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Stimming and Special Needs: The Good, The Bad and the Flappy

child making stimming motionsHow do you react when when your dog greets you at the door with a wagging tail or your cat cuddles up to you and purrs loudly? You might think it’s cute or that the animal is just expressing its feelings. Do you ever get angry? do you ever think your pet is acting weird? Of course not, it’s just the natural way they use body language or their voice box.

Now think about how most people react to a child having a tantrum, kicking and screaming. How do people respond when a child with special needs is flapping their hands, spinning a toy car’s wheels or banging their head against a wall. Some people get downright angry about these behaviors, especially when they happen in public. But the child is just expressing his or herself, using the body language and sound that come naturally. While some of these may be harmless, many of these behaviors may be considered annoying or distracting and others can be downright dangerous.

Let’s go back to our beloved pets. A puppy naturally needs to chew, so it finds a shoe and chews it to bits. The puppy isn’t trying to destroy your property or do anything to harm you personally, it is just a teething baby that needs to chew. A good pet owner will simply hide all the shoes and introduce chew toys, substituting a more appropriate way to fulfill the puppy’s need to chew. A cat needs to scratch, it is simply instinct as well as a way to mark territory and sharpen claws. Unless the human wants shredded furniture it’s a good idea to provide a scratching post and train the cat to use it instead of the couch to satisfy its need to scratch.

So how can we allow our special needs kids to express themselves without getting injured or doing damage to themselves or to property? Just like with our animal companions, we substitute a more appropriate behavior that satisfies the same need.

  • If a child seems to need to jump, a small trampoline might be just the ticket.
  • If a child needs to chew, fashionable chew-able accessories are available.
  • As for hand-flapping, if it is an expression of happiness or excitement and it is not injuring the child, anyone else or anyone’s property then why change it?

Photo provided by Kfagan6; CC license

Top 5 Holiday Tips for Children with Special Needs

All kids can get overstimulated from time to time. The holidays, with its bright lights, loud sounds and crowds can be particularly tough on kids. Children with special needs may have even more difficulty during the celebratory season. Dawn Grosvenor, mom to a special needs teen and founder of Hopelights Media, has written a wonderful article to help families with special needs children manage the holidays with minimal upset and hopefully, maximum joy:

HOPELights™ Holiday Top Five Tips for Children With Special Needs

Studies show there are over 10 million families in the U.S. that have children with special needs who experience some form sensory processing dysfunction, making all children special this holiday season

Holidays are a busy time of year, full of activity from people to places that can easily over stimulate Holidays can be fun...not scarychildren, especially those with special needs. A 2022 report by the Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found 14 million U.S. children in the have special healthcare needs, or nearly twenty percent of all U.S. children. More than one-fifth of U.S. households with children have at least one child with special needs. HOPELights holiday tips are designed to aid the families that love and support special needs children—having guidance on high-sensory events like the upcoming holidays are critical.

“This means millions of children in the United States have some sort of challenge with things like loud noises, environmental or event transitions, crowds, sensitivities to taste or touch just to name a few,” said Dawn Grosvenor, founder of HOPELight Media. “Which is why putting special emphasis on how to help children and their families through the holiday hustle and bustle is critical in ensuring they have a positive, healthy and loving interaction with friends and family. Holidays should be cherished and foster positive memories that last a lifetime. ”

HopeLights Holiday Top Five Tips for Children With Special Needs:

 

  1. Make a Visual Schedule – Many children are used to routine, structure and consistency, but much of this is lost during the holidays. If your child can see it coming for days, hours and minutes before it happens, transitions from place to place or even events in your own home will be more welcoming to your child.
  2. Identify “Anchor” or Transition Items – Most children have an attachment to a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, toy or other item. Make sure your child has his or her favorites nearby especially if you are traveling. Let them carry a special bag of their favorite goodies. It is a little piece of home and helps them feel grounded and secure.
  3. Establish Warm Up Times and Personal Space Parameters – Holidays bring in visitors or not-so-familiar faces that your child only sees once or twice a year. It is important these visitors give your child time to warm up and re-establish a connection. Great Aunt Betty may not be familiar right away, but she will be rewarded with a warm interaction 20 minutes or so into her visit if Aunt Betty and your child are prepared for the event.
  4. Create and Communicate Code Words – Special needs or not, every child hits a melting point. Too many people, too many presents, skipping or moving a nap time can lead to the uncomfortable fit. As a parent, we can sometimes see these coming or at the very least we can intervene at the beginning. Talk with your family members before everyone gets together and establish a “Code Word” and ask them to help when you say this word or phrase. It can be as simple as “Houston, we have a problem.” By establishing code words with friends and relatives, this lets them know when you and your child need a private moment. You will be amazed how well they understand and cooperate without hurt feelings and it takes the pressure off of you.
  5. Set Your Own Expectations in Advance – As parents we sometimes expect too much of ourselves, and put even more expectations on the “perfect” holiday. Remember you are only one person with only one goal, to love your children and ensure they are safe and happy this holiday season. Create your own To-Do lists and schedule plenty of time between events and preparation of visitors so you are not rushing through the holiday, but savoring each moment.

