we would tell him that he was the caboose. Occasionally, he could be the engine...but he couldn't stand to be in the middle...so the caboose was best. He relished the job of making sure all the "cars," or kids, stayed in a row, the doors were shut, and lights were out. It was a very serious job for him!
Another strategy we found was the heavy backpack. We kept a backpack at school and loaded it down with books. At the time, he probably weighed 40-something lbs? So, we probably put between 5-7 lbs. of books in the backpack and zipped it up. When they would go out to the playground, he would carry the backpack. When they would go to the lunchroom, he would carry the backpack. If he was on the verge of a meltdown, his teacher had arranged to have a crate of books waiting by her door and she would ask Ethan to carry it down the hall to another classroom. In that classroom was another crate of books and that teacher had already been told to ask Ethan to take those books back to his classroom. This act of carrying something heavy back and forth reorganized his brain so that by the time he got back to his classroom, whatever he was upset about, is already forgotten about and he can get back to work. It worked very well.
Still, our go to when he gets upset is always "take a deep breath!" I always tell him that the oxygen cannot get to his brain if he is not breathing. He usually will start to calm down if he will just start to breathe.
Another great strategy is to use just a basic exercise ball to sit on while doing homework. Like the bubble seat, it works their core which somehow reorganizes their brain which helps their concentration. I know that there are some schools and EC classes that allow therapy balls in their classrooms. Our school do not allow that yet, but maybe someday they will. It really did help Ethan in so many way, and the ball is so versatile, whether it is for sitting on to do homework, for bouncing on, or to roll back and forth to get that proprioception need that they have at times.
For more information about Sensory Processing Disorder:
- The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Processing Disorder, Roya Ostovar
- Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder, Lucy Miller
- The Out of Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder, Carol Kranowitz
- Parenting a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder: A Family Guide to Understanding and Supporting Your Sensory-Sensitive Child, Christopher Auer, Susan Blumberg, Lucy Miller
Do you have any strategies for home or school that have worked for your child? Are there any books that have helped you?