.....back to basics
Through experience we have found that our children respond well if we take their pace, tuning into what works and what doesn't is key. Going back to basics where we can regress and learn through doing, learn through play. This way the brain can piece together sensory experiences through guided play which leads to connections being made in the brain which in turn learns to development and regulation.
One of our lovely friend parents has an older child with FASD, she has worked with him for many years being guided by his pace of learning, she believes strongly that he has made massive leaps forwards because of the time she invested in him through gentle play sensory based activities that has not only helped her develop a much stronger bond between them but also this has helped her son learn through play.
Developmental target setting can go out the window here, its all about what what your child naturally moves towards and where they find themselves at that point in time. They may loose a skill to gain one, they may regress and have to re-learn things again and again but they will move forwards if you let this thought in........ its OK!
Ideas from parents for sensory play....
Extracts from thoughts of our parents experiences of sensory play.....
My son who is 9 has just started to play with a pretend kitchen and enjoys making us Burger King meals every day! We bought him all sorts of pretend play equipment when he was a toddler but he never understood what to do, he could not work out why he would want to try. Some years later we went to a friends house where their three year old played with him with her play kitchen and pots and pans... he loved it and didn't want to leave!
You don’t need expensive toys to stimulate senses……
It is surprising how many activities need very little equipment. Cardboard boxes are a firm favourite with any children, a child with sensory needs often feels physically comfortable sitting in a cardboard box! My son loves boxes where he just about fits in, it helps his sensory processing by him feeling compressed. I’ve always given him any boxes that we have had items delivered in and he has quite happily got his torch and sat in it.
Collect other types of cardboard boxes to make into things like cars, robots and space rockets. Children get so excited about making something of their own design. Allow your child to take the lead and be around to assist!
Have Sellotape, glue, string and a stapler handy but allow the children to completely express themselves. My son doesn’t like dressing up or having his face painted so he would dress up as a robot for Halloween! The only downside is that you may have to keep your child’s creation around for a long time, but we soon got used to having a cardboard robot in his bedroom.
If you can get to a local carpet shop they often have long cardboard tubes from the inside of carpets. They only dispose of them so ask if you can have some. They are great to race cars through and when no longer needed, the tubes can be recycled!
My son has never been interested in the traditional arts and crafts. He doesn’t like painting or sticking but he prefers making things. Scraps of paper become little books. Fold up paper (see how small you can fold it) and make little books. These can also be made into Animation books by drawing a picture on each page that is slightly different each time. When the pages are flicked, the pictures move!
Post-it notes were always a winner with my son. Write clues on them and stick them around the house. When the children have followed all of the clues, there is a special surprise at the end! This helps with reading and team work. Alternatively draw pictures on the post it notes if your children are not ready for reading yet.
Other games that only need a pencil and paper are games like noughts and crosses and dots and boxes. My son became a master at dots and boxes. Games like this help with turn taking as children like ours often like to control. So you can slowly introduce the idea that they cannot win all the time and that’s ok.
Doodling is fun too, they may not necessarily mean anything to us but getting our children to talk about their doodles will really help them later on. Our children often struggle with this type of thing so start off slow. You can also make up stories, draw a child, then draw a bicycle for example. Say something like ‘One day a little boy got on his bike and rode to the ......’ Then your child draws a picture etc. It’s the process that’s important, getting our children’s brains working in ways they have probably never worked in before is good brain exercise!
If the weather is bad and your children are full of energy, think of things like an indoor assault course. Use some string or wool to tie to door handles, banisters etc. Safety is obviously paramount so please supervise your children (or join in and limbo underneath the string!) Crawling is really good for our children as it strengthens their muscles and many of them may have missed out on this crawling stage. Also, having to pull and push themselves under string makes their bodies work hard which is heavy work and can help our children to feel centred.
We all have one of those drawers at home with ‘bits and bobs' in. My son used to love rummaging around at my parent’s house in Grandad's drawer. It is amazing how long they will spend looking at things that might seem uninteresting to us. They could make their own special drawer for their own precious items (a shoe box is good for this). As and extension of this, also ask friends and family to have a rummage in their cupboards and sheds for any unwanted items. My son has a whole array of items that have been taken apart to see how they work. Magnets are great too!