What Does Independence Mean For Your Special Needs Child?

Girl and Dad Watch FireworksAs you gear up to celebrate The Fourth of July, take a moment to think about the idea of independence. How far has your special needs child come thus far? How many things can he or she do independently now that seemed out of reach a while ago? No matter how small, be sure to celebrate each speck of progress. And the next. And the next. Eventually those specks can build something amazing. There was a time when everything my daughter touched would be knocked down, dropped or spilled. Today she has a good 95% success rate!

Take a moment to look to the future. What short and long term goals do you hope your child will achieve toward independence? Now may be the time to start planning for the next phase of your child’s life, the next transition. Will your child be able to live on their own? Are there group homes in your area? If they will be at home, what are the ground rules? I dread the day my daughter starts talking about dating…but not as much as her father is dreading it!

Independence can also be interpreted as freedom. What freedom has your child been able to master? It is hard for any parent to release control of their child and watch them become their own person. How much of the leash have you been able to let out? Of course it’s heartbreaking to watch your child fail or fall, but that is part of learning. Let them pick themselves up (figuratively or literally) and encourage them to try again. Sure, it would be easier and faster if I did my daughter’s chores for her, but I hope that some day she will be on her own. She may never want to do any of it, but one day – for whatever reason – I won’t be there to do it for her so she should at least know how to do it.

If you need some tips, check out my article about making fireworks more manageable for special needs kids from last year on Pediatric Safety.

What will independence mean for your child?

7 Reasons a Pet is Good For Your Special Needs Kid

Boy and Dog in grass1. Kids love animals. Animals make kids happy.

2. Pets can be calming. Petting a dog, listening to the purr of a cat or just gazing at a fish tank can lower blood pressure and stress levels, according to WebMD.

3. The chores involved with caring for a pet can help teach kids responsibility and empathy as well as help the child feel productive.

4. The physical acts involved with caring for a pet can be therapeutic as long as they match the child’s abilities. Stretching to brush a dog is much more rewarding than stretching in gym class! Work with your child’s physical therapist to see which movements can be combined with therapy goals. Chore charts for pet care also help with organization and remembering sequences.

5. Pets don’t see disabilities. They don’t care if a child looks or sounds different from other kids.

6. Pets are friends. They listen to books, even if the words are not pronounced very well. They also listen to problems and are very good at keeping secrets.

7. They may help kids stay healthy. Children who have a pet in their home are less likely to have allergies or asthma.

Choose the correct pet for your situation and lifestyle. Even if you end up doing most of the work involved with owning a pet, your child will gain so much by having an animal in the household.

Senseez Pillows: Vibration to Relax, Calm & Soothe Little Bodies

senseez logo -smallMy name is Stephanie Mitelman. I am a Mom and I created the Senseez Pillows. The name Senseez means to ease the senses… Let me tell you the story of how Senseez was born…

When my son was 2, he was diagnosed with a special need. One of his difficulties was sitting in one place long enough to eat his meal, read a story, or sit for circle time.

I spoke to an occupational therapist who recommended a vibrating mat to help with this.I bought one for my son, and he instantly loved the sensations!

But one day, I wanted to take him to our local library for story telling, and though the mat would help… it was large, black, heavy, and had to be plugged in. I was also concerned about my son looking different or standing out with this large mat.

So I went on a search to find a small, lightweight, portable pillow that would offer the same sensations that he could take with him. I couldn’t find one!

So Senseez was born!

Senseez are colorful, lightweight, fun shaped vinyl pillows that offer a gentle vibration when they are squeezed or sat on. They operate on batteries and have a small pouch inside that can vibrate to offer sensations to relax, calm or soothe the body. They’re small enough to take anywhere and are made just for little bums!

Painting on a Senseez pillow

Kids that have trouble sitting for meals, stories, car rides, shopping trips, school work, movies, or anything else will be comforted by the vibrations of Senseez. Kids that have trouble falling asleep will enjoy the relaxing sensations.

The original prototypes were sewn in the basement of our home! We made about 25 pillows by hand, and distributed them throughout schools and therapy centers in our area. Since Senseez was created to be taken everywhere and to be used by multiple children, we used a vinyl material, since it is considered to be the most hygienic and easiest to keep clean. The vinyl is also water resistant. We also created a Senseez furry option for children who would like more tactile input.

