Sensory trial and error

One of the biggest priorities at our house these days is helping Little Bear with his regulation. It has always been an issue but I think because other things have settled down, it has come more to the fore. I have been experimenting with various sensory hacks to see what works and which ones we can use routinely to improve things in our daily lives. Here are some things we have recently tried and how we have got on:

Regulation at the table

Little Bear has always struggled with sitting still. He’s fine on a sofa and can sit for quite a while but finds sitting at the kitchen table for mealtimes particularly tricky. He is better on our wooden bench than on any of the chairs but still tends to kneel up and change position a lot and get down a lot. I have been trying to engage Little Bear in his own regulation more so I recently asked him why he moves about so much. I had no idea if he’d have enough insight to be able to tell me but it seemed worth a try. He said he didn’t like being too low down. We then experimented with putting various items on the bench to make him higher and a bit more comfortable. Several were no good or too unstable but in the end we settled on a beanbag. We can tuck it through the gap in the back of the bench so it stays in place and Little Bear has given it his seal of approval.

I have to say it has been pretty miraculous in its efficacy. Little Bear is certainly able to sit still for much longer with it and doesn’t change his position half as much. Crucially Little Bear prefers it and goes looking for it if I have taken it off the bench for any reason. My feeling is that children will show us when we are getting the sensory input right for them and this hack is ticking all the boxes. I have been considering a wiggle and sit cushion for a while but I don’t think we need one, the beanbag is perfect.

Regulation when out and about

This is the biggest challenge for us and one I would really like to come up with a solution for. We generally notice Little Bear’s difficulties with regulation when we go on a day trip somewhere or go somewhere new. I guess there might be an element of anxiety underlying the behaviour and we certainly feel Interoception has an impact. We are continuing to work on that but it is not a quick fix and I don’t think we are ready to feedback about how it’s all going just yet (but I will when we’ve made more headway). In the meantime, we have been experimenting with things that help in the instant of dysregulation, while we are waiting for longer term solutions to work.

If we are having a dysregulated day out, Little Bear continually seeks movement, which can be unsafe depending where we are. Often we let him run where we can or swing or climb to his heart’s content. I realised on a recent day out though that all the movement doesn’t actually seem to help, if anything, it gets Little Bear more and more dysregulated. Therefore I hypothesised; we needed to add in more calming elements, rather than encouraging the seeking elements.

I remembered that we used to use a rucksack for that purpose so we have re-introduced it. On the first attempt it didn’t go particularly well as the straps were a bit loose and kept coming down Little Bear’s shoulders which annoyed him. The next time we tried a different bag which has a little chest clip to keep it in place. It was a mixed outcome. We could certainly tell the difference in Little Bear’s behaviour – the weighted bag did calm him and stopped the running and swinging almost completely. I would say this was a fabulous outcome apart from one crucial factor: Little Bear doesn’t like wearing it. I don’t want him to think it’s a punishment of some sort and the fact he doesn’t like it makes me think we haven’t quite got it right sensory-wise. I suppose we need to experiment with the weight of the bag; how long he wears it for etc. I know that when I was taught about weighted blankets, the rule of thumb was always to remove them after 20 minutes as otherwise the body modulates to the weight being there and the effects cease. However I have played around a bit with just letting Little Bear wear the bag for a bit then taking it off but I feel as though the effect goes with the bag and as soon as it goes, he’s back to seeking movement again.

I also wonder if there is another way to give him ongoing proprioceptive input that doesn’t involve wearing a bag? I know you can get pressure jackets but I feel as though he would be too hot. Please make suggestions if you have any as we are certainly in the market for trying something else.

Regulation at bedtime

Little Bear has one of those heavy cuddly toys that is filled with sand, I think it’s a large newt and I have been experimenting with that lying on him to help him calm at bedtime. Again I would say it works a little but then he chucks it on the floor!

In the winter if Little Bear can’t get to sleep, we have a heavy knitted blanket that he sometimes likes me to put over the duvet on top of him which works well. It is generally the sensory approaches that Little Bear is collaborative in that work the best. He will tell me when he does or doesn’t want the blanket and I assume that relates to when he does or doesn’t need it.

I have noticed recently that he has a big fluffy blanket on his bed at the moment and he likes to get all cosy inside that, especially if he hasn’t got his top on. I feel as though it would be quite an unpleasant sensation but it obviously works for him. Looking at how children self-soothe can be a key way of discovering sensory hacks that work. Little Bear still has comfort blankets in bed. They are muslin squares and it is the label that he likes – he strokes his lips with it which seems to soothe and calm him. I can’t think of anything worse and he often tests it out on me knowing full-well that it will make me squeal in discomfort. I suppose it’s a good way into talking about how everyone’s sensory needs are different!

