Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Life Alert!

Without trust, relationships falter. Somewhere along the way, Pamela learned to trust me as her guide and I learned to trust her feelings of incompetence. As we put together a program for her sensory under responsivity (SUR), which I have been studying in the book Sensational Kids, trust comes to the forefront.

For years, sensory integration techniques helped Pamela calm down and gave her enjoyment, especially vestibular (spinning stuff). I also knew how to protect her from overwhelming situations and guide her through the ones we could not avoid. However, I did not realize Pamela's gentle passive nature might have a sensory connection. As I was reading the profile of the SUR child Tam in the book Sensational Kids, I saw Pamela in nearly every sentence. For example, she was such a good baby; she never cried; people in restaurants and airplanes complimented us because she was so quiet. Too quiet!

Trust is at the heart of a program we are developing to address Pamela's SUR. I cannot find playgrounds with full-blown swings and merry-go-rounds that could truly match Pamela's love of everything that stimulates her vestibular system. I think America's affection for lawsuits have made it much harder for thrill-seeking kids. I did find this spinning wheel thing from which a child can hang. The problem is that Pamela wanted nothing to do with it at first, even though her feet would only be about six inches off the ground. On Tuesday, she would not try it at first, even though I said I would hold onto her. While it is good to encourage a person to try new sensory things, forcing the issue can backfire. So, I demonstrated it a couple of times and she tried it once after she made me promise to hang onto her, which I did. Because she trusted that I would keep my promise, Pamela tried it and had a big smile on her face when her feet hit the air!

Since she was so hesitant, I backed off and we only did one sensory thing that day. Less is often more, and leaving someone wanting more can build interest for the next trip. Yesterday, we arrived at the park after our walk and I sat down to read. I usually let Pamela do what she wants and then I work on the sensory stuff. Suddenly, I hear, "Help me!" I was delighted to see Pamela at the spinning wheel! This time, she tried it twice and I spotlighted her accomplishment.

I had hoped she would try one more thing, so I headed her over to this climbing thing. I did not realize it was so wobbly and bobbly. When Pamela began climbing, the thing zoomed into a new position and she cried out for help. So, I ran over to rescue her. We tried it one more time and embued the experience with imagination. I became the rescuer and Pamela became the person needing help. As the climbing thing swung wildly, she yelled, "Life Alert!" from the infamous ad. I played along with that connection, and she loved it! Again, Pamela left the park laughing and feeling competent.

I made two big discoveries in these short interactions. I was trying to figure out why she was so hesitant because she does not have gravitational insecurity. She swings as high as she possibly can on a typical swing. She adores rocking chairs, slides and merry-go-rounds. In all three situations, she is seated. I suspect she might not have confidence in her upper body strength. I also think that letting our imaginations run wild as we explore may leave her wanting more. Charlotte Mason and Lev Vygotsky both valued pretend play as crucial to the development of children.

I have come up with a list of vestibular activities to rev up her system: independing rocking chairs, synchronized rocking chairs, swinging at the neighbors, exercise ball, and everything I can find at the park, which will also build her upper body muscle strength. To build up muscle tone in her legs, we take walks and she is building up to thirty minutes on the elliptical trainer. In the role of coach, I handle music (letting her guide me with nonverbals) and water, letting her drink through a straw. When I get back from the conference, I plan to figure out a program with exercise bands.

I am adding alerting textures and smells to Pamela's self-care routines. I picked out a hairbrush with stimulating, but not painful plastic bristles and a very nubby handle. She does not enjoy brushing her hair. I found a sponge on a stick for those hard to reach places and fresh-scented body wash. We added a vibrating toothbrush and strong-smelling noxema pads for her face a few months ago. The key is to find things that alert without overwhelming her.

Pamela loves very sour foods like salad with vinegar, pickles, and handsqueezed lemonade (she does it herself). I suspect she has already figured out that strong foods wake up her taste buds. Drinking through straws, which she does anyway, wakes up the mouth, too. I am also seeking things to alert her when she is doing schoolwork: active music on the radio from our favorite music station, minty or fresh smelling candles, minty gum, etc.

I have a list of things to buy when the price is right: hammock, mini-trampoline, weighted vest (maybe a pretty women's fishing vest with modeling clay weights), etc. Here are pictures of some of the elements we are exploring right now:


Bonnie said...

I love Dr. Miller's book too! If she likes "bitter" tastes have you tried "Quench Gum"? You can get it at sports stores. It really wakes up your mouth!

Anonymous said...

Your daughter's sense of humor is priceless. I love her phrases. I got a kick out of "life alert!" What a hoot.

I am not autistic, but I don't like the sensation of falling or hanging from my upper body, either. I hated the see saw as a kid. It terrified me. So did the slide, but then, that's a heights issue I think.

What fun to get to enjoy your daughter discovering new things. You work so hard at it. I'm so impressed and in awe of all you do. Keep up the good work, Mom!

Anonymous said...

We used an old baby crib mattress on the floor for Hannah to jump on instead of a mini-tram. They are surprisingly springy!

walking said...

Bonnie, I will have to find some of that gum!

Karla, Pamela does have a wonderful sense of humor. She broke up an astronomy talk at the nature park because his mention of galaxy got her to say very loudly, "Never give up! Never surrender" from the movie Galaxy Quest!

Sonya, . . . my baby is now six feet tall! After a gazillion moves, we left his crib mattress behind many moons ago. But, we still have the kid's mattress he outgrew when he hit puberty!