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Our MOST important job as the parents of sensory children is our job from the sidelines. We are the lead Cheerleaders for Team Nice and it’s a big role. Here are the Top 5 Team Nice Cheers:
* SHOWING UP IS A BIG WIN
We know the world is overwhelming to you. You often manage big feelings that don’t make sense and a body that doesn’t always do what you want it to do so when you show up each and everyday, that’s already a Big Win.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE EFFORT NOT THE OUTCOME
We know that simple things can often be harder for you. We witness how hard you work each and every day to show up and learn despite many external challenges. We are amazed by your effort.
* SMALL VICTORIES = BIG VICTORIES
We have come to learn how important small victories really are! A mastered task, an expression of a big feeling, taking a social risk, or a focused work session are big wins. You are amazing.
* YOUR WAY IS AS GOOD AS MY WAY
We have come to realize that we’re not all that different from you. We have a way of doing things that we think is valuable and important and so do you. We stand on the sidelines with verbal cues and visual guides to support your journey as needed. But our main job is to value your way as much as our own.
* YOU CAN DO IT
When we believe and say “You Can Do It”, it means today and everyday. We know that, just like everyone else, you are doing the best that you can everyday. And somedays it’s a much harder journey than others. We won’t give up – we know you can do it today and everyday.
We also know that we’ll have hard days too and we’re going to need to be our own cheerleaders and say the TEAM NICE Cheers to ourselves. But that just helps us understand that we’re all connected and all in this together. If we can learn these cheers for ourselves, we’ll be even better at cheering for you.
So let’s give three Cheers for TEAM NICE – here’s to Effort, Small Victories, and You ♥ ~
Sensory Organizing is about organizing and empowering daily life. When it comes to incorporating structure, routines, and visual aids into your home in a seamless fashion, there are some core tools that can support and enhance this process for you. Some of these tools come in handy for planned supports during challenging tasks or times of day and some tools come into play for those unexpected moments of need.
Here are my Top 7 Sensory Organizing Power Tools:
This to me is the #1 secret power tool. Small, portable (even for travel) and easy to whip out at a moment’s notice for a quick schedule, plan of attack, or routine. Added bonus – small magnetic whiteboards allow magnets to come into play to support routines and visual plans. For extra support, grab a plate stand to allow you to prop it up wherever you need it! One I love is the Quartet Dry Erase Board (8.5×11)
The clipboard is the perfect list holder but can slip into a homework bin or hang on a wall (on a 3M Temporary Hook – see below!). These can hold the homework plans or school or extra-curricular schedules for planning sessions.
Perfect for kids who need a more visual, step-by-step schedule for a task or time of day. Love the one from Lakeshore Learning – http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/ Has a bottom pocket to hold extra visual schedule slips. Bonus: Use the one side of visual strip of one routine and use the back side for another routine (for example:The front side is the morning routine and back side is the evening routine)
For me, Sensory Organizing is about bringing supports into life seamlessly and picture frames can help us do that. Anything from a fancier decorative frame to a simple acrylic frame will do the job.
I LOVE using a weekly magnetic whiteboard calendar to help organize time and prepare for upcoming experiences. Two examples that I love: 1) Board Dudes Aluminum Framed Weekly Magnetic Dry Erase Calendar (7.5×23) and, 2) Quartet Weekly Magnetic Dry Erase Calendar Combo (7.5×23).
Having the flexibility to hang wherever and whenever is key with Sensory Organizing and temporary hooks let us do that. Love the temporary, damage free, adhesive hooks from 3M Command – all sorts of sizes and styles – http://www.command.com
Nothing makes a visual routine come to life like picture images. A few options to help you have powerful images at your fingertips when you need them:
1)Take your own pictures of your real life items & tasks, pictures from magazines, stock photos, or draw some images with your child.
2) Image software like: Boardmaker – http://www.mayer-johnson.com/boardmaker-software/ Picture Exchange Communication System – http://www.pecsusa.com/ Do 2 Learn (can sign-up for an annual membership on Do 2 Learn!) – http://www.do2learn.com/
These Sensory Organizing Power Tools are the building blocks to creating structure, routines, and visual aids for your sensory child. Small changes with a few core Sensory Organizing Power Tools = Big impact for more peaceful days at home ~
Many of us come into sensory parenting with limited hands-on experience living with and supporting rigid, anxious, or distracted profiles. For many parents, one of the hardest pieces to journey through is learning how to live with and support strong emotions. The goal is not to be “in the strong emotions” with your sensory child but to be able to “be with” or “next to” your sensory child’s strong emotions in support.
