Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sensory Saturday: Sailing!

Ahoy! This week we were incredibly fortunate to set sail with The Heart of Sailing Foundation. Linda Johnson, the director for the program was one of my fellow Fortune 52 honorees. You can read her story here:

LM, Bear and I set sail on a beautiful breezy morning aboard the beautiful sailboat Tanzanite. Captain Joe and his crew were there to welcome us and give the boys a crash course in sailing. They were both little captains, taking turns wearing the captains hat and steering the giant wheel. LM was especially interested in the compass and learning how to navigate.

When it came time to hoist the sail, both boys helped pull the line (this puts the "heavy" into heavy work for sure!) -- with a look of pride they watched (and heard) the beautiful sail open and fill with air. We explored all the parts of the boat, the cool cabin, the helm and the bow. The wind was blowing, the waves were crashing ... the trip was perfect.

Towards the end of our 2 hour trip LM leaned over the side and watched the water as we sailed through. Completely relaxed, lying on his belly,the boat rocking, trailing an extended hand through the waves - this was the picture of sensory peace.

I expected to have a fun afternoon, but never thought it would be as therapeutic as it was. Linda was kind enough to send me a list of the therapeutic benefits of sailing. As you'll read - it covers ALL of the sensory bases! I can attest to each and every one. What a wonderful sensory experience this was!

Therapeutic Benefits of Sailing

reprinted from the Heart of Sailing Foundation


  • Improves balance: While adjusting to the motions of the boat, whether sitting, standing at the helm, moving around the boat, or bracing to hoist the sails

  • Improves strength: Through hoisting the sails; pulling lines to adjust sails

  • Improves fine motor skills: When learning knot tying

  • Improves eye-hand coordination


  • Provides vestibular stimulation: From the combined forward motion and rhythmic movement of the boat on the waves

  • Increases sensory awareness:

  • Auditory: Sounds of the engine as we motor out of the marina to the quiet of sailing under wind power; the soothing sounds of the waves lapping on the boat

  • Tactile: Feel of the wind; including determining wind direction with eyes closed; warmth of the sun; varying textures of the boat deck; close proximity to others in a relatively small environment

  • Visual: Focus on object on the horizon to steer the boat properly; attention to watch for hazards in the water; all the new sights of being on the water including the sun sparkling on the waves, shorebirds and fish

  • Olfactory: Well, sometimes you can smell those fish, but usually just the good old salt sea air

  • Taste: bring a snack along for this one (we did actually taste the salt water when it sprayed!)

  • Improves spatial awareness: Small environment in the cockpit requires awareness of personal space and boundaries; judging how far the sail is up when hoisting the sail; spotting objects on the horizon

  • Provides relaxation: The gentle rocking of the boat with the motion of the waves, the quiet gentle sounds of waves lapping and the warmth of the sun all stimulate the relaxation response


  • Provides social interaction

  • Provides experience with teamwork

  • Improves communication

  • Improves confidence/self esteem

  • Improves ability to transition to new experiences.environments

  • Provides atmosphere for family/group bonding


  • Improves focus and attention span

  • Provides environmental awareness

  • Provides sense of adventure, exploration and use of imagination

For more information on The Heart of Sailing Program visit:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

School Transportation News Expo Educates Staff about SPD

Sensory Sensitivities on the School Bus

Kudos to the School Transportation News Expo for bringing in an Occupational Therapist to educate their staff about Sensory Processing Disorder and its effect on children riding the school bus. We are SO THRILLED to see awareness building!

