Just Imagine

As the parent of a child with developmental delays, I often get anxiety over every missed milestone. It started early: When will my daughter roll over? When will she sit up? And it continues today. I go down the rabbit hole of Google searches and lose sleep over each missed milestone, searching for solutions and comfort. When she didn’t engage in imaginative play by the age of 2, my response was no different.

I saw that my fellow moms of young toddlers were hiding holiday presents so their little ones wouldn’t find them. Mine were sitting on the floor in the hallway, unwrapped, and my 2 year old would pass by them without a second glance. Birthday presents from her first year were still sealed in boxes because she had no interest in toys.

Her therapists urged me to play with her and help develop her imagination. I did. And guys, I am not that great at this stuff, but I cooked pretend food like it was my job, and I called on my childhood ventriloquism skills to give voices to all the dolls and stuffed animals my daughter had. Despite my impressive ventriloquism skills, she never engaged and seemed unimpressed by my efforts, but I persisted. One day, she picked up the toy phone out of her kitchen set and held it to her ear. I am not sure if anyone has ever been praised so enthusiastically for holding a toy phone to their ear, but my daughter got the equivalent of a standing ovation at the Oscars.

By the age of three, typical children will be fully engaged in imaginative play and creating in-depth stories for their toys. They play more independently and even mix toy sets together, for example, Spider-man may come over for tea with Anna and Kristoff. At three, my daughter was doing some imitation and would copy the scenes I had created, but she was more interested in lining up the toys and reciting their names, rather than actually playing with them.

My daughter’s lack of imaginative play became more apparent at school, and I was genuinely worried. She knows who the Paw Patrol characters are because of her peers, but we have never watched a single episode. That’s right – I have a 3.5 year old and we have never watched a single episode of Paw Patrol! No need to be jealous though, because what we do watch is the same episodes of Barney, over and over and over and over and…well, you get the point.

The best part about working so hard with your child to reach milestones is that when they do reach them, it’s an incredible victory. It was only three months ago I took my daughter on a playdate to the Playmobil Funpark where she mostly marched around singing to a piece of plastic fence from the farm table. When we returned to the Playmobil Funpark this weekend, she was engaging in imaginative play with the toys around us. In April, she was singing and dancing and trying to put herself in places she shouldn’t have been. This weekend, she was actively creating scenes with the toys and pretend people. Her imagination was on full display and although it may have arrived late, it was beautiful to witness. The Playmobil place is a place I can’t imagine you’d see many moms tearing up in (unless they’re at the cash register), but if you do see a mom tearing up there, maybe this is why.

Check out some of our magical moments here:

Some tips to help develop your child’s imagination:

  • Find toys that replicate the real thing. My daughter started pretending to cook with her Melissa & Doug silverware and utensils. I found an old flip-phone (I am aging myself here) laying around, and my daughter loves to play with it; the same goes for old wallets and bags.
  • Use toys your child shows an interest in. My daughter loved Matchbox cars, so we started with simple races. Now she creates voices for the cars and they do more than just race across the kitchen tile.
  • Keep it simple. Start with just pretending to pour pretend water or eat pretend cookies. If your child likes to push buttons and make things work, employ toys that do just that. Slowly introduce items that may not be realistic like a unicorn eating a pretend cupcake.
  • Play. Play. Play. Get on the floor and play with your child, even if they don’t seem to show any interest. Keep playing. Stay imaginative and always encourage them. When you thought your child was going to pretend to eat the plastic pizza, but instead uses it as a steering wheel and starts singing “The Wheels on the Bus”, get on the bus and go for that ride with them.

 

Now serving fresh imaginations!

Sensory Diet: An Introduction

When I first heard the phrase “sensory diet” I thought I was going to get a list of foods that I should or should not feed my daughter based on her sensory profile. Would I need to throw out the gluten? Eliminate dairy? Learn all the various names of sugar so I could tell when it was added into foods? I had never had much success with diets personally, but I knew I would need to follow along with any recommendations from her Occupational Therapist (OT). I’ll admit I was a little relieved when I found out that a sensory diet has almost nothing to do with food.

It turns out that a sensory diet is a list of activities recommended to help your child get the sensory input they need in order to stay regulated throughout the day. A sensory diet is not one-size-fits-all, and should be developed to meet the individual child’s needs. It should include activities that can be incorporated into regular playtime.

At 20 months old, my daughter’s first sensory diet consisted of activities that gave her plenty of proprioceptive input as well as some calming activities. Her sensory diet was broken down into those two subheadings: Calming Activities and Heavy Work (Proprioceptive Activities). From there I worked with her daycare teachers, inclusion companion, and other therapists to ensure that her sensory needs were being met throughout her day, regardless of whether she was on the playground, in the classroom, or at home with me.

