Saturday, July 18, 2009


SPD kids love, and hate, water. For instance, the first few years of my son's life, I never understood why he cried when I laid him back in the bathtub to wash his hair. Or when the water trickled over his face, he would throw a fit. Yet, he loved long long showers, and deep, soaky baths. So why all the fuss?

First, sensory kids have problems in space as it relates to gravity. Leaning back is too much, especially in the water, where they believe they will fall. The 'trickly' water running across his forehead and down by his ears feels terrible to him (much like bugs crawling would feel.) Leaning back to wash hair in a shower is a minefield, as in order to do this, many children have to close their eyes. He cannot sense where the water is, where the floor is or where he is, so feels as though he will fall. Remember that SPD causes some senses to fail, particularly when the eyes are closed.

However, water can be a great tool to calm. After all, water provides pressure. And as we have learned, pressure is a very very good thing. Swimming, even just playing, in a pool is a great sensory experience. Deep water pressure. Baths are great as well. Have a jacuzzi bath? All the better. Pressure from every side!

Water is also very important to drink. Sensory kids love soda. They love how it fizzes in their mouth and makes sensory stimulation there. It is not good for them, (or anyone for that matter) and will make the child feel worse later. Soda in moderation. Water water water should be the main drink. Splash it with cranberry juice. Shave some ice chips to 'wake up' the mouth. At least 8 glasses daily and more in the summer.

On another NOT push your child to swim lessons too soon. If he or she is afraid of the water it will increase, not decrease. And the swim teacher is unlikely to have experience with SPD, or even understand the child's fear of the water. You must understand, the child feels as though he is going to die. It is certain mortal terror. Put yourself in the child's place, and try to comprehend their fear. It is real. They will learn to swim if you slowly but surely keep taking him to the pool.

Regular swimming is very difficult for an SPD child. It requires the child to do many things automatically and those things are not always automatic for sensory sensitive children. Breathing, arms moving opposite from one another, kicking, and putting the face in the water all have to happen simultaneously. Don't feel bad if your 8, 9 or 10 year old is still walking around in the shallow end of the pool. Be patient and keep encouraging.

(my 10 year old learned to swim 2 weeks ago. So don't despair!)

The last thing is about Epsom salts. Buy 2 or 3 big bags and keep a stock. Put 1 and 1/2 cups in the bath at night. Magnesium is a muscle 'helper.' It is absorbed by the body and causes deep muscle relaxation. Magnesium in the water will make a SPD kid feel great. Hard day? Too stimulated? Epsom salts. Understimulated, waiting around, shopping day? Epsom salts.

Bath's and showers are more easily navigated by offering alternatives to closing eyes, leaning back or light drips. Have your child lean forward to rinse his hair. Purchase a spray shower head and have them sit to rinse. No more tears shampoo...then they can leave their eyes open. Stop yelling at them to get out of the bath and allow them to take as long of a bath or shower as they like.

Encourage encourage at the swimming pool ANYTHING adventurous she does. Tell your best friend, mom, sister in law and Aunt Edna that she will swim when she is ready. (My mom learned to swim at age 65!) Keep going to pools and keep filling those bathtubs.

By the way, you are doing a good job as a parent. I thought all of you out there might need to hear that. Some days I wonder about it myself, whether I am making right choices. With SPD every child, day and situation is different. Take it one day and one issue at a time. You are also learning and compensating as a parent. Save some Epsom salts for you.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Under Pressure

Pressure, I have said, is your friend. Not pressure put on you by teachers or stress from everyday living, but deep pressure for your sensory-sensitive child.

As each day progresses, your SPD child's status will vary: over-stimulated or under-stimulated. Maybe both? Tell tale signs are a vacant stare, outbursts, being clumsy, suddenly falling asleep, violence, stemming, and tantrums. If that is the case (and in my sons' case it is a daily occurance) the child is unable to get back into balance by himself. He must have help. Self soothing is not in the SPD child's arsenal, and the situation will get worse if nothing is done to help him.

The reason deep pressure works best is the fact that pressure on a childs vestibular system assists the child to become more comfortable in his or her own skin. Understimulated children become focused. Overstimulated children calm. It is like magic. No, really.

Here is a great plan of action. You can try this when you child is calm, or when he needs to calm. Anytime of day or night is right for deep pressure.

1. Have your child lay on his tummy on a couch. Pile loads of pillows on top of his legs and torso. Be sensitive to your child's personal dislikes...i.e. keep his arms free, make sure he can breathe, etc. Tell him you are going to make a sandwich and he is the meat. put a pillow on and push it down. Describe it as the lettuce. Then make a pushing all over the pillow..spreading the mustard. Keep going until there are many heavy pillows on top of him. Push down each time. By the time you get to the top of the sandwich, he will be calm and very very happy.