"Sue Shutrump, an occupational therapist for the Trumbull County (Ohio)
Educational Service Center, gave attendees a better understanding of how loud
noises and the slightest touch can send some students over the edge and create a
difficult experience for themselves and their students.
By understanding how
some students might react to sudden sounds or even the slightest physical
contact, drivers can structure a bus environment that suits everyone’s needs.
But it is not always an over-response to stimuli that drivers must worry about.
Some forms of Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD, affect children in a way that
causes them to have an almost insatiable desire for sensory stimulation. This
can cause hyperactivity, as they seek further stimulation, or even pain, as they
may be unaware of the pain as a result of SPD.
“Before they board the bus,
have them do some heavy work like chair pushes or push-ups against the wall”
said Shutrump during a workshop at the STN EXPO on July 25.
possible, Shutrump suggests making connections between successful sensory
experiences in the classroom or at home with those on the school bus. The use of
pictures to explain the rules can also help drive the point home to students.
But one of the most important tips was to make sure you never just tell a
student to “get over it.”
“With one student, we brought the safety vest into
the classroom, took photos of him wearing it, let the other students touch it
and then created a picture book explaining the procedure for him,” said
Shutrump. “Pretty soon, every student in the class wanted a ‘special vest’ too.” "

An incredible honor!

Last month I was so very honored to be chosen by Beverly Fortune of the Long Island Press as a Fortune 52 recipient. Beverly writes a weekly column highlighting women who are making a difference in their community. As you all know, Sensory Street Kids is a collaborative effort - it's our advisors, instructors, parents, supporters ... and most of all children who make this program a success, and they are the ones who truly deserve to be honored. If you missed our article, you can read it here:

Last night there was a networking event and dinner honoring the last 9 recipients. I'm very proud to be included amongst such an inspiring group of women. It was so nice to meet these ladies after reading all about their programs. I'll be sharing some of their stories with you throughout the next week. Some have wonderful resources that can be useful to our readers, and some should simply be applauded for the outstanding work they're doing.
THANK YOU Beverly for an incredible evening!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dr. Lucy Jane Miller discusses SPD

Hooray! More press for SPD - keeping our fingers crossed that SPD makes its way into the DSM revision as a stand alone diagnosis.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sensory Saturday: Rain, Rain, Go and Play!

We just got back from a week at our best friends' lake house - it was almost everything we hoped it would be ... Good Friends, Good Food, BAD Weather. Bad. Thunderstorms on the first day were actually beautiful and welcomed. There's something about sitting on the porch listening to the storm that had a calming affect on all of us. Lots of cuddling and even some hot chocolate in July. We had left realllly early so the boys were knocked out and took a heavenly nap. That was day one. By day 4 of the rain we were going a little stir crazy!
After three days of crafts, songs, movies, baking and indoor play, we were ready to kick the kiddos outside ... rain or no rain. Well, we did, and they had a blast! Here's a few of our new favorite Sensory Play ideas.

Puddle Jumping! Let a little boy outside during a rain shower and he'll find the puddles. Splashing and jumping took up the better part of an hour, but we got a little creative too. We practiced our animal walks and played "Mother May I" ... LM, take 3 giant frog jumps over these puddles. Bear, waddle like a penguin across this puddle. R, stomp like an elephant and swing your trunk through that big puddle. Who can make the biggest splash???

Mud Pies: We had all the sand toys out already, let's put them to use! We dug and squished and molded mud. Thick, squishy, messy mud. Pretty much anything we usually do with shaving cream we did with mud instead. LM wrote his name in the mud, we even "painted" the sidewalk with it. Added bonus: walking barefoot! Dig your toes in and pull them out for a satisfying "squelch" sound.

Nature Walk: While we're barefoot in the mud - let's take a barefoot walk and feel how different everything feels when it's wet. I told a modified version of "Going on a Bear Hunt" and we squished through mud, ran through the field and kicked through the puddles hunting for our bear. We also collected all sorts of little boy treasures in our pails ... leaves, worms, rocks and bugs.

Fill the Bucket: After 4 days of rain there was ALOT of water around. Garbage pails and flower pots were full. We gave each of the boys a sand pail and sent the on a mission: fill this giant garbage can to the top! They had a great time trying to carry full buckets (heavy work!) across the yard to fill the can. A little teamwork to build social skills ... LM and R carried buckets together by putting a piece of wood through the handle and getting on either side. LM ran right to the drain under the gutter and refilled his buckets rather quickly ... Bear stood still and tried to fill his pail with the drizzle that was still falling - he might still be out there ... lol.