After we got some feedback, we hired an engineer to perfect the vibrating mechanism we needed. Once that was complete, we had the pillows tested by Canadian standards for lead, small parts and flammability.

We then connected with an importer who handled the production. Our first order was for 600 pillows. Once the word started getting out, we sold out within 9 months!

In April 2013, we were also invited to do a taping on the Dragon’s Den television show. Today, we have 14 different distributors across Canada and the US, and the pillows are now being used across schools, therapy centers and many homes! The feedback we get is so positive, and the ways in which the pillows are being used is so inspiring. Here is an example:

I wanted to share a positive story regarding your Senseez Pillows. I gave one of the pillows to my client who is part of our deaf blind program. Although she is very fluent in hand over hand sign language as well as Braille, she struggles a lot with expressive communication. We have been working closely with her to initiate requests, preferences, feelings…..communication in general. The pillow was introduced during a session as a sensory aid with vibration. She immediately started hugging the pillow and placing it behind her back ……all while signing the word “happy”.

While her expressive communication still remains a struggle, she is now on a regular basis asking for the “vibrating pillow”. She has created a sign that meshes together the words vibrate and pillow, which she independently will communicate to others!

It’s a huge break through!!!!!! It is the first time that she has communicated a want.

Needless to say, we will be needing some more pillows 🙂

Research shows that vibrational therapy has been used for many years in many different forms. Some children require the vibrations to help calm their bodies, while other children just enjoy the way it feels!

We are thrilled that our pillow is helping children, parents, teachers and therapists!

HEALTHFUL HINTS

Tips for working with children who have difficulty sitting in one place for any length of time:

  1. Some children do best with time limits. Let the child know how long they will have to sit for. A start and finish time can help. i.e: sit for 3 minutes to finish snack.
  2. Sometimes using a visual timer can help. Visual timers are available at most special needs stores.
  3. When training a child to sit for a period of time, start small and the build it up. One minute, goes to two, then five etc…
  4. It is okay to use outside reinforcers during this process. Children respond well to rewards, like their favorite treats. You want to build in a reward at the beginning and it won’t be long before long they won’t need it anymore.
  5. It is also okay to use other distractors like TV or iPad in the beginning. We want to calm the child during this hard task. For some children, TV and iPad can help reduce the anxiety of staying one place may cause. After a while, the distraction won’t be needed either.
  6. And you will need to verbally prompt at the beginning. Prompting is giving a gentle reminder about what the child is supposed to be doing, and reinforcing it when they do.
  7. It is always important to reinforce the good behavior (when they do sit in one place), and not only discuss when they don’t.
  8. And lastly, some children enjoy different sensations to help soothe their senses. Vibrations are helpful. Other sensations could be a weighted vest or blanket, or something that offers compression.

Note: Each child is different and you will have to experiment with what works with your child!

Check-Out What Movies are Sensory Friendly this Month at AMC

New sensory friendly logoSince 2007, AMC Entertainment (AMC) and the Autism Society have teamed up to bring families affected by autism and other special needs “Sensory Friendly Films” every month – a wonderful opportunity to enjoy fun new films in a safe and accepting environment. This Saturday, December 10th, Strange World is Sensory Friendly at AMC.

Enjoy the magic of the movies in an environment that’s a little quieter and a little brighter. We turn the lights up, and the sound down, so you can get up, dance, walk, shout or even sing! Families will be able to bring in snacks to match their child’s dietary needs (i.e. gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), there are no advertisements or previews before the movie and AMC’s “Silence is Golden®” policy will not be enforced during movie screenings unless the safety of the audience is questioned.

Does it make a difference? Absolutely! Imagine …no need to shhhhh your child. No angry stares from other movie goers. Strange World Movie PosterMany parents think twice before bringing a child to a movie theater. Add to that your child’s special needs and it can easily become cause for parental panic. But on this one day a month, for this one screening, everyone is there to relax and have a good time, everyone expects to be surrounded by kids – with and without special needs – and the movie theater policy becomes “Tolerance is Golden“.

Families can view a sensory friendly screening of Strange World on Saturday December 10th. Tickets are typically discounted depending on the location. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this fabulous program (note: to access full list, please scroll to the bottom of the page).

COMING TO AMC SENSORY FRIENDLY IN DECEMBER:
Devotion (Wed. Dec. 14th) and Avatar: The Way of Water (Wed. Dec. 28th)

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Editor’s note: Although Strange World has been chosen by the AMC and the Autism Society as this month’s Sensory Friendly Film, we do want parents to know that it is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for action/peril and some thematic elements. As always, please check the IMDB Parents Guide for a more detailed description of this film to determine if it is right for you and your family.

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