2. Weighted blankets. You can order them from sensory processing websites. They vary in weight. You can see which your child likes, light or heavy. The blankets normally have weights that can be adjusted. Again, each child is you can experiment.

3. Weighted animals. Again, from sensory websites. They wrap around the neck and push down. Great for younger kids. Not too much weight but enough for concentration purposes.

4. Weighted vests and belts. Order again. The vests and belts have removable weights in them, so adjust as needed.

5. Put a back pack on him with books in it and have him carry it through the store, properly supported...not hanging on the lower back!

6. Pushing is deep pressure. Fill the wheelbarrow and let her help you in the garden. Push the grocery basket when it is full. Load up the wagon with her little sister and have her pull it. All deep pressure activities.

7. In a pinch, have her do 'chair push ups' by pressing down with her hands and arms on the chair, lifting her seat up.

8. Tight hugs also do the trick!

9. Use the pillow idea but lay across the pillows (carefully). Your weight will be distributed across the pillows.

10. Joint compressions are deep pressure. Joint compressions and brushing go together. The brushing and joint compressions take some time to explain, so we will be exploring that in a later blog.

11. Baths. Swimming pools. Water is a great source of deep pressure.

12. Spinning in tire swings, spinning in general causes the g force to press the body down.

13. Pulling a sibling across the floor on a blanket.

Get creative. Lots of opportunities for deep pressure if you look around.

Don't withhold the pressure! It isn't a time out, it isn't a reward, it isn't a punishment. It is what he is not getting from his everyday experiences. The more he gets the better he feels. The better he feels the easier things are for him, and for you, the parent. That is our goal!

Monday, June 29, 2009


That word strikes fear in the heart of many a mom with a sensory child. Surprises and SPD do not go together, causing an entire meltdown which may not be resolved until the following day.

First, your family needs to know that surprises are a bad idea. If they insist, tell them you will not be able to attend the function unless you are informed in advance of exactly what will transpire. This may take a sacrifice on your part. It may ruffle feathers, and it may make you unpopular, but you are your child's first line of defense. So try to get the information ahead of time.

But that said, life is full of little surprises. Flat tires, relatives dropping in, new babies, swimming pools being closed for cleaning, a stop at McDonald's and chicken pox. All surprises, and not all happy ones. How do you avoid the 3 hour fit that ensues?

The thing that has helped us most is desensitizing my son. To do that is a daily conscious effort on our part. Start early. As a sensory parent, you are probably doing most of these things already, but if you are not, here are some tips.

1. Practice the same schedule on weekends as during the week for wake up time/bed-time/meal-time. Do not vary the diet from day to day. Don't feed junk food on the weekend and none during the week. Same same same. as much as possible.

2. Early to bed, early rise. Try to have afternoons to rest or free play at home. If there is going to be a surprise, if you have control over it, try to make it in the morning. I will speak on stress hormones later, but the stress hormones are more active in the a.m., so everyone is better able to cope with stress early in the day. by 3 p.m. they are too low for your child to handle anything out of the ordinary.

3. Decompression time each day. That means a quiet environment to play freely. Also outside active time each day.

4. Deep pressure. Deep pressure is your friend. Use weighted blankets, vests, or cover your child with heavy pillows and firmly press him. Pressure is calming to the propreception sense and your child needs it.

5. Brushing and joint compressions daily. I will blog about this technique soon.

6. Prepare before you leave the house on each thing that will happen today. Give him a list. Tell him that sometimes life throws things at us that we do not expect. Once every 3 times you go out to run errands, put the word "surprise" on the list. Then make the surprise-stop fun. A stop for a cookie, or a sonic drink. A toy store run where you get something small for them. If your child maintains their composure, praise them. If not, don't scold. Say "you must be very frustrated as that was not what you expected." Acknowledge their feelings but move on.

7. When life hands you a surprise that is NOT fun...flat tire, unexpected Dr. Visit. Be very matter of fact. If your child can read, take your child's' list and add the word "surprise" in. Hand it back to them and tell them that you know he doesn't like surprises, and tell him, you at times do not like surprises either. Give them a choice of what you might do when the crisis is over. (You must remain calm and non-effected by the event. the less you react, the better.)

8. Pack a 'surprise' bag. Include a favorite stuffed animal, earplugs, a body-brush, a chewy tube or straw/gum, and fidget items. If there are things he loves, put those in the bag only to be pulled out when surprises happen.

Desensitize him first, and next make the child look forward to surprises as times when he is rewarded, praised or otherwise made more comfortable.