Here are a few strategies to help you learn how to be with, not in, strong emotions:
– STAY IN OBSERVATION MODE
You know when you are watching a friend’s child and you find yourself in this great space of being able to observe and react without judgement or feeling? That’s where you need to be when your sensory child is in a place of strong emotions. Take a step back (physically and emotionally) because this emotional space is what allows you to be truly supportive.
– HAVE THE CURRENT LIST OF “POINT OF NO RETURN” TRIGGERS
Know the current list of “no return” triggers for your sensory child. There’s usually 2-3 things that, when emotions are high, will push your sensory child over the line. It can be sensory input that is overwhelming, certain verbal prompts, or tasks that are hard for them on a good day. Just know what they are and try to adopt an “off-limits” approach to them in periods of strong emotions.
– SOMETIMES GIVING IN = TRUE SUPPORT IN THE MOMENT
This can be the hardest shift for us parents. We have been raised to believe that giving into kids is wrong – that the parent is always right. But for sensory kids living with strong emotions, new rules do apply. Most likely, if your sensory child has gotten to the place of strong and unpredictable emotions, it’s too late to discuss, compromise, or negotiate. Letting your sensory child have what they need in an explosive episode can be the only thing that stops the spiral and gives your child the footing they need to get in control again.
– STRONG EMOTIONS = CALLING OUT FOR LOVE
Though it looks different when it’s anger or explosive behavior (especially in tweens or teens), strong emotions are no different than the child who has fallen and hurt themselves physically. We would have no problem helping a child who is physically hurt and it’s really no different than helping a child with strong emotions. If you need to cut out and frame a picture of a young child crying to help you remember this idea – do it.
– FOCUS ON SMALL SUCCESSES & TAKE AWAYS FOR THE NEXT TIME
Learning the parenting road of strong emotions takes practice – LOTS of practice. The important thing is to take a moment after an intense experience with your sensory child to acknowledge what you did better this time. Maybe you controlled your own emotions, maybe you were able to give your child space, or give them what they needed in the moment. Progress is in this arena can feel small but it actually REALLY BIG. So take some time to acknowledge it.
– KNOW THAT WE ARE ALL THE SAME
When it comes right down to it, we are the same as our sensory kids. When we are going through our own struggles, we just want to be loved and understood. When our sensory kids are in a place of strong emotions, they just want love and understanding. We might be on different roads but we’re all working towards the same goal. Remember that.
Strong emotions are real for many sensory kids and their families. With a few key parenting shifts and lots of practice, we can learn how to be with our sensory children and their strong emotions with love and understanding. Small changes with strong emotions for more peaceful days ~
For many of our sensory kids, the vague or abstract can be difficult for them to understand. This is can also be true around making plans or organizing outings. For some of us, taking a walk outside because it’s a beautiful day makes sense. But for some of our sensory kids, the “why”, “what’s the reason or the purpose” gets in the way. Thankfully, we can create Plans with Purpose to help us put the why and the purpose into our family activities, yearly traditions, and / or weekend outings.
PLANS WITH PURPOSE
The best way to demonstrate this is to give an example. I knew a sensory family whose goal was to do a weekly family activity but just taking a walk or taking a bike ride wasn’t at all exciting or making much sense to their sensory child. Here’s where you can bring in the purpose and tie in something fun and/or a fascination. Maybe your sensory child like planning routes or loves maps. And who doesn’t like ice cream? This was true for this sensory family so they had found their purpose. They called it Frozen Fridays.
Goal is to map out and hit most of the ice cream shops in a 30 mile radius over a 2 month period. Each week, tie in a bike ride that ends at the ice cream shop of the week.
1) Identify the ice cream shops.
2) Map out the ice cream shops, plan the order of the ice cream shop attacks, and look for an easy bike ride around the area.
3) Make a Ice Cream Shop Visual that maps out the weeks in your plan and hang in a central area at home.
4) You could even make a rating sheet that could be filled out after each ice cream shop with a vote for best ice cream shop at the end of the summer.
Why It Works:
1) It creates a purpose, a goal for the weekly bike rides.
2) Mapping out the ice cream shops and bike rides ties into a fascination for this particular sensory child.
3) There’s a built in weekly reward after the bike ride – Ice Cream!
4) There’s clear cut start and end to Frozen Fridays – when all the ice cream shops have been hit on the map, the project is over.
When we take some time to identify a goal we might have (more time together as a family), we can then come up with an activity, find a purpose / goal, and bring in some fascinations and fun. Plans with Purpose really comes down to one very important idea that everyone can understand – your way is as important as my way and I really just want to spend time with you. Simple changes for more peaceful, purposeful days ~
For people who are good at taking care of our sensory kids, we are often not very good a taking care of ourselves. This is the part that never gets talked about but it is as important (if not more important!) as all the things we do to support our sensory children.
