Everything I Need to Know I learned in OT

Everything I need to know

Have you ever tried to run in a straight line after spinning in circles?  I vividly remember trying to dizzy myself with my brother and sister when I was little. We'd spin and spin and then fall to the floor and watch the room spin around us while we remained plastered to the floor. I loved that!  It was so much fun to be aware that I was not moving even though the world around me was telling me that I was. 

My oldest son used to spin a lot as well. But he never fell to the ground to enjoy the sensations. He didn't GET the sensations! He could spin and spin and then run straight away without loosing balance.  Simply amazing.

When Sage was diagnosed with autism, the service first available to us was OT (Occupational Therapy).  For a long time, I was sure that was all that was truly needed, because of how drastic it's effects were, and the fact that we learned so. very. much.

Our OT  was our introduction into the world of Sensory Processing. 

Did you know that there are tiny hairs in your ear that gives you the sensation of movement? And if they don't work properly, you don't process movement correctly? That is why Sage could run straight ahead after his wild spinning. That was why he kept seeking it out--to give himself the vestibular (sense of motion) input that didn't come naturally.  

His OT also told us that to give him that input, all we have to do is to stop him from spinning one direction and start spinning him in the opposite direction.  

I couldn't believe how quickly he got dizzy when we simply reverse directions!  (This is also the reason why ice skaters tend to spin in the same direction during their routines, otherwise, they would be too dizzy to skate straight and keep their balance--I learned that at OT too.).

Sage also liked to jump up & down, a lot. He jumped all the time, on everything. Uncontrolled, this is a big problem!  But by being intentional, we could help his body process the proprioceptive input he was craving, but not getting on his own.  

We started jumping up & down while counting, or saying the alphabet. We put him on a sensory diet of joint compressions and jumping, along with brushing every couple hours.  (A sensory diet is when you plan in your day, specific activities. So along with his diet of food through out the day, he would have a diet of sensory input throughout his day). 

A sensory diet was our life saver. Simply amazing was the change from a boy who could not get enough sensory stimulation, to a boy who could finally, sit still. 

Then his brother came along and also developed autism. But his kind is pretty much opposite from the "brand" Sage has. He was not a sensory seeker--someone who doesn't get enough sensory input and therefore seeks it out--but a sensory avoider--someone who receives too much input and therefore retreats. He was AFRAID to move. He was tactile defensive. He wouldn't eat food while his brother would eat everything & anything, including door knobs!  Ok, he didn't EAT the doorknob, but he sure did go around licking them all. the. time.

So for Stevie, we had to learn how to "ground" him so he felt safe. We had to give him lots of big squeezes and hugs to give him the deep sensations without the pain that comes from lightly touching him.  Light touch would send him into fight or flight mode (a.k.a. panic attack) and undo any of the calming safe-feeling effects of the deep pressure.   We had him jump to help him FEEL the ground he was walking on. If you can imagine trying to walk when you can't feel where your body is in space, then you can imagine a little bit of what it must have felt like for him. The more grounded he felt, the better he was able to move around while feeling safe.  

One of the other wonderful things we learned about in OT was that the vestibular system is connected to the language system. When you activate one, you activate the other.   Have you ever seen someone pacing back and forth while practicing a speech? Or someone who says they can't think in an organized way unless they are pacing?  It is all the same thing, just more extreme with sensory processing disorder. 

We found that when we had Sage jump on the couch cushions (we learned to LET him do this, because it is good for him!) he would suddenly come up with multiple new words he'd never said before!  It was truly amazing.  Because of this, OT and ST (speech therapy) were often combined into one joint session. OT opens the pathways for ST to work it's magic too.

Isn't that all amazing? Our God is so creative. When something goes wrong in our bodies, it just highlights the wonderful & intricate workings in how we were created. 

 

I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED!  

What sensory stories do you have to tell?  