I am now wondering whether proprioception is the best avenue for calming for Little Bear or whether the right kind of tactile stimulation would work better for him. How would we go about providing that whilst walking around a zoo or museum I wonder?

This has definitely been a post with more questions than answers (apart from beanbags, they are an answer) so I apologise for that but if anyone has any clever solutions I’d love to hear them.

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Sensory trial and error

August at Adoption: The Bear Facts

Another crazy, busy and fun filled month has passed. Its round-up time!

Events:

The first week of August was a combination of us being at home and me returning to work after my Adoption Leave (see Goodbye Adoption Leave for my musings on how the year went). I eased myself in gently with only two days of work before disappearing again on annual leave for our holidays.

During that first week we had a couple of really good days out. One was to a family fun day at a local park where the boys had a donkey ride and tried archery and Grizzly had a go on a Segway. The second was to an adventure park that is actually very close to where we live but for some reason we have never tried it before. It has go-karts, more archery, hay bales to climb on, a huge inflatable pillow to bounce on, tractor trailer rides, massive zip wires and loads more. We spent a very enjoyable day there and two boisterous boys got plenty of sensory stimulation and burned a good quantity of energy.

Grizzly ended up being off work the day before we went on holiday which meant he could entertain the boys whilst I did the packing. I usually find that part of the process pretty stressful and am usually exhausted by the time we fall into the car the next day. However the fact that we were both around meant everything went a lot more smoothly. The holidays themselves were generally a success too. You can read about them here: The Bears go on holiday.

On the way back from our week at the seaside we stopped in to see our friends for a night. We have stayed there before so we knew Little Bear would be fine with it. The 5 children had a brilliant time together as they always do. I got a little carried away chatting with one of my friends (who going forwards I am going to refer to as Aunty Giraffe as she is a big part of the boy’s lives and it seems weird not to refer to her more specifically) and stayed up way past my bedtime, then ended up having a mini party in the bathroom at 2am as Little Bear had woken for the toilet and my mum-in-law was awake worrying that she had broken the blind cord!

As soon as we were back at home again, our attentions turned to our upcoming Adoption Celebrations which took place later that week. The weather caused us a bit of stress but both our court celebration and the party we held 2 days later went brilliantly. I have very happy memories of both events and will definitely be getting some photos printed soon. The Bears loved it and Little Bear coped surprisingly well with having a house full of people. We had the bouncy castle all weekend which made them very happy and in fact they were still bouncing on it when the guy came to pick it up again.

Four days later Aunty Giraffe came to visit. The boys were very excited about this as she hadn’t been able to make the party and they both love it when she stays. Always one to think of everything she had adopted an animal each for them as an adoption celebration present. Big Bear had a gorilla and Little Bear a Lion, their respective favourite animals. I’m not sure that Little Bear really understands the concept of it because it isn’t the same as his adoption: he won’t ever meet the lion. However, he has the cuddly toy lion which is tangible and which has come to live with him and of whom he is now very fond.

Aunty Giraffe stayed for 4 nights. On Thursday she had a day out with Grizzly and the boys while I went to work (groan) then on the Friday we did a bit of baking and took the boys for a walk and a picnic in the park.

On Saturday one of our University friends was getting married so we left the boys with my parents and had a grown up day at the wedding. Thankfully the Bears were on their best behaviour and my parents did not look exhausted or dishevelled when we returned (big bonus: they might babysit again!).

It was nice to see how well Little Bear got on with Aunty Giraffe as he hasn’t actually met her that many times. He was very friendly towards her and was desperate to go and find her each morning when he woke. It was also good to compare his behaviour this time with when she stayed last time back in January. Although that visit had gone ok, we had had quite a few issues with him wanting to play on her Tablet but then not give it back, which had led to several big meltdowns. He has certainly learned a lot about other people’s possessions and doing what you’re told since then.

