Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sensory Processing Disorder 101 ~ Eight Senses

We all know someone who processes senses differently. Even though Sensory Processing Disorder has not yet made that 'official' status in the DSM (diagnostic manual that doctors use to name disorders), we know it's REAL! Ask anyone who craves deep pressure, cringes at the sound of someone else chewing, or hates tags if the are 'faking' it and you might get yourself a very dirty look! In fact, Sensory Processing Disorder is so real that it can debilitate anyone in a snap. Think about a fire alarm going off and the utter panic elicited by one single sound. The fact is, our bodies are designed to protect us from perceived danger and our very survival depends on it!

What ARE the eight senses?

1) Vision or sight. 

We see things with our eyes and an entire center of the brain is designated to process and make sense of what we see. Sometimes, we react reflexively to light (pupils constrict or dilate) and other times, we need a few seconds to process what we are seeing. 

2) Smell or olfactory

Our nose is intimately connected with our brain. In fact, the olfactory lobe of the brain is RIGHT near the nose! Smell is even directly connected to our brain's memory areas so that a certain smell can immediately trigger powerful memories and emotions.

3) Taste or oral. 

Everyone who has experienced a sinus infection knows that if you cannot taste, it's not worth eating! We all prefer salty, sweet, sour, hot, spicy, and other foods. Our mouth is equipped with receptors that allow us to enjoy eating. Our society has traditions surrounding mealtimes and one of the most stressful types of sensory integration dysfunction involves feeding or oral-sensitivity!

4) Hearing or Auditory.

We respond to our environment effectively as we process sound. An infant in the womb knows her mother's voice and responds to it. As we learn about our surroundings, we understand that sounds can mean danger. For instance, high-frequency sounds give us detail about information around us and low-frequency sounds (thunder or booms) alert us to possible danger. Many people with sensory integration difficulty experience hyper-sensitivity to sound. One of our favorite ways to help those individuals is via a product called Sound-Eaze. It contains common sounds people fear and pairs them with rhythm and vocals to nursery rhymes so that children can control sounds they otherwise cannot. There's even a School-Eaze version. 

5) Touch or Tactile

Receptors in the skin give us information about light touch, heat, cold, rubbing or brushing, and so many more. We are sensitive to our clothing and feel the pinch of tags, seams, and other itchy fabrics. The dysfunction comes in when we cannot 'accommodate' or get used to those irritations. So, a person who has extra sensitivity in the tactile area, does not accommodate to the tag.....it's itchy and even painful and does not stop until the shirt is removed! Can you imagine feeling your tag ALL day and then trying to work a business deal or form a presentation if your tag is pinching you like a bee's bite? It would be terrible!!

6) Proprioception or Position

This is the body's sense of position or joint position. Receptors embedded in our joints and limbs give us information about where we are in space. This is critical as we function so that we can have smooth and coordinated movements. We need to know how far to reach for our pencil in order to effectively grasp it. We do not need to look at our legs as we walk, we just know they are on the ground and then move them reciprocally to walk. We take this sense for granted. Consider driving. We are looking at the road but know where the gas, brake, steering wheel, and signals are and can move our body to use them without much thought. The process really is automatic and smooth. If you're technical, the spinocerebellar tract in the spinal cord is the highway to our cerebellum and all of this (among other processes) make a nice and smooth system.

7) Vestibular 

One of the reasons I chose to write this post today is because I've had a sinus infection all week. I've been dizzy and nauseated for a while now and I'm quite irritated! What if someone was always feeling dizzy and queasy due to ineffective vestibular processsing. I bet they would feel cranky too. 
The vestibular system includes parts of our inner ear and brain that help control balance and eye movements. Here's a link to the Vestibular Disorders Association. It's a very helpful website. Clumsiness, vision difficulties, coordination and balance issues are common with vestibular dysfunction.

8) Interoception

This lesser known sense is so exciting that I'm almost finished with my favorite book yet about it. While researching about this, I've learned that we are who we are because of our nature and our experiences. Each shapes us and every time we form a memory, it fits into our very being due to how we experience it. Our internal organs have receptors that regulate internal processes such as heart rate, hunger, sexual drive, thirst, urge to use the toilet, fear, and so much more! Interoception is the 'who' we are and 'how' we each see the world through our own eyes. The book will be released in February but in the meantime, read more about it here.

I offer a FREE handout for everyone on my e-mail list. Here's the link to get yours:  GET MY SPD DOWNLOAD  

Monday, January 9, 2017

5 Facts About Weighted Blankets & Sensory COMBO Giveaway!

I am SO excited about this week's giveaway! The Pocket Occupational Therapist has partnered with Harkla to offer a giveaway valued at over $250!!! You'll be entered to win a swing, weighted blanket, and copy of the Weighted Blanket Guide book. The giveaway lasts from Monday 1/9/17 through midnight on Sunday 1/15/17 at midnight. No strings attached, we just want to help as many families as possible! This is the mission of The Pocket Occupational Therapist.

Let's get to the 5 facts about weighted blankets!

1) Weighted blankets are used for adults and children.
In fact, they are used by many with chronic pain, stress disorders, autism, sensory processing difficulties, ADHD, fibromyalgia, and so many more. They have been used in hospitals for years and their popularity is growing. Simply put, they are blankets with weight distributed evenly within pockets or sections sewn into the blanket.

2) What types of things are put into the blankets for weight?
Many items can be used such as sand, rice, beans, and seeds. The problem with these items is they cannot be washed. In my book, The Weighted Blanket Guide, we discuss and provide instructions for making your own weighted blankets! Our recommendation is to use poly-pellets so that they are washable and are non-organic and cannot sprout.