So many times parents of sensory kids must shield the child from situations which might trigger episodes of tantrums or nervousness. Remember that a child with SPD...every day living is a challenge which is almost too much to bear. The balance is so precarious that one proverbial straw breaks the camels' back. As the parent, you know when you have reached your limit, when one more thing sends you over the edge. Now imagine yourself as an SPD child, at that state all day, every day.

What we as parents must do is to make the child better able to deal with life. Life is literally full of surprises, good and bad. A child that is somewhat shielded from this can handle occasions that are unavoidable. A Spd child desensitized and in balance the rest of their day can better cope with the unexpected. An understanding parent can also create a sense of stability, and the child will know that no matter what life throws at him, he can compensate.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

More suggestions for eating.

Now I would like to tackle the actual eating experience, so that you can use all the tools in your arsenal to tackle the battle that is dinnertime. Certain parts of the dining experience can be key to controlling the meal and making it go the direction that you, the parent, want it to go. Common sense says that peaceful meals make things taste better and don't give you stomach aches. The same is true for your child.

There are also nutritional fixes, natural things, that may cure many stomach issues occurring with your child..which you may not even be aware of! More on that later.

Let's start with the environment. Make sure:

1. Use a calm voice and don't turn on the TV while you eat.

2. Try other rooms to eat in. Many times Kitchens have smells that overload your child's sensitive nose.

3. serve the food on non slip plates. Do not place all the food on the table. Serve everyones' plate then bring it to the table. Again the smells and textures are more easily handled in SMALL amounts...

4. Use different utensils. Many times stainless steel forks/spoons are too much (sharp edges, too cold/hot) for a sensitive child. there are other options for utensils, rubber tipped spoons, small forks, even chopsticks have been used successfully by sensory kids.

5. Small portions. Small bites. Small steps. All important at mealtimes.

6. bring a doll or stuffed animal to the table to 'try' the food first.

7. No power struggles please. No threatening. No scolding. You will cause the opposite to happen with your sensory child and he will shut down, or revolt and you will have more issues the next meal. remember, calm voice, firm, calm demeanor. small steps.

8. Praise a lot. when they touch a new food, praise them. praise them for sitting through the meal.

9. use a disc-o-sit in the chair to give them the chance to move around at the table. ESPECIALLY out to eat.

10. write down exactly what he or she eats on a daily basis and get some help from a nutritionist if necessary.

11. Try feeding your child before the rest of the family...if you are trying something new, and make it non threatening. Just put it in front of him and continue cooking and prepping the meal. Many times the no stress environment does the trick.

Now, additional nutritional issues that might be happening.

Has your child had lots of antibiotics? More than 3 rounds?

Does he or she complain of frequent stomach aches?

Does he or she want scrambled eggs all the time? Or crave fatty foods, like cheese, butter, pizza?

Does he or she complain that their 'bones hurt?'

Does he crave very spicy or flavorful foods?

Does he or she complain about stomach aches or have gas frequently, especially after milk products?

General digestion problems?

If You said yes to the antibiotic question. Highly likely your child has a yeast overgrowth. Your doctor will poo poo the idea, but I believe it can be fixed with natural organic yogurt or chewable Acidopholis bacteria. The antibiotics kill bacteria, and they also kill bacteria you need to digest food. Replacing that bacteria can make the digestion work properly again.

yes to the stomach aches and general digestion problems? Again, yogurt and digestive enzymes (at GNC, capsules, empty them into pudding or yogurt..) The enzymes give their stomach a 'helping hand' and will improve your childs' digestion and with it, their attitude for eating.

For the scrambled eggs, fatty food questions...the brain is lined with lecithin. Eggs contain it. and the body tends to crave the things that are deficient. Fatty foods could mean an omega 3 deficiency...which is remedied by more fish, flax-seed oil or supplements. Coromega makes one that tastes like pudding.

Bones hurting can also signal EFA essential fatty acids are deficient. Vitamin D could also be a cause. 15 minutes of sunlight a day without sunscreen on will fix Vit D problems.

Spicy cravings are oftentimes caused by zinc deficiency...zinc supplements are available and will help. These cravings are often associated with kids that do not like meat products.

Gas or stomach distress after milk products usually signal lactose intolerance. the digestive enzymes mentioned above will fix the problem if eaten with the milk product.

go to to read more about enzyme supplementation. has disc o sit and alternative utensils to use at mealtimes.

GNC or your neighborhood drugstore carries enzymes and acidopholus is found at major retailers including walmart. Stonyfield farms is the best brand of yogurt with beneficial bacteria to boost immune systems.