Most of the activities on my daughter’s sensory diet required little to no equipment – most things could easily be found around the house or the classroom. The diet we were given by her OT provided some suggested activities that recommended the use of specific equipment like weighted blankets or the disc-o-sit. Stay tuned for reviews of our personal experiences with some of these items over the next couple sensory-diet related posts.

As for food? Well, food actually is a part of my daughter’s sensory diet for oral input – crunchy foods like apples and pretzels are staples for her.

As my daughter has gotten older, I have found ways to help her learn through movement which you can see here.

You can find other great suggestions on activities to help your sensory seeker and/or avoider have fun in a book that I continue to find useful, The Out of Sync Child Has Fun.

Readers – what has your experience been with sensory diets? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.

A Cautious Mom Raising a Fearless Child

Growing up, I was a cautious kid. I had fears of pretty much everything:

  • I ran out of the movie theatre when E.T. appeared on screen;
  • I bolted out the back door of our house when my mom had a friend dress up as Santa and “Ho, ho, ho!” his way through the front door;
  • After I was informed that the tooth fairy would be visiting me while I slept, I set a trap for her, because the idea of some tiny flying woman slipping under my pillow to take my teeth was jarring, to say the least. I strategically placed fishing line across the doorway in the hopes that her wings would get caught. “What did she even need all those teeth for?:”
  • I never liked to swing too high on the swings or go down steep slides;
  • No one paid more attention to the “Stop, Drop, and Roll” fire safety presentations at school. I even practiced at home, on my own.

The only reason I was ever invited to go to carnivals with friends was so I could hold everyone’s personal items while they rode the roller coasters. I was perfectly content playing the role of the pack mule for my friends. I ran from snakes, lizards, and bugs like it was my job (confession: still do). By age 12, I felt like I could handle the airplane emergency exit plans better than the adults who were sitting there and remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, they are sleeping!”, feeling horrified by their lack of concern for the safety of their fellow airplane passengers.

As an adult, things haven’t changed too much when it comes to my concern for safety, except I do laugh a little during the airplane safety presentations, when it is suggested that if my flotation vest doesn’t inflate, I can use the straw like attachment to blow it up myself, you know… after surviving a crash into the water? Sounds legit. I am a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI). Yeah, that’s right – it’s a real thing and I am a playground safety vigilante, always looking for a protrusion or potential entrapment situation. I install extra fire and carbon dioxide detectors at home – “just in case”. I keep a first aid kit in my backpack. I am “next level”l helicopter mom when it comes to safety.

As life would have it, I have a child who is fearless – she has absolutely no regard for safety. My sensory seeker runs into streets, jumps and climbs onto everything that isn’t meant to be climbed or jumped off of, and bounces her way through life. She talks to random adults (otherwise known as “strangers”) everywhere we go, and comes home with pockets full of worms. I fear the day she is fast enough to catch a lizard. Taking her to a furniture store is the equivalent of taking her to a soft play place, but without the door charge. As you can imagine,she makes this safety conscious mom’s heart leap into my throat on the daily. Her body is permanently adorned with bruises, bumps and scrapes, but injuries don’t slow her down.

So – how does a safety conscious mom sleep at night knowing that each morning her sensory seeker will be up before sunrise, ready to jump her way through the day/off the walls? Here are a few things I put into place to keep her from getting seriously injured while she performs all her own stunts:

  • Fun-noodles: these are not only fun for pools and sword fighting. They are great to cover sharp and/or hard edges and railings. They also help slow down a fast-moving climber. When she was a baby, I lined her crib rails with fun noodles.
  • Corner guards: These are great and come in a variety of colors to blend with furniture.
  • First aid kits: Injuries are inevitable, but keeping a small first aid kit helps alleviate the worry and when injuries happen, my daughter feels better knowing I am doing something to address her concerns.
  • 6-inch twin mattress: These are easy to move around crash pads. As long as she is going to be jumping, I like to keep a soft landing place available to her.

How do you keep your sensory seeker safe? Share your safety tips in the comments!

Sound Affects

My daughter is an earlier riser, so our Saturday morning tradition is to be out and about exploring parks, trails, playgrounds, beaches, and the occasional local event. When she was 16 months old we stopped at a local green market so I could get myself a coffee at a Starbucks nestled into the downtown area of a local beach town where they sell fruit pouches that she loves.

Not long after we entered the busy coffee chain, I sensed that my daughter was starting to feel overwhelmed by the sounds and people surrounding us. I knew we were on borrowed time, and my impatience began to mount. I was prepared to walk out without my coffee. No sooner had I decided on an exit strategy, the barista pressed the button on the espresso machine. The usually innocuous sound sent my daughter into a tailspin, and I was left standing in the chaos of a popular coffee shop on a weekend morning as my daughter went into full meltdown mode.

What was happening? I used to vacuum while wearing her in her baby carrier. She never had a problem with sound before — why now?

I rocked my daughter on the floor, singing her lullabies until her sobbing slowed and I thought we could make a break for the door. To the delight of the other patrons, I grabbed my bag and my daughter and opened the door to make our escape only to have a herd of motorcycles go roaring by.

