In order for Helen to navigate her days successfully, she needs ongoing sensory input. “Sensory input” is the Occupational Therapy way of describing anything that activates your senses (touching, tasting, etc.). Helen requires very intentional and frequent input to keep her neurological system working. Here are a few of our favorite tools:
1. Bean bag chair – provides sensory input and a safe place to crash
2. Tunnel / swing – I bought lightweight, stretchy fabric (enough yards to make the length of our hallway). Then folded it in half and sewed several straight seams. The result was a tunnel for crawling. If Alan and I each hold an end, we can also use it to swing Helen (like a hammock). Both activities are calming. I made sure to buy fabric that was machine wash/dry. The tunnel also folds flat to fit in a suitcase, so it always travels with us.
3. Exercise Ball – We use this to work on balance, practice body control (knowing how/when to use hands, feet, etc.) and as a chair (Matthew loves using this, too).
4. Messy play – Helen needs sensory input, and lots of it. So she plays with play dough, buckets of rice or beans, sand, shaving cream, paint and anything else I can find to get her hands in/on different textures.
5. Strategic snacking – Anything extra (extra crunchy, sour, etc.) is perfect for providing ongoing input and helping Helen’s nervous system stay alert. If we’re going to be out, I take these kinds of foods with us. Also effective are thick drinks / snacks through a straw (such as the pudding and applesauce pouches). We also love ICEES; the cold makes these especially effective for Helen.
6. Gum – If your child can use it safely, gum is a lifesaver! Constant chewing provides ongoing input and can be very calming.
We’re learning to balance Helen’s needs with just being a family. These things help us….I hope they do the same for some of you.
Alan and Jennifer