Managing Meltdowns and Deregulation in Lockdown (and Beyond)

Many states are now entering their second full month of lockdown, and we’re all struggling to adjust to this new way of life. Distance learning, working from home, sheltering in place with your family–it’s a lot to take in for anyone, and it can be especially disruptive and upsetting for children with sensory sensitivities or other developmental issues.

Below are some tips to identify when your child is deregulated and manage sensory-related meltdowns. While these strategies have worked well for our families, remember there is no single schedule or process that works for everyone, and no one knows your child better than you. Don’t be afraid to go with whatever works for your family.

Signs your child is deregulated:

  • Appears excessively energetic, manic, or slap-happy
  • Appears aloof or distracted; fidgets or spaces out constantly
  • Has a heightened sensitivity to sensory input, such as light or sound
  • Has disproportionate or extreme reactions to stimulation or stress
  • Regresses into past behaviors when stimulated (meltdowns, thumb sucking, etc.)

Deescalate tantrums and meltdowns.

  • Meet aggression with empathy and compassion. Start by validating your child’s feelings–not by telling her how she should be feeling or how you feel.
  • Create a “safe space” away from the rest of the family where your child can go to calm down until she’s ready to talk. Be clear that time in this space is not a punishment.
  • Allow time for the “fight or flight” response to work itself out of the body before trying to have a conversation (usually about 20 minutes).
  • Don’t expect your child to “fix” the issue right away. Discuss how you can work together to tackle this problem in the future, give her time to process, and allow her to try again.
  • Come up with a “safe word” or gesture your child can use to indicate she’s becoming frustrated or upset. When she does use it, make sure to step back and allow her to calm down before continuing the conversation.
  • If needed, use a social story to help your child identify her own feelings and understand the feelings of others. (Pop culture references, like the movie Inside Out, are also good.)

 

Look for triggers in your environment.

  • Monitor your child’s use of electronics, keeping in mind that signs of deregulation can manifest as late as 30-90 minutes after screen time has stopped.
  • Be mindful of how many activities your child’s doing each day, including Zoom calls. Even if she enjoys these activities, too many transitions can be stressful and exhausting.
  • Make sure your child is physically active. Sensory diets have been shown to help improve concentration, alertness, and calmness in children with sensory issues.
  • Avoid teasing, nagging, or other antagonistic behaviors that might result in an outsized reaction. Make sure siblings have time apart.
  • Children react to how parents manage stress. Make time to care for yourself–even though it’s hard–and demonstrate healthy ways to manage stress and talk about feeling deregulated. (“Mommy’s a little overwhelmed right now. My brain feels scrambled, and I need a break.”)

Create good transition habits.

  • Allow 10-20 minutes of transition time between each activity if at all possible. Avoid multitasking during this time.
  • Help your child come up with a transition ritual. This can include screen time, quiet time, or any number of activities that will help her regulate and ramp up to the next task.
  • Remember, too many transitions can be exhausting and lead to meltdowns. Be aware of how many activities your child’s doing in a given day and look for signs of deregulation.

Join Us for #GivingTuesdayNow!

Twenty-One Senses is proud to be participating in #GivingTuesdayNow, a global day of giving and unity that will take place on May 5, 2020 as an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19. It’s is an opportunity for people all around the world to come together to focus on connection, healing, and doing good—whether it’s by picking up groceries for a neighbor, hosting virtual get-togethers, or advocating for a cause close to your heart.

Pandemics Are Hard. We Can Help.

We all know these past few months have been hard on everyone, and it’s been a particularly stressful time for families struggling to adapt to this new way of life.


Our mission remains true: to empower families like ours and to help them navigate typical childhood experiences, even in these very unusual and uncertain times.


To that end, Twenty-One Senses is thrilled to announce we’ll soon be launching a new service to provide parents with personalized coaching, empowering them to rise to the challenges presented by COVID-19. Working together, we’ll build strong coach-parent-child teams focused on learning, self-regulation, empathy, resilience, mindful communication, problem-solving, and self-care.

As of April 16, 26 states have either recommended or ordered schools to remain closed for the remainder of the 2019 school year. We all knew this might happen, but it still hurts. Millions of parents and children alike are feeling overwhelmed by the new schedules, roles, and responsibilities thrust upon them by shelter-in-place living and distance learning. With a lot of patience, tenacity, and deep breaths, we can emerge from this stronger and more resilient.

Stay tuned for more information on this exciting new service. And stay safe, everyone.

Teaching Your Sensory Sensitive Child to Ride a Bike

Spring has sprung, and it’s time to break out the bikes! Learning to ride a bike is a right of passage for many children, and it’s a skill they can take with them their entire lives.

