Thursday, June 30, 2016

Ideas for summer play

Just a few ideas to follow up on my summertime post from a few weeks ago. 
Here are some ideas to fill those days where your kiddos are bouncing off the walls and it's really hot out and September seems eons away...

•    You don’t need a therapy room devoted to mats, balls and swings, there are all sorts of activities to get the same input. Try games such as Twister, sack races, whiffle-ball in the yard, or even a trampoline –the mini or large kind.

•   Hiding under cushions, making forts, obstacles or crash pads in the living room is always fun.  Rolling up in a big blanket together to make “body bagel dogs” or under a bunch of pillows to make “human fruit salad” on the couch or floor is always fun. “Toss” the salad by having the child pile up with pillows and stuffed animals on a big blanket, then you gather up the corners of the blanket and shake and pull them around. Then change places. Be brave! Wrestle, roughhouse, break a sweat together. Put on fun music and dance.

•     If you have a/c on very hot days, play in the kitchen. Make fruit kebabs or no-bake cookies. Baking bread can build arm and hand muscles getting movement and heavy work. Stirring the dough, kneading, using cookie cutters and rolling pins are all great for this. There are even quick breadstick mixes in the grocery store. Make breadstick letters and then try different dips. Put on favorite music in the background.

•        For picky eaters, get that vinyl tablecloth out for a picnic on the porch with the lure of water play. Throw both new and loved foods into a bin of water; watch, touch and talk about what happens. Do those foods float, sink or dissolve? Do they do the same in our mouths? Watching what happens can help reduce anxiety about how it feels in our mouths where we can’t see it.

·        Freeze small toy “prizes” in ice and chip it out with tools and basters filled with salty water. Lots of work and a prize at the end to play with! The Dollar Store is your friend.

•   Go old-school! Get a little spinning sprinkler that attaches to a hose. (Dollar Store again) The combo of spinning water and sun is an awesome, stimmy visual.  Throw a plastic tablecloth down by the sprinkler, add soap and turn on the music for some slippery dancing or add a beach ball and some shaving cream.
·        Speaking of the Dollar Store, that’s a great place to practice social skills and money handling skills for an air conditioned, cheap outing. --And seriously mamas, I totally promise yours will not be the loudest or most disruptive child they’ve ever seen in there. You know I’m right.

•    Visit a u-pick farm. Great for tactile, fine motor and heavy work. Squish those peaches! (the ones already on the ground and mushy!) You know you’ve always wanted to do that.

·        Check out the many free outdoor summer concerts in the area. There are lots of kids at these, dancing away. Music is a great stim!

•        Find a log and help kids pound big nails in a pattern with a hammer, use a screwdriver to put screws in, and then take it all back out. Kids love real, grown up tools.  For older kids, woodshop and mechanical activities are awesome for fine motor, visual motor, and sequencing skills. Not to mention following directions and reading plans –challenging for many of us!

•   Crafts are great and there are a million on the web with any kind of theme you want. Dinosaurs, ladybugs, garage doors, Blue’s Clues, whatever makes your child go up on the toes, it’s there.  
--There’s a DIY guide to making a Star Wars AT-AT walker planter on Pinterest-- For REALS people!
 Google  “(whatever theme) crafts” and you’ll get tons of things your kiddo will be all stimmy for.

•        Ask for help with dinner. Not only does cooking provide a sensory bonanza, but it introduces kids to all the types and layers of foods in their lives, and exposure is a huge part of building increased food tolerance. Look at measuring rice, chopping carrots, mashing potatoes, using tongs to flip burgers, toss salad etc. for upper extremity and fine motor strengthening. Eating with chopsticks can be fun.
***HINT:  Go old school again –put away that electric mixer for extra muscle building, our grandmas didn’t use them and their cookies and pies were amazing!!!

  •  You can use pretend food —or play-doh—to achieve the same movements/activities during play if your kiddo really likes the cooking theme but you surprisingly don’t have the desire to cook all day.
•        Find what your child likes to do and adapt it to build his strength and ability. Repairing bikes or cars with a parent or building wood projects are great for a left-brain kind of kid. Art/pottery classes at the community center or YMCA are also good for your creative one and staff usually will adapt if you prep them.

•   At home, kids who are motor driven and sensory-seeking really benefit from activities such as climbing at a rock wall gym,  a jungle gym or even *gasp* a tree! Hiking, biking, gardening are also great to provide movement, heavy lifting, digging, etc. Martial Arts, Gymnastics and swimming lessons would also be wonderful options.  Even fishing requires postural stability, shoulder, arm strength and bilateral coordination. Kickball is a team sport that anyone can play!

