Before #socialdistancing exercise, eating right, and balance seemed much easier. Motivation was easy – people see you. Who wants to look like a louse in public?
But as #socialdistancing extends, the leggings, carbs and time in front of the TV are preferable to almost anything else. No one wants to look at the scale.
For kids with sensory needs, this is even more important as the sensory input of a workout resets the chemistry in the brain. This helps with focus, self-control, and skill development.
Countless studies show exercise is critical to health. But there is a developing field of study in how exercise actually helps impact the neuron pathways in the brain. ABA, Occupational Therapists, even parents, can attest to the importance of a regular sensory workout program (SWP) in helping children with special needs, indeed all children, with coping, focus, and development.
How does one do this in the home? When we can’t leave?
Here are some things that work for us.
A sensory room is designed to help someone regulate their brain using external sensory input. That is technical speak for “help re-center yourself.” Sensory rooms have been shown to have calming effects, help improve focus, increase socialization, and help with all sorts of development (both neurological and physical.
We discovered this importance when our son was about five. He needed a place to get all his wiggles out, calm down, and enjoy himself.
Our room is the garage. In this room, we have an art table, a basketball hoop, rock wall, ropes, and a punching bag.
This room is a place where we presently do out occupational therapy, but when it is not used for therapy, it is also a “fort” (which every kid needs). A sensory room grows with the child. This room is the “hang out” place for playdates, it is the escape from parents when angry place, and a place for a great work out for parents place as well.
No one likes working out. Even those who say they do – don’t. They like the after-effects.
That is true for our kiddos too. Working out is hard. But a necessity of life.
A sensory work out is not that different than a regular work out. I do recommend getting with your occupational therapist before starting one, as each work out is different depending on the person.
Usually, a workout will consist of some combination of proprioceptive (deep pressure to joints and calming/organizing), vestibular (excites, usually circulatory and rhythmic), touch, smell, breathing, and auditory input. It does not usually go longer than 30 minutes and can be done easily at home or at school.
We have been known to do wall push-ups and squats in grocery stores, joint pressure at restaurants and them parks, and always have some sort of audio and smell for calming wherever we go. We like citrus oils for focus before school ad lavender oils for calming after.
Just as every fitness instructor will say a warm-up and cool down are important for every workout, sensory rest is just as essential for every person.
A 2018 study showed an average adult (18+ years old) spends over 11 hours a day looking at a screen. That is 45.83% of the 24-hour day. If you a lot for 8 hours of sleep (which we don’t usually get), that is 68.75% of our day in front of a screen! Is it any wonder we need a reset?
In our house, we each have space and activity that works for us.
My husband goes on long runs and he and I will do a kickboxing or boxing workout on the punching bag at least once a week (sometimes more).
My son and I like to do yoga together. The meditation and combination of proprioceptive and vestibular input are super calming. I prefer something like YogaShred where he prefers the stories of Cosmic Kids Yoga.
We also both love heavy blankets!
My son also has a tent in his room he often withdraws to where he reads, draws, plays with Lego.
I know it is hard to feel settled during #socialdistancing. It is hard during regularly scheduled programming as well. Try and find some ways this week to help re-set. Re-center. Refresh. Let me know what works for you and your kiddos or if you want some more ideas on how to use what you already have in your home to make a sensory diet.