Makenzie’s Motor Minute: Articles

About Makenzie

Sensing Your Senses

We all know that everybody is different. We relish in the thought because it’s part of what keeps our social world a bit more exciting and diverse. This is not groundbreaking news. What might be novel, however, is how we look at our differences. It’s easy to look at those around you and identify how they look different, act, or speak differently. What’s not always easy to see is the root of some of these behaviors: our sensory systems and how they play a role in our choices every day.

Preschoolers are taught to identify the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch (often left out is our vestibular system, which perceives movement). We do not always realize how these senses affect our lives and how drastically different every person experiences these senses. Children are born having spent roughly nine months in a sensory-deprived environment. We’re ready to accommodate this for them by swaddling them, keeping their environment quiet, etcetera.

Then they get older, and many toddlers spend every waking moment seeking out every sensory experience they can get their hands on, from running full speed to touching things and putting it all in their mouths. This is how they learn about the world around them. Then as they gather this set of experiences, they learn quickly what they like and do not like and begin to pair down experiences to the things they enjoy. Then, very quickly, they begin to voice strong resistance to what they do not like.

From grade school on, children learn to avoid noxious stimuli and process their environment in a more regulated manner. This continues into adulthood: some of us prefer strong-smelling perfumes, while others avoid using fabric softener. Some of us become long-distance runners, and others take up video games. Each experience is carefully curated to provide the sensory system with precisely what it needs.

As children’s bodies grow and change, it can be difficult to distinguish exactly how to regulate their sensory systems. Each person perceives a sensory experience differently. Humans can be over-responsive to sensory stimuli, or under-responsive, or anything in between. We do not experience all types of senses in the same way either. For example, it is possible to be over-responsive to sounds but under-responsive to touch or movement. Sometimes, in children, these experiences may manifest in tantrums, anxiety, or the inability to accomplish tasks if their sensory needs are not met.

Your child’s sensory needs can often be identified by looking at how they respond to different sensory situations. For example, a child who enjoys running, jumping, swinging, and climbing, may have an under-responsive vestibular or movement system. This causes them to need more input to achieve a sense of movement. For example, they may wiggle and move without even knowing that they are doing it. Other children may appear afraid of playgrounds or scooters, or some even seem to experience motion sickness. These are often children who have over-responsive vestibular systems and can sense even the slightest movement. Children who seek out sensory experiences, no matter which sense, may have an under-responsive system. On the other hand, children who avoid specific experiences, such as getting dirty, or being in loud environments, may have an over-responsive system.

If we can identify our children’s sensory needs, we may be able to help them have better days, better sleep, and even better behavior. For example, a child who has an under-responsive tactile or touch system may need a lot of input before settling down for bed at night. They may benefit from hugs, snuggles, or a weighted blanket. Children with an under-responsive vestibular system may benefit from a few minutes on the swing before sitting down to dinner. Children who have an over-responsive sense of sound or sight may benefit from wearing headphones or sunglasses in overstimulating environments. These are just a few of many adaptations that can be worked into your child’s day to provide them with the tools they need to accomplish daily tasks with fewer distractions.

I encourage you to look at your child’s daily experiences with all your senses and talk to them about what they feel. Children will get or avoid the sensory input that they need every day. Sometimes these sensory needs may get in the way of things that we need them to accomplish. Carefully accommodating their individual needs and planning for them can help them be the best versions of themselves and help them move through their day with less stress for both of you. Please reach out to your child’s physical, occupational, or speech therapist for more information about the sensory system and your child’s own specific needs.

– Makenzie Sledd


References:

https://out-of-sync-child.com/
https://nfcenter.wustl.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Schwetye_Cognitive-Behavioral-Problems-in-NF1.pdf

 

Building Blocks for Life: How to Build Confidence in Your Child in an Ever-Changing World

For years, health professionals and parents have established and reiterated a narrative that participation in team sports improves psychosocial functioning, social support, self-worth, and quality of life. It has also been shown to enhance cognitive performance in a school environment. This is achieved not just with physical activity, but also through social interactions when your child collaborates with other children who share similar interests.

Participation in adaptive sports similarly improves emotional regulation and self-esteem through peer interaction and learning social skills, and also supports positive body imagery and physical health. Engaging your child in programs, on or off the field, where they can develop friendships and social skills benefits the entire family.

As adults, we naturally build relationships with friends and families who share our interests and values. They are our “safe place”, allowing and encouraging us to be comfortable and confident in ourselves. As parents, we must give our children opportunities to grow these healthy relationships with their peers. Even at a very young age, relationship building is crucial to developing self-confidence and emotional resilience. Determining what interests your child, and adapting that activity to your child can build the framework for a healthy, happy, and self-confident person. Trying to adapt a child to an exercise often leads to frustration and anxiety, but what if we adapted the exercise to our child instead?

Children do not currently have all of the social opportunities we had when we were young. Being limited to virtual meetings and events create challenges for children to feel engaged. By engaging the members of your household, I believe that we can give our children many of the benefits of team sports and social activities from the safety of our own homes.

  • Board games allow children to learn turn-taking, fine motor, and visual perceptual skills.
  • Creating a backyard obstacle course with simple items from around the house (towels, sidewalk chalk, empty plastic bottles, and jump ropes) encourages children to take turns, while building social and motor skills.
  • Working together to see how quickly you can match all of the socks while doing laundry builds teamwork, visual perceptual skills and helps get chores done.
  • Perhaps most important, if your child hears you cheering them on, it will only improve their confidence to hear how proud you are of their hard work.

Programs such as Beat NF, Club NF, and Teen NF can similarly provide your child with experiences to foster self-confidence and create a sense of community. Having that community network around you and your child can help even in the most challenging times. Even though these programs remain virtual for the immediate future, we believe that they provide your family with tools to bring confidence-building activities into your home. Our goal is to work with you and your child to find out what they need to grow into confident, healthy, and happy kids.

How to Make a Backyard Obstacle Course for Kids

– Makenzie Sledd


References:

Sahlin KB, Lexell J. Impact of Organized Sports on Activity, Participation and Quality of Life in People with Neurological Disabilities. PM R. 2015; 7(10): 1081-1088.

Logan, K. Cuff, S. and Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Organized SPorts for Children, Preadolescents, and Adolescents. Pediatrics Jun 2019, 143, (6) e20190997; DOI: 10. 1542/peds.2019-0997