Figure 1 Relaxing in our ‘Sensory/calm zone’ at home.
Our daughter, Amber, who is almost 5, was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD,) in April 2016. She is currently at the start of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD,) assessment. Amber’s anxieties about changes to her routine, or uncertain events are portrayed through a fair amount of frustration and aggressive behaviours, especially at home.
Amber started an intervention at school in September 2016, delivered by an outside agency called Relax Kids, with weekly relaxation therapy sessions.
These “strategies mimic clinically-proven anger management and mitigation treatments such as therapeutic exercise and yoga, breathing exercises, and mindfulness exercises. These can be used as anger management tools, ways to help at moments of meltdown, or methods to make time-outs constructive rather than punitive.” Source: www.relaxkids.com/what-is-a-class
Amber’s sensory processing difficulties and anxiety can manifest in the form of frustration, at home especially, where she feels most comfortable. We experience a great deal of aggression in the form of hitting, throwing objects, shouting, climbing on furniture and rough-housing behaviours with her younger sister. If it gets to the point where Amber experiences a meltdown or sensory overload, as I like to call them, we use the techniques that she’s been taught in her relaxation sessions at school, and in addition I put my own ideas in from my experience with working with Early Years children and children with additional needs.
After reading more via the Relax Kids website and Facebook page, I also realised that the classes help to develop spatial awareness and awareness of self and where their body is situated, which is something that Amber’s Occupational Therapist wanted her to develop.
Some of the techniques for relaxation that we use at home are:
- Create a specific ‘calm’ area in the house – Amber prefers to be enclosed in a small space so we decided to convert the area under the stairs into a ‘calm area,’ which includes cushions, blankets, fairy lights, bubble tubes and a range of sensory toys and equipment, such as coloured gel droppers and a pink sand timer. We are hoping that over time Amber will recognise herself when she feels like she needs to go to the calm area herself, when she is feeling angry or frustrated about something, and to avoid a sensory overload, or meltdown.
Figure 2, Bubble Tube and Rainbow projector in the ‘Calm Area.’
- Incorporating calming music – I like to play classical music at times such as after school, this is when Amber releases her tensions and overloads from her day at school. I also find classical music calming; a favourite in our house is ‘The Aquarium’ from ‘The Carnival of the Animals,’ by Saint-Saens.
- Breathing deeply in and out from 1 to 10 and repeat if necessary.
- Lying flat on the floor, placing a teddy on her tummy and counting, breathing in and out from one to ten.
- A breathing a visualisation technique to focus away from a frustrating or angry feeling – “Smell the flower and blow out the candle” – I tend to label the colours of the flowers and candles too. The most recent method Amber has learnt is to “Breathe in and imagine smelling the sweet hot chocolate. Breathe out to cool it down.” Which I quite like and will practice at home.
- Squeezing something – such as Blu Tac, or a stretchy butterfly helps to tighten and relax muscles, and we find this sort of thing also helps as Amber is a huge sensory seeker.
- Creating a starfish shape on the floor – breathing in and relaxing arms, legs and head.
- Having a dedicated ‘chill out time’ at home, this we work on, Amber finds it difficult to focus and stay still for any length of time. Activities include exploring playdough together, drawing, craft work, puzzles, etc.
- We find that Amber likes to be wrapped in her Weighted Blanket this has a calming effect on her, this has been specifically made for her weight.
We would be completely lost without these techniques and by using relaxation therapy techniques in the home we’ve noticed a huge improvement in terms of coping with Amber’s meltdowns, or sensory overloads.
‘Relax Kids’ offer many products such as CDs, books, cards and downloadable printables, which can be found in their online store
Thanks for reading 🙂