Tag

sensory overload

Is It Sensory? Or Is It Behavior?

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Julie Robinson, OT
Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

As parents or other caregivers of children with special needs, we can often find ourselves confused between what is a sensory response and what is behavior. Although this is often a complex question, and one without a straightforward answer, there are some tools of the trade that OTs use to help us determine just what is going on with these children. What makes this so complex is that each child is an individual, with their own unique ways of responding to sensory stimuli, to social interactions, and when out in varied settings in their community or with family. Children may also present differently from minute to minute or day to day, depending on sleep, hunger, and fluctuations in mood. But we can often look closely for patterns that may help to guide us in finding the answers.

When working with a child who seems to be in a meltdown, one of the best things you can do is take a quick scan of the environment. Is there a loud or distracting sound in the background? Did someone touch the child unexpectedly? Is the overall environment too busy and overstimulating, such as at party or a restaurant? Sometimes just naming or removing the stimuli, if possible, is enough to help get things back under control. If you know a triggering situation might arise that provokes a meltdown, see if you can give the child a warning and a plan of where to go for comfort. “We will be having a fire drill in 10 minutes, so when it happens you can hold _____’s hand, or we can get you some headphones to cover your ears to make you more comfortable” is one example. Find something soothing from a sensory perspective to help the child settle: a quiet corner with books, some tactile play or fidgets, calming music, a tight squeeze ( but only if tolerated and given permission to do so ). If you know you are entering a highly stimulating environment, it may be best to go in for short periods, with frequent breaks built in for your child every 10 minutes or so to take a walk, use the bathroom, or get a drink.

If you do not see something sensory in your environment creating the discomfort or the meltdown, then behavior and emotions are more likely at play. You child may feel confused about a social interaction, about expectations, or what may be coming next in a transition. Your child may feel a lack of confidence or anxiety in a situation, that although may be seemingly simple and straight forward to you, may not to him or to her. An academic task may feel misunderstood, and not knowing how to start can result in a meltdown for many of our children.

When you see that the child you are caring for is beginning to ramp up, that is the best time to intervene. Once a meltdown has begun, language processing will be limited, and the child may not be reachable for a period of time in order to settle down. The best thing you can do in those moments, is to help the child to stop. I often use a stop sign to hold up in my therapy sessions, that cues the child to take a quick break from interacting with me when I see things starting to spin out of control. I limit my language, provide a calming sensory activity, then we can talk about the upset once I have the child back in my court.

Here are some things to think about and questions you might ask yourself to help guide your interactions and expectations when you, as the adult, are confused about whether this is sensory or behavior:

  1. What are the undesirable behaviors that my child observes when he or she is upset or uncomfortable? Are they different when there is sensory discomfort, in comparison to when he or she is upset with a person or a demand? Notice quality of voice, bodily tension, inability to stay still or focused, aggression, flight or an attempt to get away, shutdown or inability to interact. You may start to see patterns in behavior when you look at them in relation to a sensory event or something that is more emotionally-laden.
  2. What occurred just before this behavior appeared? Was there a sensory distraction or discomfort or was he or she upset with a person or a demand?
  3. How did the child behave during this episode?
  4. How did adults or peers interact with my child during the episode? Did it calm the child, or make him or her more agitated?
  5. List sensations that may have triggered a meltdown: tactile, auditory, visual, smell, taste, movement. Were they loud, distracting, uncomfortable? Was the child in a space that may have been too small or too large? Was the child able to get away from the uncomfortable stimuli, or did he or she feel stuck in the moment?

It will be beneficial for team members to share information and write these things down, perhaps in a format of a journal, so that the team can work together to uncover the patterns, find strategies that are successful, and provide consistency across the board. We all know consistency for these children is one of the most effective tools for learning, and although it may take some extra work up front for caregivers, the pay off on the other side is often so rewarding that it is worth the effort.

If you would like to explore this topic further with NESCA OT Julie Robinson, join us for a free webinar on this topic on September 13, 2021 at 10:30 am ET. Register in advance for this webinar at:

https://nesca-newton.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_-edHNIwkRBKnjk0gq6-bUw

 

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services or other clinical therapies, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Mind the Gap: Why You Should Consider Summer OT and Speech Services at NESCA

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Julie Robinson, OT
Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

It has been a challenging school year, with ever-changing schedules, routines, and unfortunately with a good deal of inconsistency in the provision of therapeutic services through the schools, due to the many impacts of COVID. Parents, caregivers and students have all experienced differing levels of anxiety about what progress has been and is being made, with many children experiencing some level of regression with regard to behavior, self-regulation, motor skills or language development. In anticipation of many of our children returning to school in-person in April, parents have expressed concerns that their children may be lagging behind or that they have not had ample support throughout the earlier parts of their school year to ensure they can keep up with the other children in their class. Over the months of April, May and June, we will all get to see firsthand where the gaps might arise. And then when school is over, many of us might be concerned that the gains of just a few short months will be lost again over summer. This is why those of us at NESCA perceive that the benefits of summer services will be an important part of ensuring progress and the ability to jump right back into learning – as we hope all school will be in-person again in the fall.

NESCA is available to provide summer services, as we do consistently for our weekly patients. In addition, we are offering short-term services to those children who may not qualify for them through their school systems, or for those families who would simply like to supplement what their children are receiving in-district to give them a boost before school begins again in the fall.