That brings us to this week. My attentions have turned to making sure we have all the right uniform and are vaguely organised for the imminent return to school. I have tried to make the most of my days with the boys before they disappear off again. It’s a tricky balance between getting them a bit rested ready for the new term (they both seem tired) and not allowing boredom to creep in. Today turned into a fairly long and busy day but we’ve had a lovely time. I didn’t have a pre-decided plan and I’m thankful that we are now able to allow days to evolve and just see where the fancy takes us. We started off at a park (we have a few different ones that we circle between) then tried out a nearby bakers for a take-away lunch which we ate in the car. I kept the windows closed as the boys spent the whole time pointing out bald people!! Afterwards we drove to an ice-cream farm which turned out to have a maize maze at it. We had to find hidden words then if you got them all you won a free ice cream. They boys basically just ran round and round inside the maze for ages whilst I struggled after them in my flip flops trying not to lose them! At least I got some much needed exercise.

Later on our friends came to meet us and ended up coming back to our house for some tea. Their little girl is Big Bear’s age and I’m always a little bit amazed that the 3 children play so well together. The bigger 2 are very good at including the little dude. It did make for a very raucous tea time though!

Milestones:

Little Bear had his first proper play date. Regular readers might remember that when Little Bear finished Pre-school I left my phone number for the Mum of his friend. I didn’t know if that was weird behaviour or how she would feel about it and whether or not she would get in touch. I was very pleased when a couple of weeks later she sent me a text and we arranged a meet up. It wasn’t awkward and we chatted easily while the boys played (I was muchly relieved). The boys were very happy to see each other and called each other’s names and ran to one another as though they were on a film set. The only problem was that there was a constant exchange of rude words between them which was quite difficult to quell. Words were had afterwards. However, my overriding feeling was positive. I was pleased that Little Bear had been able to leave his Preschool without a complete severing of ties. Hopefully this would help him to see that attachments are worth making and you don’t have to go through life constantly leaving people you like and love behind, as he has had to so far.

This month we have celebrated the anniversaries of meeting Little Bear and of him moving in. You can read about my Reflections on Adoption One Year In here.

Last month I talked about Little Bear showing a budding interest in Lego. This has gone from strength to strength and he got a couple of sets as presents when we had the party. He now has a couple of different superhero figures and some vehicles. He absolutely loves them and I can’t believe how long he has managed to sit still and play with them. He seems to have discovered the joy of small world play and it is as though he cannot satiate his hunger for it. He pretty much wakes me up every morning with “Mum, can we go downstairs? You play with me?” and I seem to be getting bored before he does.

It is different playing with Little Bear than it was when Big Bear was the same age. Big Bear had very strict rules on his games. If we were playing Lego we couldn’t mix in a bit of Playmobil. There was no way he was up for that. He also went through a big phase of demanding “make the man talk” which used to give me performance anxiety! What should the man say? What if I didn’t want to make the man talk? The games were detailed and Big Bear had very clear ideas about should happen in them.

Little Bear is much more of a play maverick. He loves a mash up: a plastic anteater with Duplo men; Lego men in a Playmobil Police Station; dinosaurs with superheroes. It is brilliant to see him engaging with toys so positively and persevering and letting his imagination run wild. It is such a contrast to the boy who used to spend all his time flicking switches on and off and fiddling with taps.

Little Bear is also becoming more independent with his dressing and toileting which I’m pleased about with school just around the corner.

The fact that he has also started to recognise some letter shapes blows my mind.

Big Bear had a first this month too. He went to his first live football match. He went for his birthday instead of having a party. He absolutely loved it (apart from the noise: “Mum, they had noisy horns, people were horning everywhere”!) and cannot wait to go again.

This might seem like a strange thing to mention but this month the Bears had their first bath together in a year. Oddly, they did have a bath together on the first day they ever met as they had both got wet and both needed to get warm and put dry clothes on. In retrospect it was a huge error as the day ended up being a disaster and Big Bear was totally overwhelmed by Little Bear’s wild bath time antics. Since then I would have liked to bath them together for practical reasons but I haven’t insisted on it as Big Bear really didn’t want to. For quite a while he wouldn’t change in front of Little Bear and wanted the loo door firmly closed. As their relationship has developed things have changed drastically on this front – recently they were both in hysterics in the bathroom together while Big Bear was on the loo. I have no idea what was so funny (Grizzly was there too and couldn’t shed any light on the matter) but apparently privacy has gone out the window for now. I was still surprised though when Big Bear suggested they have a bath together the other day. I think it made Little Bear’s day and really shows how far they have come in their first year as brothers.

Snapshots:

  • Little Bear saying “I want to live with them forever” at the court celebration
  • The three bears playing a very lively and laughter-filled game of swing ball in the garden
  • Playing Uno Attack with both sets of grandparents

There are no Project Home Improvement updates this month. Hopefully there will be next time.

August at Adoption: The Bear Facts