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For those of you who would like to read more on the vestibular-language connection, here is an article that addresses the topic:  "The 'Magic Cure' For Childhood Communication Problems? Team Power! by the Child Success Center Blog.

 

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Snippets of My Life with Autism: A Sensory Mix-Up

Sensory Mix-Up

I slapped the food right out of my moms hands. She was about to eat it and I just couldn't stand the thought. Green leaves like what I see outside on the trees were in her sandwich. Well, it wasn't really a sandwich because those have two pieces of bread and stuff in the middle. What she had was all rolled up like the cardboard tube that toilet paper is rolled on. And to make it worse, it was wet. There was wet stuff with a smell to it, on the leaves. She put other things in there too. I think it's turkey and cheese, but I am not sure what it is. All I know, is that it is  repulsive to look at and I am sure it is not safe to eat. So that is why I tried to stop her from eating it.  She was not happy when I did that. She said, "That is my sandwich and I am going to eat it. It's my dinner!" but I know that is not a sandwich. I don't know why she keeps calling it that. 

I can't believe she eats leaves.  I would get in trouble if I ate leaves.

I do like to watch her cook though, even though I know you shouldn't eat it.  When she sprays olive oil, there are all these tiny, tiny soft beads of oil in the air all around where she sprayed. I love to put my hand in the middle of the misty cloud and try to feel it. But it's like there is nothing there to feel. I just makes my fingers slippery. I can smell it though. I always try to feel it and smell it now.

When I was little, I didn't want to feel or smell anything. Everything hurt me, except my mom and dads tight, big-squeeze hugs. I loved those because they made me feel all put back together again. But other things, like putting on shoes--oh how I hated that!  They would try to put my foot in the shoe but I knew it would tickle and tickles hurt sometimes, especially the really light ones--they just put a chill through my body like nails screeching down a chalkboard.  So when they tried to put on my shoes, I would just curl my toes up real tight in anticipation of that feeling.  But then my shoes would not fit and my mom and dad would get really upset with me and say I wasn't cooperating. Finally, they figured out if they gave my feet a deep massage first, and then put my shoe on, it didn't bother me so much!  

I also didn't like it when bubbles that you blow out the magic wand, popped on me. I would not reach out to pop them like everyone wanted me to, because that cool light splash on my warm body was like a sharp electric zap. I loved to watch the bubble float down though. I used to make my mom blow more and more and more.

She would even bring bubbles to the store when we all went shopping. I usually didn't make it very long sitting in the hard, shiny cart with the bright lights shining down, reflecting all sorts of colors and shapes and brightness that hurt my eyes--not to mention the flickering they make and the buzzing sound they give off. I don't know how anyone can stand them.  But, if she brought bubbles, I wouldn't cry, because then I could just watch them slowly float down, down, down and it would make me calm and give me something to distract me from all that was happening around me.

Like the noises: the crying babies, the sudden drop that clanked right through my little body, the ear shattering beeping noise that carts at Home Depot make when they back up, the sound of the cart wheels as they roll bumpity-bump across the black top in the parking lot.  Stores can be so loud and I can only handle having that hatchet made of noise split my head open so many times and then I meltdown. My big brother used to wear headphones to make the noise less loud but I just never like the feel of them pressing around my ears. That hurt too.  

Making my own noise is different though. I like to make my own noise and listen to it echo all around me. My family will tell me it's too loud and scrunch their face up at me when I do that, and it makes me laugh and then I do it more to see if they will mess up their faces again.

When I make my own noise, it sounds different inside my head and it isn't as loud as other peoples noises. I think it doesn't bother me as much because I know my noise. I don't have to figure out what that noise is, or where it is coming from, and if it is a warning sound of danger. I know when my noise is going to happen because I am making it. So I am not surprised, or unguarded when my noise comes.

Sometimes, though, I will plug my ears while I make noise, just in case. 

(This is written by my mom, to the best of her ability to understand 9 year-old-me and the way I perceive the world considering I have autism, adhd, and anxiety disorder).

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