Friday, February 27, 2009

Indoor Sensory Ideas and Activities

Indoor Sensory Ideas and Activities
By: Courtney Kowalczyk, M.Ed.

The snow continues to fall here in Michigan, and it seems like forever since my family and I were able to enjoy the outdoors without worrying about frostbite. Cabin fever is really beginning to set in. I cannot wait for the warm sunny spring days to arrive, and to go for a bike ride with my family!

The cabin fever that my family and I have been experiencing lately seems to be a common theme among many of the families with whom I have been working. This time of year seems to be difficult for all of us, and especially for children who have sensory processing difficulties. During the mid-winter months, we typically see an increase in sensory seeking behaviors due to the limited amount of play time outside or elsewhere. The holidays are now over as well, which means that the lights and intense sensory input of the holiday season has past. It is still important to make sure that the sensory needs of our kids are being met. Here are a few simple sensory ideas that you can use during the indoor times of the year.

  • Set-up a sensory course. Children always seem to enjoy making and playing on indoor sensory courses. You can set-up a simple course in your living room, bedroom, or basement using household materials. Couch cushions, pillows, flat sheets, and other items are wonderful materials that you can use to create a sensory course. Your children will have a blast jumping into a pile of cushions, or crawling under a sheet!

  • Increase tactile input. Many children enjoy touching or manipulating sticky or textured surfaces that provide them with great tactile input as well. Playing with shaving cream on a table surface can be very enjoyable, and it is also a great cleaning activity! You can make sensory stress balls by filling balloons with flour or sugar. Finally, finger painting with pudding or jell-o can be enjoyable, too.

  • Take part in physical activities. Even when the weather is cold outside, you can still participate in physical activities. Playing hide and seek, doing the crab walk, or log rolling are great for sensory input as well as increasing physical activity. You can even do a 3-legged race indoors! If the weather is tolerable, then shoveling snow, ice skating, sledding, making snow angels, and building snowmen are great outdoor physical activities.

  • Turn daily chores into the Winter Olympics. Playing games while doing chores always seems to make them more enjoyable for everyone. You can use those chores to help meet sensory needs as well. Shooting baskets with dirty clothes, playing pretend hockey with brooms and dust pans, and being a figure skater while picking up toys can be great fun!

We can all beat winter cabin fever by including more sensory activities in our daily routines. For children with sensory processing difficulties, it is even more important to make sure that they are getting the input they so desperately need. By following these simple sensory ideas, I hope everyone will be able to get the input they need during this time of year. Just keep in mind that spring really is right around the corner!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Climb All the Way to the Top By: PHILLIP

I did climb to the green hammock. I was in the striped one and climbed all the way to the top. I never gave up and made it to the very top. It was hard and my arms got tired.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Eighth Month

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Eighth Month
By: Michelle VanderHeide, BSW

Guided Participation is a concept that is not new, it’s the way we have always learned: parents supporting an infant as she learns to walk, a chemistry teacher demonstrating how to carefully mix chemicals, a college student observing through an internship, and a teenager in driver’s education learning the rules and steps to driving. Without guided participation, we’d have to learn everything on our own, rather than through others’ experiences; and we’d all feel lost and scared. Our world would be a mess! When I look at my 8 month old son, I’m amazed by all the things he has already accomplished through his ability to observe others.

  • You are such a blessing in my life! Daily I am amazed at how much you’ve grown. Sometimes I look at you in bed and think, where has my little baby gone? Where have those opportunities of lying on the couch with you and getting cuddle time gone? I miss those times when you’d just sleep on my chest; yet I am so thankful that you have grown into the rambunctious little boy that you are.

  • You know that you aren’t alone, and that if you are uncertain or confused about something you can look to me for help. The other day you were playing with a ball – like you often do – and it rolled under the couch. Instead of getting upset, you rolled your way over there and started reaching under the couch. You were unable to reach the ball, so you sat up and looked right at me. You had that look of “help me mom” on your face. I was happy to move the ball a little closer to you so you could successfully pull it out.

  • You are getting places pretty quickly with your army crawl, but you are intrigued by integrating your legs at the same time. On the one hand, I’d love for you to do a full crawl; but I don’t mind you helping to keep the floors clean either. When your sisters are crawling around on the floor, you are watching them carefully. It won’t be long now and you’ll get it! You also like to pull yourself up to see what’s on the table or couch. You try hard to stand, but you haven’t quite got it yet. You get up to your knees, and we can just see your beautiful blue eyes peering over the top of the coffee table. It’s so cute.

