Monday, April 15, 2013

Sensory Strategies to Help Infants and Children Calm

Everyone uses sensory strategies to feel better, whether they realize it or not.  What is a sensory strategy?  How about when we use lavender or vanilla scents in soaps or lotions and take a deep breath...ahhh, that feels good.  Consider your morning routine-- maybe you take a hot shower and the heat feels good.  Maybe you make hot coffee and eggs for breakfast, and the heat and smell of the meal is filling as much as the calories themselves.  Maybe a massage feels great, or cuddling up in a chair with a blanket.  Maybe being "tucked in" tight in the covers at night or sleeping among multiple pillows feels wonderful.  

Those are all sensations that help our body feel calm and relaxed and wonderful.  Children respond to sensory strategies too, they just may not notice what feels good.  Some kids have "normative" sensory experiences and may regulate themselves fairly well during the day but enjoy some calming sensory inputs here and there.  Other children may have sensory processing disorder or be within the autistic spectrum.  These kids may need more calming input than other children because of the way their nervous system is wired. Some calming strategies may include deep pressure and/or gentle movement (vestibular input).

Here are some ideas for calming sensory inputs--
1. swaddling blankets or slings for infants
This deep pressure feels wonderful and cuddly to infants.  The one thing I wished I had purchased before bringing my son home as an infant was a swaddling blanket that was actually created for that purpose.  These baby slings are the same concept.  Not only does the infant experience deep touch, which is calming, but they are close to their parent, warm, and comforted. Also, if the parent is bouncing them or swaying back and forth, they are receiving gentle vestibular input (movement) and this also feels calming.
2. For bigger kids, consider different techniques to give them deep touch, pressure, and vestibular input for comfort.
.........a.  Bean bag chairs
You can use simple ones that you pick up at a store or can use more specialized ones as below; these can be found through sensory catalogues and internet sites with products for sensory dysfunction or autistic spectrum.

 ........b. Hammocks or hammock swings
Think about how a hammock envelopes you and even gives you a gentle swaying feeling that is comforting and calming.  The hammock swings below are a bit more specialized and can be found in sensory catalogues. 

.......c. You can also wrap your child with gentle but firm pressure in something like a yoga mat.  Play a game and tell them you are making an "Thomas" taco for example. 
Or you could make a "Thomas" sandwich using pillows in which the child is laying on a large pillow and has a pillow on top.  You can apply gentle pressure on the top pillow pretending you are assembling the sandwich. Encourage the child to tell you what feels good, when to keep going, and when to stop.  
.......d. Use a heavy blanket over your child.  There are even specialized weighted blankets that are heavier than the norm and are used for calming kids with anxiety, sensory needs, autistic spectrum, and more.  Many sites on the internet sell weighted blankets and I have a previous post on just that subject (Information on Weighted Blankets).  The picture below shows a child in a cute little "envelope" in which the top portion is weighted.

Whatever is calming for you or your child, use it.  Our brain responds well to sensory input that helps us regulate our nervous system.  Play detective to see what types of input, when and how much feel good to you or your kids.  If you would like more professional input in this area for your child, an Occupational Therapist can help.