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In today’s world we seem to be in constant motion. Not just our physical bodies but our minds. Constantly inundated with information that we receive through the radio, cell phones, social media, and the internet. We often feel the need to fill in our entire day by constantly checking updates or looking up information. Our children have become accustomed to over-stimulation via video games and social media apps. Their brains are becoming wired to believe they need constant stimulation. Should this knowledge of our over-stimulated lives alter the way we treat children with autism and/or sensory processing disorder?
The go-to treatment for children that have difficulty processing sensory information is a treatment called ‘sensory-integration therapy’ which is typically performed by an Occupational Therapist. The treatment will vary according to a child’s individual sensory issues. But you may see children swinging, climbing, spinning, listening to modulated music, and playing with items that have different sensations. All of the treatments are performed to provide the child with sensory input. Input that they are not able to understand or their brain is unable to organize properly. But could there be a different approach that is better?
Children that have hypo- or hyper-reactive systems are already misunderstanding the sensory stimulation that surrounds them on a daily basis. And like many children with disabilities, they in particular, are inundated with even more stimulation as they go to several hours of therapy per week. Could all of this stimulation be too much for our children? Children on the spectrum are known to be in a fight-or-flight mode most of the time. Their brain does not interpret sensory information correctly, thus categorizing situations as dangerous that really aren’t. The children can become scared, anxious, have outbursts, anger, or withdrawal completely.
After reading from Anat Baniel’s book, Kids Beyond Limits, I became intrigued with the idea that less is more. Here is an excerpt from the book, “The world these children experience is chaotic, and because they can’t slow themselves down they have great difficulty learning. Their attention bounces form one thing to another so quickly their brain never has the opportunity to feel and notice enough to be able to make sense of themselves or the world around them in a way that works well enough for them. when faced with new demands, such as learning the complex balance of riding a bike, developing the eye-hand coordination required to catch a ball, learning to read and write, or developing more precise and lucid language skills, their brain cannot differentiate sufficiently to organize and perform these complex actions. What we tend to observe in such instances is an increase in hyperactive behavior.
Some might think those children need more stimulation to try to get through to them…..Yet it is not stimulation that they lack. Every bit of sensory input stimulates them; the problem is that their brains can’t organize the stimulation in a meaningful, coherent way.”
This eye-opening statement has begun my research into slowing down in order to gain more. I believe that a parent’s touch can have more affect on a child’s altered tactile system than a bucket of beans. Yoga for special needs children can help with breath control, body awareness, and self-regulation.
Two simple activities to get you started on tactile & breath control are belly breathing and finger massage.
Belly Breathing: this can be done in a variety of ways depending on the age & development of your child. For lower development I encourage you to lie on your back with your child lying on top of your belly. You will take deep diaphragmatic breaths raising and lowering your belly while the child experiences the sensation through you. As the child develops, you can give them more independence by blowing bubbles and working on increasing the length of their exhale. Chanting words or singing songs can also bring awareness to the breath.
Finger Massage: depending on your child’s tactile adversity you will adjust your touch. Several times throughout the day you will massage your child’s individual fingers. Vary from light strokes starting from their forearm and stroking to the ends of the finger tips; deep pressure along each finger; and tapping on both sides of the hands working through all the fingers and thumb.