•        Of course, there’s always housework. You never run out of it. Kids never guess that folding the laundry or helping you carry the heavy laundry basket up and down stairs is therapy!
--And yes, bribe. I need a bribe to do housework myself, so I believe it goes for everyone. Pay them in money, screen time or trips to the Dollar Store. 
Mopping and vacuuming are more fun with music. Gardening, weeding, raking and watering also count and getting dirty is ok when you are doing these!
Washing dishes, cleaning the tub, carrying the dog food in or groceries from the car for you will not only build strength and be organizing through heavy work, it will make them feel good about helping you do something you have a hard time with.

•        Another alternative is just plain strength training. Go work out with some dumbbells together, swing and climb to the top of a rope swing, or take a nightly walk. Get a large therapy ball and have him sit on it and maintain balance, lift it overhead ten times. Toss it back and forth, kick it, get creative.

If you can’t find anything that looks like it’s going to work, just keep trying, remember repetition is key to building tolerance in those little rigid minds! 

You can’t go wrong with any activities involving:
Heavy lifting, pulling, pushing, climbing; Using one’s own body weight to propel themselves; or manipulation of tools, crafts, food or objects.
It doesn’t need to feel like a chore or “therapy homework”. Make sure it’s something your family can take on without setting you all over the edge.
Find what interests your child, run with it and above all have FUN! There are a million different ideas out there on the internet: Pinterest, and are great resources and have a ton of ideas.

Everyone needs a little down time to let their brains rest and integrate, so remember T.V. time is totally okay for a little while mamas! Don’t beat yourself up for getting a little break here and there, life is short, and you need rest to be creative too, right? Go ahead and pop in that Weird-Guy-at-a-Construction-Site video they love and sit down for a minute. 

Stim on, my tribe, stim on.

--Joanna Blanchard, MOTR/L
Everybody Stims Pediatric Therapy
Copyright 2016 Everybody Stims, LLC

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Autism Awareness Cards or Go Namaste yourself.

I've never made cards like this or handed them out before.

Thinking about it as we leave our sweet, safe little Vancouver community nest to travel a bit this summer, I'd like to be uber-prepared, just in case.
Starer-ers, snickerers, and pointers are not my favorite people but I usually ignore them or try to give them a straight on for reals, Namaste-yourself-I-see-you-and-I-still-love-you smile saying we are just fine thank you. Happy, even.

However, as we venture far out into areas unknown in challenging new ways, I want to make sure Dan has backup, and if I don't have the emotional (or sleep) resources to bring forth my namaste-self, then I might need to just hand out a card --really it would be to make myself feel better.

But families, just so you know, I have mixed feelings about these things...

Part of me is like; "It's no one else's business and effing back off if you are disturbed by my obviously struggling child or I will shank you." We're here, we're weird, get used to it. If your child is being rude that's not my problem, really, why does it become your business when mine has a meltdown?

But the other part of me is like, "Well, I get that it's weird, and sometimes watching this stuff is scary if you've never seen it.  --So you should probably learn about it so that the next time you run into this you aren't going to be a judgy jerk. Here is my helping you do that."

I don't want the extra attention, and I don't want to make excuses.
Maybe I just know I'll be tired at some point and not have the energy to fight for my son's dignity in the way I like to best, modeling with grace and pride, humor and love. If I have a card to hand out maybe it'll keep me from being snarky back, which is not what I want to do.

Anyway Stimmers, I'm prepared for the worst, hoping for the best! Either way we are doing this thing.If you print out double-sided they're a little off, but close enough for horseshoes and autism.

Autism Cards PDF

Please feel free to share, print and use, and please let me know what your experiences have been with this kind of thing.

 or cut and paste:

Friday, June 10, 2016

Those No Good Down Low Stimmy Summertime Blues

Every year, after the initial excitement and novelty of mornings with cartoons and pajamas wears off, usually just after the 4th of July, I often get the question:  

“Help! What can we do to fill up our summer days?”

Good question. So many of our kids enjoy highly structured lives. School, therapies, doctor appointments, and activities typically fill our days. Often we feel we have to fill the empty spaces during summer months to keep our kids from stimming the day away and getting very bored or behavioral.
However, we can only go to the zoo or Children’s Museum so many times before we want to poke our own eyes out, so what to do?

These days, spontaneous individual play is a challenge for many kids, but it can be doubly challenging for us, especially when nostalgically thinking about the “typical” summers of our own childhoods. Those long, unscheduled hours of grimy, sepia-tinged adventures we  remember, glorified in movies like “The Sandlot” with sleep overs and camp outs. 
Maybe we even get a little down thinking that summer is will never be like that for our kiddos and that we just have to white-knuckle it until September.

--Oohhh my mama friends, I beg to differ! 
Summer can indeed be fun, spontaneous, and unstructured, just with our own stimmy flavor! 

Here are some thoughts to chew on before you Netflix "Stand By Me" again.  

Summer is full of opportunities we don’t have time for in the school year.