Most of us have some sort of canvas bag at home. Use one as a feely bag and put one item at a time in it. Your child has to put their hand in the bag and feel the object. They can simply say the name of the item. Then they can have the bag and choose some items and you have to guess.
We know that children with FASD really struggle with their memory and this can often impact on their self esteem. Start off small, one instruction for them to remember. Go and find me a banana, for example. Often, by the time our children have reached the kitchen they have forgotten. You could then say something like ‘it is a fruit, it is yellow.’ Celebrate the little wins as this helps our children feel good about themselves.
You can then progress to a memory game with items on a tray. Show the children the items first, not too many items (you know your child best). They will often remember easier if some of the items are familiar to them like a toy car or small cuddly toy etc. Cover them up with a towel and ask the children to close their eyes (no peeking). Remove one of the items and hide it under the towel. Give the child/children time to see if they can remember the item. Go through what is still on the tray and concentrate on the space where the item is missing. This is often enough for the child to remember.
Other indoor games include Hide and Seek and Musical Statues. Some days a more physical activity like a pillow fight is a good idea to use up energy and reduce stress. Obviously, there have to be certain rules so it doesn’t get out of hand or your child will get over sensitised. But who doesn’t love a good pillow fight?!
If you need a bit of relaxation after your pillow fight, think about a foot spa or very light or firm massage depending on your childs preference.
Often our children like to be the one in charge like the hairdresser or the make up artist. Let them do your hair or put some make up on you. Just remember to look in the mirror before you go out anywhere!!!
Games that you may have at home such as Jenga or dominoes can also be used for other things such as building. Don't be afraid to use games for other things rather than just the game they are part of.
Lego is a firm favourite with children and adults and is great (until you tread on it!) An extension to this is for you to build a model (doesn’t have to be complicated) and then put something like a board or a book infront of your model blocking it from your child’s view. Then you can say, get a red block...... Start off small and then you can progress to saying a 2x2 red block or a 4x2 blue block. This is a great listening and processing activity.
Struggling to get little person to wash their hands....
If you have an unwilling reader like I did (and still do) don’t despair. Let them look at catalogues, brochures, leaflets etc. Plus lots of books now are published as graphic novels which some children find more manageable.
Cooking activities are great for our children but they can also become time consuming and stressful! If your children are not quite ready to bake a cake from start to finish, make your life easier and buy cake mixture. This gets the children used to the process and hygiene of cooking and then when they are ready the recipes can become more complicated. Remember it is about the process just as much as the end product (yum.)
Role play activities are so important for all children, but for children with SEND they are crucial. My son used to love being a Vet and his cuddly toys were his patients. I bought basic (and cheap) bandages and dressings and he would bandage his toys up and check on them. It really did show his empathetic side as he was so kind and caring to his patients. Be warned however, that this activity may expand. I once saw our dog with a bandage around her head! She did not look impressed. Other ideas include a hospital (and it’s not the child who will be the patient!) Plus a shop, hairdressers, garage etc.
Sand can come inside if you have a trough or big container. You can put it on a table or on the floor. Even kitchen trays can be filled with play sand and toy cars can drive through the sand. Invest in some tarpaulins or large plastic sheets which make it easier to clean up .
Water play can be done in the bath, using boats or toys if you don’t have a separate container. My son always loved standing at the kitchen sink splashing about.
All of these activities help with our childrens development. They are learning how things work and problem-solving (a skill which I was often told my son would NEVER have.)
They can also learn to take turns, use more language and enjoy activities without the need to control.
Our children are often happy in their own company and prefer solitary play or will play alongside others but not with them. These activities encourage different types of play, helping them develop socially. Our children often need help to understand themselves so role play and sensory play are excellent as they are learning what they do and don’t like.
Many children who have sensory issues may make them unwilling or more resistant to try new sensory activities, so start very slowly and introduce new materials carefully; it might be that you have furry cushions to stroke, or sandpaper to rub things across, you could perhaps have a bag with textured fabric, feathers etc.
At age 6 my son and I were doing pre-school activities and really started to play, when he was ready, progressing onto more complex activities. You can adapt these suggestions to suit your child, your environment. They might forget so revisit things lots times as repetition is everything.