When I heard that the April theme for the Family Fund blog was ‘Happiness’ I was delighted as I really feel
that we’ve turned a corner in our household recently, it has been a year since my daughter, Lou, (5) was
diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and Hypermobility, and she is currently at the start of an
ASD assessment. When we first received the diagnosis, it was a tendency to look at what my daughter
can’t do. Gradually over the past year I have learned to ‘tune-in’ to my daughter’s interests and in turn, it has helped us as a family to really focus on what makes her happy, and learning to embrace her strengths,
and there are so many!
Via researching SPD I learnt the difference between ‘sensory seeking’ and ‘sensory avoiding.’ I soon
realised that Lou, on-the-whole, is a huge sensory seeker and does avoid in some circumstances, e.g. she dislikes sudden, unexpected and loud noises. Lou is constantly seeking sensory input which can make her appear ‘hyperactive,’ and has an inability to sit still. But via offering a ‘Sensory Diet’ at home, it allows Lou to get her daily sensory stimuli and we do notice improvements in terms of her
concentration and attention if her sensory seeking needs are met. (I have written a separate post about a ‘Sensory Diet’) here:
Sensory seeking makes Lou happy.
From my own experience in working with Early Years children I picked up many ideas of the sort of
materials and equipment for messy play, along with many ideas. I soon found that Lou thrived on this kind of activity so I went with this. From the age of 18 months she enjoyed the feel of running water into her hands, and if I put out a tray with sand and washing-up liquid in to make ‘Soapy Foam,’ she will usually
tip out the mixture onto the floor and explore the textures with her hands and her feet.
Play dough is a huge favourite with Lou, especially when we make home-made sensory dough that has
essences added such as vanilla, or dough that has been mixed with glitter or herbs and spices, Lavender was a huge favourite. Lou tends to ask for play dough every day, especially after school, she will hum to
herself whilst she’s squeezing and manipulating the dough, which I’ve come to realise is a sign of ‘self- regulation’ and that she’s receiving the sensory input that she has been seeking. Any activities that involve
paint do not stay on the brush as she absolutely loves to cover her whole hands in the paint and slide her hands across the paper, or table!
We have created a specific sensory area for Lou, which she has named her ‘calm zone.’ The sensory toys
and equipment have a very calming effect on her, this includes:
• Bubble tube, rainbow projector, stars and moon projector,
• Coloured gel-droppers,
• Light-up sensory balls,
• Home-made sensory bottles that we filled and then sealed that can be shaken,
- Vibrating neck massager
• ‘Treasure basket’ with everyday objects that includes a variety of textures,
• Musical instruments,
• A ‘Peanut’ ball, like a Yoga ball that is peanut shaped,
• ‘fidget’ toys such as a giant ‘Tangle.’
• Soft toys and books, soft rug and blankets,
• Fairy lights.
Lou has free access to this area throughout the day and our hope is to help her recognise when she
needs to take herself off to the area to self-regulate before she gets to the point of a ‘sensory overload.’
There is also other sensory equipment that we have found helps to calm Lou, and in turn makes her
happy, this includes our most recent addition of a ‘Weighted blanket,’ that includes a pattern of her favourite character – ‘Princess Poppy’ (From the Trolls movie.) Lou has loved deep pressure since she
was a newborn and only settled if she was swaddled. The deep pressure helps to calm her if she’s anxious
or has had a ‘sensory overload,’ sometimes she will just like the comfort of the feel and weight of the blanket.
Lou has always been a huge lover of ‘White Noise,’ when she was a baby I had to download a ‘White
Noise’ app onto my mobile phone, with the sounds of a Hairdryer or Hoover, sometimes she prefers the
feel of the warm air coming from the Hoover, and not so keen on the noise, and therefore puts her ear
Lou is a huge outdoors girl! She gets so much out of being in the garden or out at the park, she gets so
much from the ‘Forest School’ sessions that her Pre-School provided and that her current school provides
once a week. Lou is calmer and happier outdoors, this environment provides her with so much sensory
seeking input and stimuli, she makes a bee-line at our local park for the ‘Pendulum Swing,’ and likes to spin
and hold her head back to gain sensory input. She is happiest when covered in mud, the messier the
better, and is happy to climb and jump off equipment, she really has no fear!
Lou has certain interests that engage and motivate her and make her very happy. At the moment, she
loves to collect ‘Shopkins’ figures, she knows all of their names and arranges them into groups, she can tell
people facts about the various characters. Lou will watch ‘Toy Reviews’ on the tablet and then do her
own toy review with her own toys! Even putting on an American accent and saying “Hey guys, today we’re
reviewing…” Lou tends to have a film that she is interested in and will watch the same film over and
over and then will change and repeat with another film, she started watching the film ‘Rio,’ then moved
onto ‘Frozen,’ and now the ‘Trolls’ movie. Currently we are all about the Trolls, she has the movie, the
soundtrack, T-Shirts, Pyjamas, sticker books, plastic figures, watch, pencils, you name it, she has it! I recently tried to play Lou some classical music to help calm her, but this didn’t work, until I played the
Trolls main theme tune, and she quickly calmed down after a sensory overload! I have sometimes experienced times when children are stopped from talking about their special interests but I find from experience, that it is important to embrace children’s special interests as you can really reach them on their own level.
In the past few months Lou’s love for Lego has developed, she now has several Lego sets and I realised recently that she gets so much from putting the Lego bricks together as the ‘click’ in itself gives sensory feedback.
This is something that we’ve recently noticed, lining up the smaller characters that Lou collects, especially toys, but also items like household coasters, bathroom products and foam floor mats. This process we have found helps Lou to self-regulate, especially after a busy day at school. Lining up allows her to gain back some control, she likes to see objects and toys all in line, neat and tidy and this makes her feel happy. Lou is also a huge numbers fan, she can recognise 2-digit numbers now on sight, especially the numbers of the stickers for her Trolls sticker book! Lou also thrives in mathematical activities that include shape and repeating patterns.
I know that there are so many challenges to having a child with additional needs, we still have some really challenging days, but around a year ago I felt completely lost, until I started looking at the many positives that my child has, rather than focusing on what she cannot do, and learnt to embrace these positives, and in turn learnt more about my child and about myself. My love has grown for messy and sensory play with my child and I am now completing an online course in Play Therapy.
My girl is wonderfully quirky, and loves to make people laugh, she naturally makes people around her happy, and seeing her happy warms my heart.