Virginia Spielmann joins us this week for the first time to discuss a Sensory Lifestyle. Virginia is a Developmental, Individual differences, Relationship-based (DIR) Expert Training Leader, a clinical consultant for the Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning (ICDL), an occupational therapist currently working on her registration in the state of Colorado where she is now the Associate Director at the Star Institute for Sensory Processing Disorders, and a PhD candidate in Infant and Early Childhood Development at Fielding Graduate University.
Sensory Lifestyle with Virginia Spielmann
All of us know about our senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. There are also three more senses: the sense of movement, called the vestibular sense, the sense of your body in space and the feel of your muscles and joints called the proprioceptive sense, and the sense of your internal organs and internal functions called the interoceptive sense. Each one of us has a different individual and unique sensory processing profile that describes how we process each of these senses. This is the ‘I’ in the DIR model for Individual differences.
Sensory systems have huge promise to help us be organized, but when they’re disrupted, disorganized, or there’s poor integration they can be problematic, says Virginia. In most autistic children and in children with developmental differences or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), sensory processing challenges can prevent them from being able to stay regulated, alert, and focused. So much energy is exhausted dealing with sensory input, that there is no energy left to share attention and engage with others.
Sensory Integration Books
Children who are underresponsive to vestibular input may not have a sense of where their body is in space and this impacts their emotional development and their ability to access relationships. This individual difference leaves them feeling like astronauts walking through the world. So much of their neural real estate is committed to figuring out where their body is in space that they get fatigued. Therefore, they don’t have resources available for relatedness and learning that they otherwise are capable of doing.
When our kids are bombarded rather than able to habituate and develop a skill like attention, it takes up all of their resources. This video by Toronto self-advocate Carly Fleishmann shows her experience in a cafe.
Change Your Expectations
We want to incorporate a sensory lifestyle for our child because we want them to be able to figure out who they are in the world. If they’re disrupted by their sensory systems all the time, they can’t get there to figuring out who they are, what they believe, or what their moral compass is. It’s a way of thinking about their day rather than thinking about keeping the child at the table and supplementing their day. It’s about keeping them ‘online’, feeling organized, good, and grounded. A sensory integration occupational therapist can help you identify what could work to set them up for much more success.
- Installing a swing a child can access
- Having lycra bed sheets on the bed so they can feel their body in space
- A dream pad giving them classical music through bone conduction while they sleep
- The way the parent dries the child with the towel in a very specific way with a soothing voice
- Having a sensory backpack with things they can chew, or their special lenses
- Having furniture with real movement or a move-and-sit cushion or standing desks
- Having options for where to do work
- Having access to monkey bars
- Having clothing that is supportive rather than disorganizing such as snug vests that provide pressure
Deep pressure & massage is very relational and a great place to start, but remember to check in with the child about how this experience makes them feel. Don’t ever impose sensory experiences on your child. Recognize that this is an individual different than you. You’ll help him organize his body to try a swing, for instance, but the second he shows you he doesn’t like it, you stop. We want to give the child a way of saying ‘no’. Honouring that ‘no’ is critical. Otherwise we’re not scaffolding the development, we’re adding to the disruption.
Finally, figuring out the way our child communicates with us goes a long way. Work with all the caregivers to review and determine the ways the child is communicating: facial expressions, tone of voice, body movements, gestures, micro expressions that are only there for a second that are rich in communication. Behind all of these things there’s intent but we often miss them because we’re looking for words which is only 7% of communication. Be an expert in how that child communicates. Know their communicative signals. Look for the ‘why’ behind all behaviour.
Until next week… here’s to affecting autism through playful interactions!