While SPD and other sensory issues present some unique challenges, you can help your child feel safe and confident by breaking the process up into small, simple steps and allowing him to go at his own pace. Below is a method we’ve found successful with our own children–feel free to use it as a starting point and modify as needed.

Above all, stay positive and remember to celebrate the small victories. Good luck!

Sensory Challenges

The Issue: Sensory Overload

Becoming irritated or overwhelmed by physical sensations like the wind blowing in his face, uncomfortable safety gear, or the sight of objects whizzing by quickly

What to Do

Let your child pick out his own helmet and pads and add extra cloth or padding if needed. Introduce new textures and sensations slowly.

The Issue: Vestibular Processing

Problems with balance, motion, or spatial orientation, such as feeling out of control, unsteady, or too far away from the ground

What to Do

Consider getting a tricycle, scooter, or balance bike first. Practice balancing and moving with speed before making the leap to a regular bike.

The Issue: Motor-Based Problems

Difficulties maintaining stamina, determining the order in which to make certain movements, or coordinating different muscle groups

What to Do

Break new skills down into small, simple steps and use repetition to reinforce new concepts. Physically guide your child through the process.

The Issue: Sensory Discrimination

Inability to properly gauge the distance between objects, the different shapes of street signs, or how much force is being used to pedal or turn

What to Do

Practice telling the difference between the shapes of two signs, the distance between two toys, or whether  he’s going fast or slow. Make it a game and have him try to “trick” you.

The Issue: Fear

Meltdowns, anxiety, or refusal to practice caused by any of the above issues

What to Do

Be supportive and patient. Make sure your child is regulated before you begin, and allow him to go at his own pace.

Note

Learning to Ride

  1. Have your child sit on the bike and stand directly in front of him so he can see everything you’re doing and knows you’re in control. Slowly move the handlebars left to right, back and forth, so he can both see and feel the movement.
  2. Have him practice getting on and off the bike while you continue to hold it steady.
  3. Slightly tilt the bike in either direction, as if it’s going to fall, and have him practice “catching” himself by leaning and putting his foot down on the correct side.
  4. Continue to hold the handlebars and have him practice getting on and off as you tilt. Make sure to practice on both sides until he’s comfortable.
  5. Stand behind the bike and repeat step #3 using the balance bar. When he’s comfortable with his footing, start tipping the bike farther–just enough so that he must catch himself.
  6. Use the balance bar to push the bike slowly forward. Have him practice steering while you keep the bike upright and steady. Move on to pedaling and braking when he’s mastered steering.
  7. Continue to hold on, but encourage him to go faster. Make a game of seeing if he can “make Mommy/Daddy run.” Let him be completely in control of speed and stopping. 
  8. Tell him you can let go whenever he’s ready–and when he tells you to let go, do it! Practice pedaling and stopping over and over until he doesn’t fall and can confidently control the bike on his own.
  9. Start working on turns. Place cones or toys in a parking lot or other open space and have him weave around and through them. Focus on slowing down and making wide swings around objects, and move the objects closer together as he gets comfortable.

Have another suggestion? Let us know in the comments!

E-Learning Resources for Children of All Ages

At Twenty-One Senses, our mission has always been to help families with sensory issues navigate typical childhood events, play spaces, and activities. However, we recognize the world is quickly changing and all families, not just those with special needs, are adjusting to a new way of life.

To better support social distancing measures intended to curb the spread of COVID-19, we will be pausing our regular programming to focus on e-learning resources for children of all ages and abilities. We’ll be adding to the list daily, so check back often. Please share it on social media or with anyone you think might find it useful. Finally, let us know if you’ve found a great resource we should include.

We believe in the power of community, cooperation, and positivity in the face of adversity. While there are certainly challenges ahead, we can all use this moment to pause and reflect on the things that matter most: our families and our communities. 

Take care of yourselves and each other.

Sensory Spotlight: Auditory (Sound)

This is the second installment in our Sensory Spotlight series.

The auditory system is responsible for the body’s ability to perceive, process, and understand sound. Children with auditory processing issues may be able to hear background noises others tune out or can’t detect, have a hard time controlling the volume of their own voices, or experience delays in their speech and linguistic development.

Auditory seekers may:

  • Seek out noisy or busy environments.
  • Make loud, repetitive, or specific sounds.

Support seekers by:

  • Scheduling time throughout the day to sing, clap, and make noise.
  • Allowing TV and games to be played at an increased, but safe, volume.
  • Keeping headphones or earbuds handy for quiet or boring times, like waiting in line or on long family car trips.

