When I heard that Family Fund’s blog theme for April was happiness I was delighted. I really feel that we’ve turned a corner in our household recently, it has been a year since my daughter, Amber, was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and hypermobility, and she is currently at the start of an autism assessment. 

When we first received the diagnosis, there was a tendency to look at what my daughter couldn’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 learn to embrace her strengths – there are so many! 

I researched SPD and learnt the difference between sensory-seeking and sensory-avoiding, soon realising that Amber is a huge sensory seeker. She is constantly seeking sensory input which can make her appear hyperactive, and has an inability to sit still. We offer a sensory diet at home, allowing Amber to get her daily sensory stimuli and we’ve noticed improvements in terms of her concentration and attention if her sensory seeking needs are met. I recently wrote a post about Amber’s sensory diet.

Sensory seeking makes Amber happy, so what does it involve:

Messy play

 

From my own experience in working with Early Years children I picked up ideas for materials and equipment for messy play. I soon found that Amber thrived on this kind of activity so I went with it. 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.

 

We make home-made sensory dough that has essences of vanilla, or dough that has been mixed with glitter or herbs and spices, Lavender is Amber’s favourite. Amber 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 the table! 

Sensory toys

We have created a specific sensory area for Amber, which she has named her calm zone.

Toys in her calm zone include:

  • Bubble tube
  • Coloured gel-droppers
  • Light-up sensory balls
  • Treasure basket with everyday objects that includes a variety of textures
  • Musical instruments, and so much more

Amber 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. 

Sensory equipment

Sensory equipment helps to calm Amber, and in turn makes her happy; this includes our most recent addition of a weighted blanket with a pattern of her favourite character, Princess Poppy (from the Trolls movie).

Amber has loved deep pressure since she was a new-born and would only settle if she was swaddled. The deep pressure helps to calm her if she’s anxious or has had a sensory overload, sometimes it helps to have the comfort, feel and weight of the blanket. 

 

Amber has always been a huge lover of white noise. When she was a baby I had to download a white noise app, with the sounds of a hairdryer or hoover. Sometimes she prefers the feel of the warm air coming from the hoover and is not so keen on the noise, so she puts her ear defenders on! 

 

Outdoor play

Amber is a huge outdoors girl! She gets so much from being in the garden or out at the park, and loves the ‘Forest School’ sessions that her school provides once a week. Amber 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! 

 

Lining things up and numbers

This is something that we’ve recently noticed, lining up the smaller characters that Amber collects, especially toys, but also items like household coasters, bathroom products and foam floor mats. 

This helps Amber 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. Amber is also a huge numbers fan, she can recognise two-digit numbers now on sight, especially the numbers of the stickers for her Trolls sticker book! Amber also thrives in mathematical activities that include shape and repeating patterns. 

Finally, Amber’s special interests make her happy

Amber 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, arranges them into groups, and can tell people facts about the various characters.

 

Amber will watch toy reviews on the tablet and then does her own review. Even putting on an American accent and saying “Hey guys, today we’re reviewing…” She has favourite films she will watch over and over and then change and repeat with another film. Recently she started watching Rio, then Frozen, and now Trolls. Currently everything is about Trolls, she has the film, soundtrack, t-shirts, pyjamas, sticker books, plastic figures, watch, pencils – you name it and she has it! I recently tried to play Amber some classical music to help calm her, but this didn’t work, until I played the Trolls theme tune, then she quickly calmed down! I have sometimes experienced times when children are stopped from talking about their special interests, but I find 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 Amber’s love for Lego has developed. She now has several Lego sets and I realised recently that it’s the click together of the bricks that she is enjoying as it’s giving her sensory feedback. 

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. I learnt to embrace these positives, and in turn learned more about my child and about myself. My love has grown for messy and sensory play with my child and I am now a volunteer at a local Multi-Sensory Centre and 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. 

Read more of Nicki's blogs at Sensory Sensitive Mummy