How Wet Can You Get?: BY the end of the afternoon we had ditched the boots and raincoats and ultimately changed into bathing suits. One last mission ... get as wet as you can! "I'm getting wet under the trees!" "I'm getting wet in a puddle!" LM laid down on his back and let the rain cover him - Bear opened his mouth and tried to catch rain drops. All the boys "washed" the cars and splashed each other with sheets of water. We even pulled out the water guns.

Singing in the Rain: How many "rain songs" can you think of? We sang a lot! This was our favorite:

Bear is splashing in the water,
Bear is spalshing in the water,
Bear is splashing in the water ...
But he didn't get his bellybutton wet. Yet!
Drying Off: All good things must come to an end. Aunt Jenn was nice enough to put our towels in the dryer and they were cuddly warm when we stripped down and then wrapped up each little puddle jumper. Wrap them tight and hug them close - this was a day we won't soon forget.

Sing and Play the Sensory Way!
=D Lea

Sunday, July 18, 2010

NY Times Article on Speech Development

Excellent article I just came across, think it's important enough to pass along. When to Worry if a Child has too few words by Perri Klass, MD

Friday, July 16, 2010

Yoga for Kids

Came across this video on YouTube and had to share it. What a sweet little boy enjoying the joy of movement. Like so many things in life, it's the process not the product.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Back to Basics -- the Playground

I think sometimes I get a little caught up in LM's diagnosis. OK, I get A LOT caught up in his spectrum diagnosis, specifically the Sensory Processing Disorder part. In my defense - an SPD parent needs to be super aware of events and environments. I'm aways planning ahead -- how can I prepare him for this party or what can I do in advance to calm him so we can get half way through a dinner out (at a well thought out restaurant that I have already scouted and approved of) ... I envy parents who decide last minute to just go out.

Tonight, last minute, I needed to get the boys out of the house for a while. My husband was trying to do some repairs and was getting more frustrated by the second as they were stealing his tools and just generally in the way. (This is actually the third night in a row he's tried to fix the door, the first time his "little helpers" were cute ... the third time, well, not so much.) So anyway - he needed some space.

So the boys and I headed to a local restaurant that we've been to before. It's a family place so no one looked twice as LM ate his entire meal lying on his back on the booth seat. (hey - at least he was eating. I'm picking my battles here!) I was pretty proud of myself as we finished up and all shared a frozen yogurt. This was a great outing considering it was unplanned and last minute and also at the end of an already busy day. Only problem -- we'd been gone less than an hour and I promised hubby two.

Now it was approaching 7pm. My kids are in bed by 8 so at 7 we're usually in the midst of bedtime routines. What the heck was I supposed to do with them for another hour? LM made the choice for us as we passed the playground. Playground!!! Seems like a "DUH, why didn't you think of that, Mom moment" , right? Well, I DID think of the playground, but it's usually a place I avoid like the plague when I have the 2 boys by myself. Especially this particular playground. It's a really big modern place which is great but makes it VERY popular. And there are two different play structures but they are about 25 feet apart. How am I supposed to keep an eye on 2 kids who inevitably want to go to 2 different places?!? And then there's all the sensory issues. There's mulch under one playground and sand under the other. If LM is wearing sandals he freaks because sand is going to get onto his feet. There's a danger factor too. LM has very little fear and very little sense of danger. He'll climb as high as the structure will go, and not be able to judge distance and just drop to the ground. Also typical of a child with SPD, he feels very little pain. He went through an entire BBQ with a broken collar bone and didn't tell me until that night when I went to take his shirt off - "Don't Mom! My shoulder's sick." Typical children will fall a few times and learn to be more cautious because of the consequence. There is no consequence when there's no pain, so it gets out of control quickly.

