Mornings are a particularly challenging time of day for children with sensory processing disorder, autism and executive function challenges. They need to get up, get dressed, backpacks and lunches must be packed, . . . and all before the bus comes! That is stressful under the best of circumstances, but if you are dealing with a child’s sensory sensitivities or disorganization in addition, the challenge can seem daunting. It may appear that the slightest thing can send your child into a tailspin. Your best line of defense is to be proactive, stick to the routine, and be an advocate for your child’s sensory needs.
1. Avoid anything that is difficult for your child to part from (e.g., iPad), to ease the transition.
2. If your child is hyper-sensitive to touch and dislikes hair and tooth-brushing, here are some suggestions to make it more palatable:
Use a vibrating toothbrush
Allow your child to choose the flavor of the toothpaste, or try Tom’s of Maine unflavored
Always brush in the same pattern (e.g., top teeth first) to establish some predictability
Desensitize the scalp before brushing by massaging the head
Use a soft bristled brush
Heavily condition the hair when bathing and use a detangling spray before brushing
3. Use your (limited) time wisely:
If your child is sluggish and slow to get-going, start the day with a mint or mint-flavored toothpaste and use sensory activities that are alerting, such as jumping jacks, stride jumps, hopping, or skipping to get from place to place
If your child is overstimulated in the morning, use calming sensory activities while waiting for the bus, such as blowing bubbles, jumping rope, pedaling a car or tricycle, or playing catch with a weighted ball.
4. For useful tips on helping your tactile defensive child get dressed, check out our previous blog, “The Morning Rush: How to get your hyper-sensitive child dressed in the morning”.
5. To learn how to use music to get going and how to keep your child on track, check out our blog “Keeping it simple: Establishing morning routines for the sensory challenged”.
Routine is reassuring:
Create a pictorial step-by-step Velcro schedule to help your child manage his/her morning routine independently. Take pictures of your child performing each step of the morning routine, such making the bed, getting dressed, brushing teeth, eating breakfast, etc. and put a Velcro dot on the back of each. Place a long strip of Velcro, or Velcro dots on a piece of cardboard or poster board. Arrange the pictures in sequence together with your child. Having your child organize the pictures will give him/her practice with the morning routine (or any other schedule), and serve as a guide each day. Allowing him/her to change the sequence with you on days that will be different, such as the weekend or a vacation, will give him/her a measure of predictability and control to smooth over potentially rocky transitions.
Make a “Things to Bring to School Checklist” for your child that includes general materials needed daily, such as pens, pencils, and highlighters, as well as notebooks or textbooks for individual subjects, and display it in an obvious location where he/she packs his/her backpack, or turn it into a luggage tag to hang on the backpack.
Discuss changes in plans or after-school activities before they happen. Rehearse them out loud.
Advocate for your child’s sensory needs:
1. If your child is sensitive to loud noises or tactile defensive:
Request a permanent seat on the front of the bus
Use noise cancelling headphones
Make sure that he/she is not starting the school day in a noisy, crowded multi-purpose room that will ignite your child’s “fight or flight” reaction
2. If your child’s occupational therapist has designed a sensory diet for school, check in regularly with the teacher so that it can tweaked to best suit your child’s needs in the classroom
3. Power breaks are beneficial for most students. For children who have difficulty with sensory processing, “keeping it together” for the whole day can be exceedingly difficult. Intermittent power breaks that involve movement and stretching will allow your child’s “batteries” to re-charge.
“Popcorn Maker”: Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Put your hands on the chair at your sides. Slowly begin to bounce up and down like a piece of popcorn in the microwave. Use your hands and feet to help push you up and down. Go faster and faster as the popcorn begins to pop. When it is almost all popped, start to slow down and then stop.
Jump, hop, or skip while transitioning from one activity to the next or lining up.
“Wall push-ups”: Place open hands, shoulder width apart, against a wall with elbows straight. Push as hard as possible against the wall to “make the room bigger”.
Written by Aviva Goldwasser, MS, OTR/L and Dr. Chaye Lamm Warburg, DPS, OTR/L