Here’s my top 10 Self-Care To Do List (with a few book suggestions mixed in):
1) YOU JUST DID THE HARDEST PART Just by having the courage to say you need help right now, you have already shifted the dynamics of your experience.
2) WHAT YOU ARE FEELING IS NORMAL Know that all that you are feeling is completely normal and comes with the special needs territory!! We have an amazing ability to feel like we are the only ones going through something, but we’re not. Know that.
3) WE ARE HIGHLY SENSITIVE TOO! 9 times out of 10, us parents are very sensitive also. This sensitivity can be something we’ve always had or can be the result of navigating life with a special needs child. The more we can understand and support what overwhelms us, what we need help with, the better for our sensory kids (they can feed off our energy so easily!). So let me remove any guilt for you about taking time for yourself – it will undoubtedly help your kids. When I am in a rough spot – I do the worksheet that is in my book (meant to help us understand our kids) to understand where I am, what are my triggers right now, and what times of day are pushing me over the edge and I try to add in 2-3 things for me, for my emotional regulation. 2 Books I love about understanding our own Highly Sensitive Profiles are: – “Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World” by Sharon Heller. (Heller is a trained psychologist and also lives with sensory defensiveness herself!). http://www.amazon.com/Loud-Bright-Fast-Tight-Overstimulating/dp/0060932929 – “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine N. Aron Ph.D. One of the trail blazing books on highly sensitive people. Gives a great picture of how to understand your sensitivities and how to set up your life to support them. http://www.amazon.com/Highly-Sensitive-Person-Elaine-Ph-D/dp/0553062182
4) SIMPLE THINGS WORK! Think simple and small changes. Sometimes it’s a bitch session with a friend or 10 minutes of complete quiet a day. If before dinnertime is a nightmare for your family, try to make dinner ahead of time and have it ready to go. Taking one thing off our plate at a stressful time of day can totally change how we navigate the stress.
5) TAKE YOUR OWN ADVICE This is hard to swallow sometimes but every time I am telling my sensory child to do something, there is a piece of that advice I need to take for myself. EVERY SINGLE TIME. Sometimes it’s just a small piece but I still have my piece so I need to look at that. If I’m telling my child to to find something he loves to do, I need to find something I love to do. When I am feeling sorry for him because of friendship changes, I need to go call one of my friends and make a date to see them. It’s all connected.
6) MAKE YOURSELF A VISUAL Visuals are powerful tools for us too. Make one for yourself and throw it in a nice picture frame that is front and center in your house. When you are feeling overwhelmed and need to get yourself grounded quickly, look at your visual. This will create some space between you and the stressful moment and it changes everything. Maybe it’s a saying like “IT’S ALL GOING TO BE OK” or a picture of your favorite, most relaxing place in the world. Find your powerful visual, print it out, frame it, and use it everyday.
7) SOMETIMES BIG PROBLEMS HAVE SIMPLE SOLUTIONS Get out there and talk to people – be vulnerable. Just like we tell our sensory kids that their brains can make some things much bigger than they actually are, we can do that too about our life with our sensory kids. Get out there and connect, ask for help, find out what is working with other special needs families, and be open to new ideas and perspectives – it really shifts everything.
8) THERAPY FOR YOU “Therapy” can be an art class, a “Colorful Mood Walk” (as I like to call mine) with a friend where you walk and colorfully talk about where you are right now, some retail therapy, or sitting in a therapists office to get some perspective – just get your version of therapy.
9) WORK ON BUILDING YOUR OWN RESILIENCE Learn to trust in this life process. Get a journal. Think back on all the hard things in your life (as a child too!) and write down what they were and what you learned from them. There are gifts in the hard experiences, even the one you are in right now, you just can’t see them yet. One book to check out is “The Resilient Parent: Everyday Wisdom for Life with Your Exceptional Child” by Mantu Joshi – http://www.amazon.com/The-Resilient-Parent-Everyday-Exceptional/dp/1933084251
10) LEARN TO MAKE SPACE FOR LIFE For me, making space for life means not believing every thought I have about my life today. I can take things too seriously, make things too dramatic or big, and can believe my thoughts without even questioning them. Make space with your thoughts – just because you have a thought, does not mean that it’s true. For me, it’s in that little bit of space that truth and wisdom come in.
And most importantly, know that everything I just told you, I need to hear for myself but only every single day. Thank you for helping me see it again today ~