I hope this answers some of your questions on eating . If you have additional ones, please ask.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Eating Issues, Part 2

Ok. So you have tried all the above suggestions and nothing works. You are pulling your hair out and the tantrums have reached all-time highs. You are ready to throw in the towel and give in.

My advice is, do. To an extent.

You can take away some of the bad stuff while you are learning how to adjust to new foods. For instance, my son loves chicken nuggets. So I might serve chicken nuggets (either home-made or a good organic brand) every other night in order to get my child's protein requirement in. The bad stuff, in this case, might be the additives or nitrites (in the case of hot dogs.) However, consider this..chicken nuggets have both protein and zinc. Both are important to feeling well, muscle growth and wellness. So perhaps I have 'given in' to chicken nuggets, but I also know he is getting a quality protein with other important nutrients.

We also might try a new food, or if the food looks and tastes "yucky" we regroup and are given a choice of a healthy alternative...i.e. organic fish sticks, quality peanut butter and low sugar jelly, etc. Then mealtimes can be pleasant and remain a place to 'try' new things...not be forced. Forcing a sensory child seldom works, usually time and familiarity fix things.

Another thing I have learned is which vegetables are "ok" and which are really not. My son loves green beans, but refuses tomatoes. Likes carrots raw, but cooked will not touch them. So we compromise, and yes it does mean sometimes that dinner is unconventional and a bit more work for mom. However, if you are fighting with your sensory child over dinner, it is time to stop and make it something you both look forward to, instead of dread.

If vegetables are just not an option, sneak them in! Or compromise and have more fruits if that is what your child will eat.

Your child will need the following at meals. A protein, a carbohydrate and a fruit or vegetable. How you do that will largely be determined by the child, the day and the foods he or she can tolerate. Breakfast can be unconventional...peanut butter and jelly is how we start our day. My son doesnt like eggs..never has. We have tried all carbohydrate breakfasts but they make him feel terrible. peanut butter is a good compromise and a complete protein.

Lunch can be the same every day, but make sure there is a carbohydrate, pasta, bread, rice etc, and a protein ...meat, fish, chicken, ham turkey, cheese, eggs etc. then add a fruit or a veggie.

Family dinners are challenging. Your child may be trying very hard to try and like the things offered. Remember that every day and every meal for a sensory sensitive child is a challenge. He wants to please you, he just cannot due to all the sensations that are flooding his mouth.

tomorrow I will offer other tips for children for that 'fussy' evening meal. And additional suggestions for modifications of utensils, environment, etc.

"He'll eat when he is hungry" ...or maybe not

I am sure you have heard the "just hold out and he will eat when he is hungry" advice. But for your sensory child, eating and all that goes with it are a field of land mines. Normal kids have normal hunger and satiety feelings and responses. Unfortunately, any parent of a sensory kid knows..there is nothing normal about life with a sensory child!

So this blog will be dedicated to some helpful advice on dining. In and out of the home.

First, let me say that many things go into the eating process which your (and my) child is ill equipped to do. Biting chewing and swallowing takes over 26 different muscles, and if your child has motor planning problems, this is an incredibly difficult task. The child may take tiny bites, or over-stuff his mouth (my sons' problem) because he cannot feel the food in it. Food and saliva sometimes collect between gum and lips, causing gum disease and crooked teeth.

The following is a common diet for a sensory child.

dry cereal and juice for breakfast
crackers grapes for lunch
peanut butter sandwich for dinner

there is a milk version that includes many milk foods, mac and cheese, cereal and milk, bagel cream cheese and juice.

Obviously neither diet nutritionally sufficient for growing brains or bodies. ( This will be 3-4 part blog series on eating, so read on! )

If your child has the following problems, you need professional help from a PT or OT (physical therapist/occupational therapist) trained in sensory stimulation and sensory processing.

not gaining weigh properly

cant join the family in regular activities unless specially accommodated with eating.

looks pale or unhealthy

frequently sick with a runny nose or cough

chronically moody/temper tantrums about food

eats mostly pasta cereal or crackers for dinner

frequent gastrointestinal problems...constipation, diarrhea

gags regularly

There are things a parent can do to help a child's nutritional choices and his nutrition. With-holding food that the child will eat for things he wont (he'll eat whats' served or nothing) is dangerous, as it can cause all sorts of health problems. So don't listen to friends' advice or your mothers'....about how to get him to eat. It won't work and it will make him sick. So what is a mom or dad to do? Here are some tips.

1. One new food at a time. ONE. to increase familiarity. If it is on his plate several times a week then he may get curious.