  • You initiate play all the time now. You often start to clap so we’ll play patty cake with you. You start clapping (both hands open now) and look at me with a big smile. If I say “patty cake” you start smiling even bigger, and start clapping again. You think you are so funny. You watch all the hand actions closely, and you pretty much have every move down now. Once we get through the whole routine, you start it over again.

  • Every time I play a game or do a puzzle with one of your sisters, you want to be right in the middle of it all. You scoot over and get mad if you can’t play, too. You notice that you aren’t getting all of the attention. The other day grandma was holding your younger cousin, and you didn’t like that at all. You squealed while scooting all the way over to grandma’s legs. You pulled at her pant legs, trying to get your way back to her arms. You are so spoiled and so loved! It’s amazing to me how observant of your surrounding you are.

  • A new trick you picked up is waving “goodbye.” You watch me closely while I show you how to wave. Sometimes you choose to join in the waving, other times you just smile. It’s like you are playing a game – “I know how to do that, but I’m getting a lot of attention; so I’ll just let them keep waving at me.” When you do wave, you wave like you are Miss America, with the fancy back and forth wave. Very silly coming from a baby, but so unique to you. I think it’s beautiful.

As a neuro-typical child, my son continues to reach new milestones on a regular basis. He is able to watch others and learn from them. The dynamic world is fascinating to him; yet when he is confused or uncomfortable, he is able to look to me for support. This just goes to show the importance of developing a solid master apprentice relationship, where the child learns from the parent and is given support when uncertain. If things are moving too quickly for your child, s/he will be unable to learn from other’s experience, robbing him/her of the opportunity to grow. If you notice that your child is missing some of the above milestones, it may be because s/he is unable to learn in fast moving, dynamic settings. RDI has many strategies to help children with autism or other developmental disabilities learn the same way children have always learned - through and with a trusted guide. It’s worked all over the world since the beginning of time; and it can work for your child, too!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hot Wheels Track

Jonathan put together a Hot Wheels track. There were many of pieces. Jonathan put a bright red car on the track first. The car goes and races around. He likes to line cars up on the track but be careful of your fingers, the cars go very fast. He likes to try different cars to see which ones work the best. Jonathan cheers, "Go! Go! Go! You can do it!" as his favorite cars race around the track.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


By: Erin Roon, MA CCC-SLP

According to the American Heritage Desk Dictionary, the word apprentice is defined as “one learning a trade under a skilled master; or a beginner.” I find both of these definitions to be relevant to the work I do each day, as well as the way I think about apprenticeship in relation to the remediation of autism spectrum disorders or related neurological disorders.

Apprenticeship in job training has been around for hundreds of years, dating back to the middle ages. The idea of apprenticeship itself has been around much longer than that, since the dawn of history. Humans have been learning from “masters” forever, and it is what allows the human race to survive. Parents apprentice their children who apprentice their children, and so on. This passing on of basic survival skills is not what we may traditionally think of as a master/apprentice relationship; but in reality, it is apprenticeship in its most basic and necessary form.

We tend to think of apprentices in relation to job training, or within education, or the work force. While this form of training is the backbone of most occupations, apprenticeship is used in many places, and for many purposes. If you go back to the definition at the beginning of this article, it states that an apprentice is one who is learning a trade under a master. When I think of this, I take the meaning of the word “trade” loosely. Trade could mean skill, task, or concept. When thought of in this way, apprenticeship applies to almost everything we learn throughout our lives.

When was the last time you were an apprentice or a master? I often find myself in both positions. Sometimes I am even caught as a master and an apprentice of the same task. As I continue to learn, I begin passing my knowledge and discoveries on to someone else. I’m sure you have all had this experience as well. Let’s face it, there are some things we will never completely master, but we know enough to take on an apprentice and begin guiding him or her to a new level of understanding.

In my profession, I am in the unique position to be both a master and apprentice. I spend most of my days guiding parents to carry out the process of remediation with their children with an autism spectrum disorder or related neurological disorder. But I often find myself making new discoveries as well, and expanding my abilities even though I am in the master role. This guidance and learning is all based on the master/apprentice relationship that is not unique to parents of children with disabilities, but is inherent in the act of parenting. So, I guide parents who are also in the position of being both master and apprentice.

When parents are in the master role, they spend their time guiding their child to make new discoveries within the safety of their trusting relationship. Parents support their children in learning new things, taking their teaching one step at a time until the child feels competent and ready to take on more independence. So what does this master/apprentice relationship look like between a parent and a child? The following is an example of how a parent would guide their child in learning to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, steps s/he would use to foster competence and independence.