Most seasoned Autism Mamas will tell you they have had their kid’s summer fully planned and color coded on the calendar since April 1st. 
 -- You see, it’s for our own sanity after several cranky, sad summers of hot, sweaty, crying afternoons at the zoo.
Many families cope with the change by increasing therapy hours, scheduling camps and getting more involved with activities, and this is great.  
But don’t forget, summer can also be a great time for much needed rest, down time and open-ended opportunities.

Next post I will give you some activity ideas, but for now, remember these things and be nice to yourself:

Unstructured play time is necessary for growth, too.
It’s difficult for many kids to play by themselves with no guidelines, friends or rules. It can be agonizing to teach this to a child on the spectrum who has difficulty playing in general.

You can try some open-ended Floortime-type play. What’s your cutie stimming on? What’s his/her passion? Can you go join in? Maybe there’s more play happening than it looks like at first and just maybe over time you can expand it. A fascination with spinning things can be encouraged by spinning wheels on toy trucks together, eventually modeled to push the trucks, and some day perhaps you’ll see your child playing with cars independently.

Or maybe, you just build your relationship by just joining your kid in their own beautiful world. My philosophy is that the relationship comes first, then functional behavior, so get on the floor for a while, join them, and before you know it an hour will have passed. They will love you for it.

  Is stimming all that bad?
Give your child a little extra time to just “stim”. We certainly did when we were kids: We were looking at clouds, counting blades of grass, riding fast down that big hill and feeling the sun and wind on our faces. Yes, mamas, it was more sophisticated stimming than flapping hands at the CD player, but it was still stimming in a way. See if you can re-frame a stim your child likes to do as a play activity.
Oh Sand, how I love that you are so wonderfully stimmy. 
Do they like to swing? Let them swing without stopping to see how long they’ll do it (and check out if they are super organized afterwards!). Sifting dirt through the fingers and watching it float on the wind? That’s someone’s version of a mud pie. Can you add water to keep it novel? Can you join in without bringing your own judgments? Yes you can. Find out the secret that makes it awesome and it will open doors for you both.

Screen time doesn’t have to be all bad. We all need to veg some times. If you feel like it’s too much, have the kiddo take a break during a commercial to have a tug-of-war, or stand on a bosu-ball or trampoline during TV time. Lying stomach down on the floor to watch TV or play a game works on getting input to the body and pressing up through the elbows and shoulders, like the cobra pose in yoga. That way you have less guilt but still can get dinner cooked!

Bottom line; our kids work hard at school. Everyone needs a break. If you can handle the stimming or modify it so both of you can be satisfied and it feels somewhat like functional play (hey, dirt is great tactile input and crumbling it helps develop arches of the hand) go with it. 

 Use the extra time to do things you can’t get to during the school year.
No school means skip the shower and get dirty outside first, then come back in and practice bathing and dressing skills mid-day. 
As a bonus you’ve already prepped with outdoor sensory play to support fine motor and focus for these challenging tasks.

My mama friends, this is the time to learn about shoes and socks; When there is no bus driver honking at you! Take a breath, sit down on the floor, and give your child the space to practice and problem solve without the pressure of time. Put on some music, take a deep breath, and give them time to figure it out! 

You can’t go wrong with sensory play.
Give your child a chance to find something they just love to experience but that also is a bit of a challenge and run with it. 
During the summer months we can actually take time to do the things we love to do for hours, rather than the 15 minute snatches of pleasure allowed during "breaks" allowed at school. It will seem like heaven to be allowed to swing/crumple/cut/spin long enough to finally reach their internal sensory threshold! 

Give the space and time to process;  Prep THEN push!
Don’t be surprised if you get resistance to some or all of the above. Your child may prefer to stim alone, so start in parallel. Entice them with your body language that you are having the most fabulous time with your own sand pile. They might want to join you, they might move to another pile. Persevere, parents!

Remember that open ended activities can be anxiety producing, so this is a great time to practice conquering anxiety and letting them know that you will, indeed, wait them out 
“We will go do that when we finish here, for as long as it takes…Don't worry, I can wait.” is one of my favorite obnoxious parenting things to say. 
Just make sure you try to be patient and calm when implementing so they don’t pick up on your stress level. (I know, easier said than done. Fake it ‘till you make it, peeps. )

Prep them (with a social story etc.) and help them follow the activity all the way through, especially when there’s no pressure to be anywhere next. That’s a perfect time to slow down, breathe, let them process their anxiety and hesitation, and then WIN the battle against it!

In the end, if that one activity is all that you get done that day but you conquer it, then THAT is the best therapy session you could ever achieve. --Not in a clinic, not at a table, but living  the life you and your kiddo are meant to live together.

Stim on, families, stim on.

Next post, I’ll have more concrete activity ideas for your days at home or out and about!