2. One bite. Just one..let her spit it in a napkin if she hates it.

3. Praise and reward for licking food. Yes just licking.

4. make a picture collage of the food they hate. (have them cut out the pics and glue on!) talk about the food in a happy way.

5. then have the child eat in a room with the food in sight. then on a dish close to him, then on his plate. then have the child touch with her finger, tongue, etc.

6. Buy 'jelly belly' beans in different flavors. Try one a time. have him identify the flavor. Make it a game. make it fun.

7. Condiments are your friend. use ketchup, Parmesan cheese, yogurt, mustard, soy sauce. Have him experiment with what he would like to try.

8. Fresh fruit usually tastes better and has a better texture than canned. Bananas are high sugar, and many sensory kids cannot bear the texture. So don't force bananas. Serve fruit cold or frozen to wake up the palette.

9. Vary the temperature. See if he or she prefers her food lukewarm cold or hot. then serve it that way.

10. Make a smoothie from fresh fruit, ice, milk and vanilla frozen yogurt. (frozen strawberries work great in this) Throw in some protein powder in a vanilla or chocolate flavor (one or one/half scoop). Make it thick and give him a straw to suck it through. The sucking is calming and the smoothie tastes like dessert....only you know it isn't. This is a great choice for a snack or if your child is not a breakfast eater.

11. V-8 makes a juice that tastes GREAT and is made from veggies and fruits. There are several flavors, try them all to see which one your child likes best. One serving of fruit and vegetable per 8 oz glass.

12. Avoid drinking milk, juice and sugary drinks between meals as it will kill their appetite. Too much during meals can also restrict what they eat (we have discovered that water is the best!)

13. If your child refuses water....make a spritzer. Put an ounce of cranberry juice in a big glass of water. Name it something "Kids' kooler" Tell them that it is just for kids. Try son loves the can put juice in it as well.
you can also infuse water with pineapple or orange slices, lemon or lime. try different flavors until one hits right.

14. Let your child make a specific food list of things he will not be forced to eat. Make sure to stick to the list. My child has potatoes, salmon (although he will eat salmon croquettes with plenty of ketchup) Brussel sprouts and broccoli on his list. I never force those foods on him.

My next blog will deal with those that have tried all the above and are still having issues eating.

Dont give up! keep trying. You will adapt and so will they.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Sensory Sensitive Child

The first of my posts will deal with the sensory sensitive child. If you have found my blog by searching 'sensory processing disorder,' you are most likely a very frustrated, loving parent, looking for answers. I hope to be one of the first to give you what you are seeking.

What is SPD? Sensory processing is something we all do. We learn to use the information given to us by our senses and it helps us learn to walk, tie our shoes, know the difference of a dime and quarter by touch alone and filter out unncessary information. We think about senses as being sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing. All true.

However, we have 2 extra senses. they are automatic and they are very very necessary.

Propreception is the 'fight or flight' response. Ever had your hair stand up on end? Or knew someone was in the room before you saw them? That is propreception at work.

Vestibular is where you are in space. In relation to gravity. This morning you stepped out of bed and your feet hit the floor. You did not have to think where to put your feet or modulate how hard the feet hit, your body knew right where it was. Your brain didn't help you out, your body just knew.

In a sensory sensitive child's world, his 'wiring' is off. None of his senses work correctly....Instead of fight or flight sometimes, it is always fight or flight, ..too sensitive they flee, not sensitive enough they fight. No balance and no middle ground. he has no idea where in space he is, so he is clumsy, falls, bumps into walls or people.

She has no filters, so the 5 original senses are either heightened to the extent that hairbrushing is excrutiating, or lowered so much that he can eat a bowl of hot sauce and spin on a tire swing for hours. Sounds like the vacuum, hair clippers or thunder can literally make a child scream in pain. Or they refuse to eat anything but one particular food, as all other foods are 'mushy' or 'gross.' Or they stem or do repetitive movements to calm themselves. Or they are constantly wearing shoes on the wrong feet, or they don't cry when the doctor gives them shots or they fall.

If this sounds like your child, he may be sensory sensitive.

Questions? feel free to comment on any post you like. I will be blogging often with help and advocacy and answers. Everything from school to family life, to unsupportive spouses and unbelieving doctors. How to's for eating, sleeping, playing and calming. Even getting the state to step up and pay for your childs' therapy after age 3 (yes, it can be done!) with therapy, the earlier, the better. Links for indoor swings, weighted blankets, chewy tubes and bumpy seats.

As to the parent that is reading this post, you can and will compensate, and your child is very very special. She (or he) needs you desperately right now, and you may be the only one to help her. I believe things happen for a reason, and you have been given a special gift, an SPD child.

Love them, and know you are not alone.