But anyway ... back to tonight. What the heck, this was a spontaneous night and we might as well go for it. In a word - it was AWESOME! The timing was perfect, it was late enough that there were very few kids around. This was great for a bunch of reasons - less noise, less energy, less congestion and a clear line of sight for me to stick with LM but keep a good eye on Bear. It was also not as bright as a full sun afternoon. Something about this pre-dusk sky was very calming. It had cooled off nicely also.

Normally at this playground LM does 2 things and 2 things only. One is sit on the swing and spin or get pushed, or more likely, do a continuous lap around the play structure. Over and over he walks up one ladder across the bridge and down the slide. Walk back to the ladder and repeat. 200 times. It's a little labyrinth and he enjoys it, but it's so methodical and so unsocial. Although he is very very verbal, when his senses are overloaded his language goes away. There is no attempt to make a friend, and no response when a child approaches. It upsets me more than a little and I'd like to intervene and facilitate but with the sensory overload and also watching Bear, it's never the right moment.

Tonight it was as if LM was seeing this playground for the first time. Figuratively and literally, he was seeing it all in a different light. Where there was routine, now there was intention. He tried each and every ladder, slide and climbing structure. Out of my own over-protectiveness I wanted to re-direct him when he headed to the rock wall, but I stood by and let him try. SO GLAD that I did. With all the determination he could muster he made 9 attempts to climb to the top. Never giving up he explored different routes. I gave him a little hint and guided his foot to the proper hold. Then he got it. All the years of motor planning in Occupational therapy paid off as he looked for each step, reached and climbed. And when he got to the top ... pure joy. Full on intentional eye contact with a look of joyful pride that I have never seen before. Knowing that he had conquered it once, he scrambled down and tried again. He had it mastered this time.

Our 2 hours were up now, but I was savoring the moment with my two loves. This park has a great walking trail so we walked a lap hand in hand and my little chatterbox returned. Bear was getting really tired and I picked him up for the walk across the parking lot. LM got a little clingy so I hoisted him up too. "You're so strong Mom." No, you're so strong little man. In more ways than one.

Sing and Play the Sensory Way!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Preventing Your Child From Getting Over Stimulated

**Our first guest blogger ~ Tammy from Autism Learning Felt ... Thanks Tammy!**

Calming down an over stimulated child isn’t easy. There are a few things that you can do to help. First, learn to spot the signs that your child is getting over stimulated. For each child, this can vary. When my son would get over stimulated, it was difficult to spot the signs. For the most part, he didn’t display any.

Now, if he is over stimulated, that means that he will be up half the night, watching television and making noises. When he was a baby and toddler, being over stimulated was fine, until he started coming down from it. I could count on this happening during the holidays. A big family get together would get him over stimulated, and he didn’t know how to come down from it. I didn’t know how to help him. We would end up spending the night with no sleep. He would be crying and inconsolable. I would be crying, because nothing I did would help.

Things that I know now, that I wish I new then.

1. Take time-outs. Breaks away from everyone can help. Find a quiet, dark room for you and your child to rest in.

2. Recognize activities and situations that bring on a melt down from over stimulation. Keeping a log of these incidents can help you identify them, if you don’t already know.

3. If incidents happen at school, arrange with the school to have a quiet place for your child to go to come back down.

4. Cut visits to family, during the holidays, short. Don’t be worried about upsetting anyone if you leave early. You’ll benefit from it later.

Sensory Saturday: Fun with Flashlights!