Cue uncontrollable wailing (from my daughter externally, me on the inside). Although she was unable to tell me what she was feeling with words, I could see the emotion in her eyes – she was scared and in pain.

That day, I learned firsthand that Sensory Processing Disorder is not black and white. Just because things don’t bother your child one day doesn’t mean they won’t the next.

So – how do I get my daughter who won’t wear earphones outside to play without worrying about loud noises? How do I vacuum at home? How do I use a blender? Why is it that loud music is fine but a leaf blower would send her into a tailspin?

My sensory seeker was a mixed bag when it came to auditory input, and I needed help. I sat down with my daughter’s Occupational Therapist the following week to discuss strategies. Some things that helped us:

  • We started watching short clips on YouTube of motorcycles, trains, and airplanes and talking about what they do and how they sound. Then when we saw them in real life, I would point them out from the car window to familiarize her with them.
  • I found toys that made the actual sounds that a vacuum and blender make. We put her in control of making the sounds and that helped a lot. Bonus for parents everywhere: the vacuum actually sucks dirt too!
  • I mimicked covering my ears when things were too noisy, and my daughter caught on.

These simple strategies went a long way in helping my daughter with loud auditory input over the course of a couple months.

Eventually, my daughter grew accustomed to these sounds and even began to vacuum with me.

Now as a toddler, my daughter will say something like, “It’s okay mommy. It’s just a train,” while we wait at a railroad crossing. She often hears things before I do, so when I see her cover her ears, I expect to hear the sound of a distant lawnmower or leaf blower and within a few moments, I can hear it too. And we can hear it all without a Starbucks-style meltdown.

Sensory Playroom Garage Transformation

Before I even moved my belongings into my new home, I knew that I would never be parking my car in the garage. It was the perfect place to put together a sensory-friendly playroom for my sensory seeker, and inspiration hit as soon as I saw the space.

However deluxe my ideas were, I was on a budget and needed to figure out how I could turn the concrete shell into a place that my daughter would benefit from, playing safely in the space while having her sensory needs met.

My first concern was the concrete floor. I knew I needed a soft impact attenuating surface. An online search turned up a great product that was both affordable and easy to install. I installed 190 square feet of the foam flooring, covering approximately ⅔ of the entire floor. I was able to do this on my own within an hour. The pieces locked together easily and have stayed together without any problems. I even had to fold the floor up once to put my car in during a hurricane, and it easily went back down without breaking apart.

Clevr Foam Floor

$79.99/96 sq. ft.

Once the flooring was laid, the equipment came next.

For anyone needing proprioceptive input like my daughter, the trampoline is a ‘must-have’. She can jump for hours at a time and it was a perfect fit for her and the space. The trampoline required assembly. Stretching the safety net was the hardest part and definitely required more than two hands. I hired someone to help me build the trampoline.

My First Trampoline (with enclosure)

$139.47 (without installation)

If you order this on Amazon, you can even opt for an expert to install it along with delivery for an additional fee. This trampoline is the perfect size for children and can hold a lot of weight – we have had 4 kids jumping at the same time and even I have gone inside to jump with my daughter (video evidence not provided).

6-foot play tunnel

$14.98

This fun tunnel gets your sensory seeker crawling on all fours, which helps with balance and coordination. Obstacle courses are helpful when you’re teaching your little one how to follow directions, and the tunnel is the perfect addition to any course.

If your child is unsure about crawling through, you can always place something she likes such as beaded necklaces or balls from the ball pit throughout the tunnel and ask her to collect them on her way through for motivation.

Soft plastic fun balls

$8.21 (100 pieces)

Ball pit

$11.99

The ball pit is an easy and exciting addition to any sensory playroom. It’s light enough that it can be moved around to the exit of the trampoline for some additional fun. The colorful balls provide an enjoyable way for your child to practice naming colors. We’ve found that babies love the ball pit too, so this is the perfect spot for any infants you have in your life to enjoy the sensory room, too.

Sock ‘em Boppers

$9.99/pair (colors vary)

Pool noodle

$2.19/each

The boppers and noodles are great for games, and the options are endless for incorporating these into obstacle courses or just fun free play. (Make sure you’ve got quick reflexes or you might get a wallop…I know from personal experience!)

The pool noodles are excellent for rolling on, jumping over, and pretending you have go-go Gadget arms.

The boppers are an entertaining, gentle (we hope!) way for your sensory seeker to get proprioceptive input.

Sidewalk Chalk (24 ct.)

$2.47

Every play space should encourage creativity, and chalk art is a positive way to explore colors while developing eye-hand integration skills as well as motor skills like grip. I left ⅓ of the concrete floor uncovered for a chalk art surface. The chalk dust gets on the foam floor at times, but it wipes up easily.

The decor is of course up to you. I chose Frozen posters (yeah, I know…) but the possibilities are endless!