  • The parent has all necessary materials ready, and begins by having the child be responsible for helping get the bread out of the bag onto the plate. The parent fosters the discovery of needing the bread first by talking the child through what the first step would be. The parent may then have the child choose the next item, and help to open the peanut butter or jelly. At this stage, the parent may just have the child watch as s/he spreads each ingredient.

  • As the child becomes competent with the steps above, the parent then adds the step of spreading the ingredients. The parent might begin by using hand-over-hand to assist the child, and gradually remove their hand as the child feels competent.

  • Next the parent allows the child to make his or her own sandwich, but stands by to offer needed assistance or reminders.

  • The final stage sees the child able to make his or her own sandwich independently, without the support or supervision of a parent.

Each of the above stages may be broken down into even smaller steps, depending on the ability of the child; but the idea is for the child to build competence, make discoveries, and develop independence under the guidance of a trusted parent. It should also be noted that each stage should be practiced multiple times before moving on to the next step. Guides want to build competence in their apprentice before expanding the level of independence.

Many parents do this type of guiding on a daily basis, without even realizing what they are doing. Each of these master/apprentice experiences is what fosters independence and a quality of life in our children. This same type of master/apprentice relationship is what we use in the remediation of autism spectrum disorders through the RDI® program. The only difference may be the amount of support and/or time it takes to master a task.

For more information on how you can begin building a master/apprentice relationship with your child, please visit our website at

Monday, February 9, 2009

Trash day

On Mondays we collect all of the trashes and put them in one or two bags and put them in the big black trash can. Then we collect the recycling and bring it to the bin. Then we take it out to the curb. Sometimes we play rock hockey on the way back. The end.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

One Step Back, Three Steps Forward: Dysregulation and Development

One Step Back, Three Steps Forward: Dysregulation and Development
By: Nicole Beurkens, M.Ed.

I’ve been thinking about dysregulation and developmental “growth spurts” lately, as my 9-month old daughter has had a weeklong stretch of frustrating behavior. Normally she is a very easy baby; content to hang out with us and do whatever. She generally likes to be held, likes to play with toys on the floor, sleeps through the night, etc. Two weeks ago she learned to crawl —that funny army crawl where babies kind of use their elbow and knee to propel themselves forward as they move across the floor (OT’s in the audience-yes I know the importance of doing a cross-crawl but for now she is doing it this way!). She wants to get everywhere and she is FAST! There is now a lot of time spent telling her “no you can’t go there,” and picking her up to move her back to a space where she can be. She has also started to wake up quite a bit in the night; crying out and banging on her crib rails. I’ll go into her room to see her trying to pull herself up in the bed. Then she gets mad when she falls down onto the mattress. During the day she seems to be is frustrated and upset about everything! She doesn’t want to be on the floor unless she is allowed to crawl wherever she wants to. She doesn’t want to be in her jumper or her exersaucer; but she doesn’t really want to be held either. Basically she just wants to be on the go and exploring her newfound mobility, and if she can’t then she is MAD!

I remember this happening with my three boys as well when they were this age. It seems like my kids go through a period of falling apart around the time they make a developmental leap forward, and even for some time after that as they settle in to their newfound abilities. It’s obvious to me with my daughter that this is what is going on right now because she is my fourth child, but I remember with my first one thinking that he had turned into a nightmare overnight! Now I’m able to ride it out knowing that they all go through periods of time like this and it will end.

In the Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) work I do with families who have children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, I see this same phenomenon occur. Sometimes parents will call or email to say that their child is suddenly going through a very dysregulated time period. When we look at it closer, they have either just developed a new skill or way of thinking about things, or they are about to go through a developmental spurt. It seems to be the brain’s way of reorganizing itself, which can be a dysregulating process. Obviously not all dysregulation in children with these disorders can be attributed to cognitive reorganization and developmental growth spurts, but it is something worth considering if you see it happening with your child. Looking at it from this perspective allows us as parents to slow down and wait to see what happens, without immediately worrying that our child has regressed or become permanently dysregulated. Sometimes in development we take a step back to take a few steps forward; and that is good to remember for all kids!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Phillips hamster of dough

Phillips hamster is complete.

"I wanted my hamster to have blue eyes and teeth and be yellow. His name is Hammy".

Marble race game

Here is a picture of Jonathan racing marbles on the run he built next to mine.

Jonathan's response was "marble race game, Jonathan's marble faster!" (and it was).

Jonathan did a terrific job using all of the colors in his run and sharing them with me.