Why are boys (and men too!) so intrigued with flashlights? I mean, I get that they are a useful tool to have around ... a must in case of a power outage, and handy when I'm looking for something under the bed ... but for whatever reason, the men in my family are IN LOVE with their flashlights. "Honey, what do you want for father's day?" "Oh! I saw this new flashlight ..." And this "new flashlight" is in the $100 range. =/ Oh well, there are worse things! So needless to say - there are no shortage of flashlights to keep us entertained around here. All kidding aside though, playing with flashlights can be a GREAT sensory based activity...
GO ON A HUNT: A great activity for dusk, most of our backyard BBQ's end with flashlight hunts. Hide an object and let the kids go find it. Give clues along the way that build language "it's UNDER something green ..." or let them know if they are "getting hotter or colder"
MONKEY SEE MONKEY DO: Use your flashlight to make a pattern on the wall (a circle, a zigzag, a figure 8) and have your child try to copy that pattern. The give the child a turn (I guarantee his pattern is going to be a lot more involved! This often ends in hysterics as I scramble to copy it! lol) Do this activity standing up - use big sweeping arm movements and cross midline ("draw" a line using your right arm from all the way to the left across to the right)
MORSE CODE: Work on math skills and use flashlight play to teach patterns. I focus my flashlight on an object and blink the light once - have your child repeat. Choose another object and blink twice, child repeats. Count out loud and build a pattern.
ALPHABET: Speaking of teaching skills - trace letters or words on the wall with your light. For little ones say the letter as you're "drawing" it. For older kids "write a word and have them guess what you wrote.
GOOD NIGHT FLASHLIGHT: Using a flashlight as a bedtime activity is a great idea. We lay in bed, make a tent under the blankets and use the flashlight to read story time. Usually we end by saying "goodnight" to the things in LM's room. I let him lead and very slowly and quietly we shine the light on his toys, books, furniture and say goodnight
One last thing I have to share. A precious little lullaby that my husband and his sister made up when THEY were little ones playing with flashlights. (I guess this really is a deep rooted obsession!) I just love this!
The sun is rising (shine flashlight from floor up to ceiling)
The sun is setting too (shine flashlight back down again)
The sun is everywhere! (shine in circles all around)
The sun is beautiful like you (shine light onto each other)
Beautiful like you.
Sing and Play the Sensory Way!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

La La Library - Mem Fox's 10 tips on how to read to your child

I had to learn how to read to my child.

Me, the voracious reader... the one who reads three books at a time, the one who's only detention in my school career came because I got caught reading a book under my desk during lectures one too many times, the one who's only gift request at my baby shower were books to start LM's library ... didn't really know how to read to my child.
I imagine it's not easy for any toddler to really pay attention to storytime, but for a child with SPD it's an extra challenge. I had imagined these tender moments of reading my favorite classics all cuddled up in our reading chair. Instead I was chasing him around the house or trying to keep him from tearing the pages. Luckily we had a wonderful speech therapist who was able to give me a crash course on how to successfully read to a little one, and in turn, how to instill a love for language, words and books. I'm glad to say it's been a huge success!

So I'm starting a weekly La La Library post. I'll share a favorite book of ours and let you in on some of the ways we make it interesting and language appropriate. Today I'll start with an awesome list of tips by one of our favorite authors, Mem Fox.

Mem Fox's 10 Read Aloud Commandments:

1. Spend at least ten wildly happy minutes every single day reading aloud.

2. Read at least three stories a day: it may be the same story three times. Children need to hear a thousand stories before they can begin to learn to read.

3. Read aloud with animation. Listen to your own voice and don’t be dull, or flat, or boring. Hang loose and be loud, have fun and laugh a lot.

4. Read with joy and enjoyment: real enjoyment for yourself and great joy for the listeners.

5. Read the stories that the kids love, over and over and over again, and always read in the same ‘tune’ for each book: i.e. with the same intonations on each page, each time.

6. Let children hear lots of language by talking to them constantly about the pictures, or anything else connected to the book; or sing any old song that you can remember; or say nursery rhymes in a bouncy way; or be noisy together doing clapping games.

7. Look for rhyme, rhythm or repetition in books for young children, and make sure the books are really short.

8. Play games with the things that you and the child can see on the page, such as letting kids finish rhymes, and finding the letters that start the child’s name and yours, remembering that it’s never work, it’s always a fabulous game.

9. Never ever teach reading, or get tense around books.

10. Please read aloud every day, mums and dads, because you just love being with your child, not because it’s the right thing to do.
Thanks, Mem! That's a great start to our La La Library posts! Now it's your turn ... What are some favorite books in your house??
Sing and Play (and Read!) the Sensory Way!