3) Is there a right or wrong weight?
NO! There is no proven research study that was able to be replicated that confirms or stats an exact weight for the blankets. This is why there is so much confusion surrounding the weight of blankets. The best way to start is to use a person's weight. So, 5-10% of a person's body weight is the current suggestion. I recommend using the least possible weight for a person in order to determine IF a weighted blanket will even work. NEVER use a heavy blanket on a person who is under three years of age OR is physically unable to remove the blanket.

Weighted Blanket Guide book, Jessica Kingley

4) Will a weighted blanket work for my child? 
The awesome thing is that when someone responds to a weighted blanket the results can be LIFE-CHANGING!  I recommend trying a weighted lap pad or heavier comforter at first to see if you/your child responds to weight. Some children respond so well to the blankets and they are an awesome, medication free way to provide help and comfort! I spoke to Temple Grandin about weighted blankets and the use of tactile pressure. We agreed that the blankets work for many people but others kids don't respond. The awesome thing is that when a blanket works, IT REALLY WORKS! Children and adults have reported better concentration, increased sleep, increased calmness and focus, decreased pain and overall feelings of well-being when using weighted blankets. They are worth a try!

5) Is there a right or wrong way to use the blankets?
Again, since there have been SO specific confirmed and replicated studies on weighted blanket weight and use (don't worry, many of us are working on researching this), there is no 'official' standard on the way to use the blankets. The general consensus among occupational therapists is to use the blanket when resting, when stressed or needing calm-down time, and/or during sleep. There is no wearing schedule such as time on vs. time off.
Here are some general precautions:
NEVER use a weighted blanket on an infant or child under three. Never use a blanket on someone with wounds or who cannot independently remove the blanket on his/her own. ALWAYS leave the head out so the child/person can breathe.

There you have it......weighted blanket 101! We hope you enjoy the giveaway and share with your friends. Please let us know if you've used a weighted blanket or swing and have noticed the benefits for yourself or your own child. I'm SO excited about this giveaway. For more information about Harkla, check out their website.

In the meantime, enter for your chance to WIN!!! Remember you only have until midnight on Sunday, 1/15/17 at midnight to win.

As with any therapeutic intervention, consult your child's physician or medical professional before beginning any therapy program or trying equipment. Please read my disclaimer here.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

5 New Year Resolution Ideas for Kids

Wow, the power of a visual is never more influential than watching the year change. If you're in the US, you may watch a ball drop on the larger than life 2017 display in Times Square. The feelings are powerful as the end of a chapter in our lives ends and refreshes as the page turns toward a fresh and blank slate.

I've never been a fan of making huge resolutions which probably won't be followed anyway. I feel pressured to make sudden and drastic changes and that feels as though I'm backed into a corner. The same may be true for you or your children. Consider your own goals and feelings toward making both long and short-term objectives. Do you feel anxiety, excitement, jump right in, or don't know where to start?

Any decision made in life involves some risk. What is critical is knowing WHAT is important to YOU. That's tough for some adults so how do we help children with this task? 
Here are some of my 'Out of The POCKET Ideas' for you:

1) Make a list of your strengths. 

Knowing what you're GOOD at doing helps you to create goals that will be meaningful and fun. Think about the things you enjoy doing and can do with success and build on them. Some examples may be:  getting a higher rating in chess; raising your grades in a school subject that you enjoy but didn't spend as much time studying last semester as you should have; making your favorite meal on your own.

2) Choose an area in which you would like to have more confidence.

Sometimes, we know we love something, but are too afraid to try the next step. Create a series or list of  'baby steps' to get to your destination. Write them down or draw them in a chart. I encourage the teens I work with to make a board game out of their goals and jump down the pathway in small steps.

3) Add physical movement to your day.

There's always room for improvement in this area. You don't have to lift 200 pounds or do 50 push-ups, just get outside and move around! Our brains need oxygen and frequent movement breaks in order to focus best. Movement breaks should be completed often and don't have to be complicated. Check out my earlier post about adding movement and mindfulness to your day.  The post contains a great article about the importance of movement. Make a goal to add an hour outside or of physical movement after school and before homework time. I promise, you will be able to focus AND sleep better too!

BONUS: If you'd like to work on life skills, be sure to get our 12 Months of Life Skills Calendar pack!

4) Get rid of ONE bad habit.

Trying to change too many things you don't like about yourself or your routine can be overwhelming. Make a list of things you'd like to change and then cross off the things you know will be too difficult to do right now. 
Ask yourself some of these questions:
-Do I eat too much fast food or pizza?
-Would I like to decrease my time watching TV?
-Do I play too many video games OR am I getting in trouble for playing video games too much?
-Do I go outside or exercise too little or not at all?
-Do I drink soda or sugary drinks every day?
-Do I help my family with household chores?
-Would I like to stop doing something?

When thinking about one of the things you would like to stop doing, try to limit it or decrease it slowly. For example if you drink soda every day, try slowing down to every other day and then only on weekends, etc.

5) Make goals with a buddy.

Find someone who cares about you, a friend, or family member and talk about your goals. Make sure to ask them what their goals are too. Complete the goal-setting process together and make a point to ask each other regularly about the goal's progress. I ask my students to make a mark on their calendars to remind them to check-in with their 'goal buddy.'

I believe in YOU! You can do this and I'd love to hear about your goals and the progress you're making. Make sure to comment and keep me posted.