Sensory Processing Activities During Covid-19

We’ve survived our third week of the shelter in place order! As an essential healthcare worker, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside other healthcare professionals who are working really hard to help our patients and community stay safe and healthy. I’ve also made it possible to work from home when I am not at the hospital to help my children with homeschooling and getting the movement breaks they surely need while being stuck at home.


Having two active boys and working to help others at work definitely keeps me busy, but it is also very rewarding! I love that I am able to help people, and sharing these short blog articles with families gives me joy! My hope is that it will help make a difference in families during these challenging times!


I want to ensure that children are able to expend their energy while being productive with their studies at home. As an OT who works with children with various diagnoses, including Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, and ADHD, I want to provide resources to families who could use assistance with giving their children movement opportunities.


Why is it important to do movement breaks throughout the day? Movement breaks are important for all of us, children and adults included. Movement breaks could be just a quick stretch, taking a drink of water, doing a few breathing exercises, or even going for a 15-minute jog or walk. These exercises, even brief, help us reduce stress and frustration with school and work. These breaks help us to reset our attention, focus, and energy, which leads to improved work/school productivity.

In my experience, some children with disabilities benefit from extra movement breaks in order for them to stay on task and help them self-regulate. For example, a preschooler may need a break after 10-15 minutes of table top tasks, or an elementary school age child may need a quick 1-minute break after 30 minutes of classroom instruction time.


While equipment such as a trampoline (if used safely) or a swing are great, there are plenty of other simple strategies that work great for children with autism, ADHD, or sensory processing disorder. Typical sensory processing allows us to take in the sensory information from all of our senses (tactile, vision, hearing, gustatory, olfactory, proprioception, and vestibular), process these sensory input, and organize it in order for us to be able to interact and function in our daily lives, be it at work, school, play. When our ability to process sensory information is not functioning properly, we have difficulties engaging in our environments, which impacts our ability to perform our self-care and play activities.


Here are some organizing sensory input and activities that can be easily incorporated in our homes while shelter in place orders are in effect:


Environment

As much as possible, try to designate a quiet space for your kiddo to go to when feeling overwhelmed. This could be a space with just a pillow, bean bag chair, or a collapsible tent and some books. My children actually made their own fort tent with chairs, bed sheets, and their favorite books. Children won’t necessarily know when they’re feeling overwhelmed, but they will often instinctively seek out their quiet, relaxing space when they need it.


Try to limit the amount of extraneous visual material on the walls and your kiddos’ desks.


Try to limit extraneous auditory input, such as television and distracting music, and noises such as other children playing.


Schedule


Children with sensory integration difficulties will benefit from a predictable schedule. If you are able, create a short checklist for the “to do activities” for the day. If not, you could also create a First …. Then …. Board in order to set expectations with your children and encourage them to do a less preferred activity. These are some good examples:


General Organizing Sensory Activities


The two most organizing and calming senses are our sense of proprioception and our vestibular sense. Our sense of proprioception, which is our sense of body in space, is stimulated when we use our muscles to push, pull, or lift heavy things. Our sense of proprioception helps us accomplish routine tasks subconsciously. For instance, our sense of proprioception allows us to walk to the bathroom without having to turn the lights on, use the correct amount of muscle contraction to use when raising our glass to take a sip of water, or use the right amount of pressure to put when writing. Our vestibular sense is also another powerful tool that can help with organizing and calming our bodies. The vestibular sense is located within our inner ear, and it allows us to respond to movement, gravity, and balance.


Activities that are organizing to your central nervous system are ones that include pressure, rhythmical slow rocking movements, and oral motor input. These activities are important because these have a calming effect on our brains.


  1. Wall or chair push ups

  2. Tug-o-war

  3. Jumping jacks

  4. Wheelbarrow/army crawls

  5. Marching in place or marching from one room location to another room in home. This rhythmic body motion and proprioceptive sensory input to the feet can be calming to children.

  6. Balloon toss or beanbag toss

  7. Rock in a rocking chair or rocking horse

  8. Placing your hands on your child’s shoulder or head with safe, firm pressure can help your child slow and calm down. Giving yourself a hug. Wrapping yourself into a sandwich between pillows (parent’s supervision.)

  9. Allow your child to use various positions, ie. stand versus sit or laying on their stomach to do school work

  10. Try playing classical music in the background or white noise.

  11. Practice breathing exercises, ie. the one’s I mentioned in my last blog article, especially when working on a difficult or intense classwork or school project.

  12. Provide chewy or crunchy foods or drinking a thick smoothie, drinking water with a straw helps with focus and organization.

  13. Any push and/or pull activities. For example, pushing books in a laundry basket across the hall at your home.

  14. Playing with resistance putty. For example, finding “treasure beads” in putty.

  15. Have your children participate in household chores, such as folding laundry, taking out the garbage, and even cooking/baking. My eldest son has really enjoyed helping in the kitchen and has become a baker, making bread from scratch and lots of treats!


I hope you find these activities helpful! Continue to stay healthy , everyone! Enjoy every minute with your loved ones and be thankful for your (unexpected) time together!


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