Our occupational therapists (OTs) can work on the following areas of focus with your child:

  • self-regulation and coping skills
  • how best to transition from the quiet of home to the multiple stimuli of a classroom full of children
  • how to cope with longer hours of wearing a mask
  • how to follow social distancing requirements, when they long for a closer physical connection with their peers

We can also help to ease the anxiety some children may have about becoming sick or how NOT to feel fearful of getting back into the classroom when sensory processing issues push them to feel uneasy. Our OTs can continue work on handwriting and motor development work started throughout the school year to ensure there is no regression or to improve the speed and automaticity of written expression and legibility. We can teach organizational and executive functioning skills to encourage kids to be independent, prioritize assignments and manage their time. OTs can address self-care skills of dressing, shoe tying, feeding and hygiene, which are likely to require more independence with social distancing requirements. While it’s summer, we help build outdoor skills, such as bike riding and greater self-confidence on the playground to elicit more social connections with peers. Our OTs are providing services in-person in our Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts clinics, by teletherapy or outdoors in the community as appropriate.

Our speech therapists at NESCA can also help to continue and supplement the hard work children have been putting in throughout the school year. They can work on social pragmatics and help with the skills needed to transition from so much time alone, to being in groups with their peers once again. NESCA’s speech therapists can support children on how to:

  • initiate play
  • find shared interests
  • be flexible thinkers
  • communicate with kindness and an appropriate level of voice
  • read gestures and non-verbal communication (especially while wearing masks, which can impede the ability to properly read another person’s mood, reactions or emotions)

We can continue to work on the established goals from school, regarding both expressive and receptive communication, language articulation and language as it pertains to written communication. Our speech therapists are currently providing all services via teletherapy while we work on a transition back to in-person therapy.

If you are interested in seeking out summer services at NESCA, or any of our assessments and services, please contact NESCA’s Director of Clinical Services Julie A. Robinson. She can be reached at jrobinson@nesca-newton.org and will conduct a phone intake with you to help you best determine your needs.

 

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services or other clinical therapies, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Getting Through Thanksgiving Day

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi, OTD, OTR/L

Occupational Therapist, NESCA

Setting Expectations

Thanksgiving may be different this year, but it can still be a long day full of sensory stimulation, new social interactions and possibly unfamiliar faces and experiences. By providing clear expectations, this can help prepare the child for upcoming events, minimize surprises and set the child up for success. Talk openly about events, review pictures of anticipated people/events, and/or watch a video describing an experience beforehand. Use a calendar or visual schedule at home to display the sequence of upcoming holiday events. A social story is a great tool to prep the child for the day (Lewis, 2016).

Open CommunicationBeing transparent with family members/friends can allow for greater understanding and a more positive experience for those involved. Help those present understand if there are certain obstacles/triggers that can be avoided, or if there are particular tools/language that can be incorporated throughout the day (Lewis, 2016).

Devotion of TimeFor parents, we know that much of Thanksgiving is devoted to cooking and meal preparation. Make sure to communicate with family members beforehand about the plan for the day. Will there be other children or adults around to play with the child, or should my child be expected to play independently if I am occupied? If so, have a few preferred toys/activities accessible. Or involve the child in the meal preparation process as appropriate.

Consider the Environment

How will your family be celebrating Thanksgiving or other holidays this year – in-person or virtually?

In-personFestivities this year may take place with modifications. Will it be less crowded this year? Will events be taking place in a different set-up this year (outside, in the garage, socially distanced)? If so, prepare your child by communicating expected changes beforehand.

  • Is my child expected to wear a mask or keep a distance from others? If so, use a social story or designate a “code word” to act as a reminder for proper mask/social distancing etiquette. Allow the child to practice wearing a mask beforehand. Model expected behavior (Lewis, 2016). Provide mask breaks as appropriate.

VirtuallyWith current social distancing guidelines, Thanksgiving interactions may instead take place virtually. If possible, it can be helpful to make children aware of this change beforehand. Many children may experience difficulty attending to a Zoom call. Here are some tips to help:

  • Provide a tool to help with heightened arousal: fidget toy, squeeze ball, putty, fidget band (at feet), chewing gum/oral tool, etc.
  • Consider the environment: Eliminate distractions as much as possible (visual plus auditory), ensure adequate lighting and proper seating, etc.
  • Rehearse events beforehand, identifying potential “rough spots” and positive coping strategies (Lewis, 2016). Proactively establish talking points if helpful.
  • Establish guidelines for both the beginning and end of a videocall. Use a timer if necessary.

Sensory EnvironmentThanksgiving Day will likely be full of stimulation for the senses: sight, smell, touch, sound and taste.

  • Food sensitivity: Many children may experience sensitivities to food textures, tastes or smells. Ensure access to “safe,” or preferred foods beyond traditional Thanksgiving dishes. If attending a celebration outside of the home, make sure to pack a few options for meals/snacks. For children who experience sensitivity to smell, consider bringing a comfortable nose plug.
  • Sensory overload: Ensure access to calming tools in the case that overstimulation, or sensory overload, occurs. Some options include a weighted or compression vest/blanket, chewy, squeeze ball, pushing/pulling activities, noise canceling headphones or a mini trampoline for a movement break. Create a calming jar with the child beforehand. Ensure that the child has a safe space they can go to, such as a dark, quiet room, when feeling overwhelmed. For children who may experience challenges self-regulating, help to guide the child in identifying states of arousal before a meltdown occurs. Use visuals as needed.

 

References

Lewis, K. S. (2016). Full Inclusion Holidays: An SLP offers tips to prepare clients for a season full of social and sensory stimuli—and people who may not understand their communication and behavioral challenges. The ASHA Leader21(12), 52-56.

 

About the Author

Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts with experience in both school-based and outpatient pediatric settings. Maddie received her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science/Kinesiology at The College of Charleston in South Carolina and  earned her Doctorate degree in Occupational Therapy from The MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston.

Maddie is a passionate therapist with professional interest in working with young children with neurodevelopmental disorders, fine and gross motor delays and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.