Auditory avoiders may:

  • Seek out quiet or secluded environments.
  • Be bothered by loud, repetitive, or specific sounds.
  • Be startled or frightened by unexpected sounds.
  • Be distracted by background noises others can’t detect.

Support avoiders by:

  • Scheduling quiet times and breaks throughout the day.
  • Encouraging use of earplugs or noise canceling headphones when needed.
  • Giving advanced warning of loud or unexpected sounds whenever possible.
  • Using a fan, white noise, or other soundproofing to muffle background noise.
  • Keeping headphones or earbuds handy for listening to calming sounds while in crowded, noisy environments.

Auditory discrimination challenges may cause a child to:

  • Speak too loudly or too softly.
  • Appear aloof, distracted, or detached from others.
  • Appear confused or unresponsive when given directions.
  • Have difficulty distinguishing between background and foreground noises.
  • Have difficulty distinguishing between similar sounding words (cat, rat, sat).

Support discrimination challenges by:

  • Teaching your child to use visual cues, such as signage or other children lining up at the door, to stay safe and know what to do next.
  • Collaborating with your child’s teachers on ways to reinforce key concepts and revisit lectures or lessons (share presentations, audio recordings, notes with key terms).
  • Playing the “same or different game” to practice telling the difference between similar sounding words. (“Ball and fall–are these words the same or different? Now you choose two words and try to trick me.”)

Announcement Regarding Spring Events

Due to concerns about the spreading rate of COVID-19, Twenty-One Senses will not be hosting or participating in any spring events. Sadly, this means Tuesday’s Sensory Night at Altitude Trampoline Park is canceled. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Remember, there are a few simple things you can do to protect yourself and others around you.

Practice good hygiene.  

  • Don’t touch your face!
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water and scrub for at least 20 seconds.
  • Wipe down frequently touched surfaces with a bleach or antibacterial solution.
  • Cough/sneeze into your elbow or a tissue and wash your hands immediately afterwards.

Practice social distancing. 

  • Work or study from home if at all possible. 
  • Avoid any unnecessary travel, public events, and large gatherings.
  • If you must go out in public, try to keep roughly six feet between yourself and others.
  • Avoid shaking hands, giving high fives, or kissing on the cheek.
  • Stay home if you’re feeling sick, even if your symptoms are mild.

Finally, stay calm. Your children will look to you to see how they should react. 

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for the continuation of our Sensory Spotlight series, plus some sensory-focused tips and tricks on how to manage prolonged stays at home.

Sensory Spotlight: What Is SPD?

This is the first installment of our nine-part Sensory Spotlight series.

Sensory processing occurs when the brain receives and organizes information from external sources, such as light or sound, and internal bodily cues, such as hunger or balance. Individuals with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) do not respond to this everyday sensory information the same way most people do. They may feel bombarded or assaulted by even the smallest bit of stimulation, or they might be unable to recognize even very extreme sensations or changes in their environment. Studies suggest as many as 1 in 20 people have sensory processing issues, and symptoms are typically much more pronounced in children.

Children with SPD often have a hard time fitting in with their peer group. They might show signs of anxiety or depression, be withdrawn, struggle socially and academically, or appear clumsy. Many children have learned to cope with their symptoms in ways that might appear odd to others, such as rocking, constantly learning on walls or furniture, sucking on their thumbs or other objects, etc.

SPD is generally broken down into the three patterns and thirteen subtypes listed below. Keep in mind the exact symptoms will vary greatly from one individual to the next. Many people with SPD demonstrate a combination of sensitivities and seeking/avoiding behaviors, depending on their level of arousal and how familiar they are with their current environment.

Pattern 1: Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD)

Sensory Over-Responsivity (Hypersensitivity) – Over-responsive individuals, or avoiders, are hyperaware of sensory input and may have extreme or upsetting reactions to even mild stimulation, such as crying out in pain while brushing their hair or gagging at very faint smells. Avoiders often feel overloaded and overwhelmed by everyday situations and may appear anxious, withdrawn, or defensive as a result.

Sensory Under-Responsivity (Hyposensitivity) – Those who are under-responsive have difficulties detecting and/or responding to sensory input in a timely manner. They might not notice that the lighting or temperature in the room has changed, for example, or that they’ve bumped into something and injured themselves. As a result, under-responsive individuals often appear distracted, dismissive, or clumsy.

Sensory Craving – Sensory cravers, or seekers, have a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for sensory stimulation, though they tend to become more keyed up and deregulated as they take in more input. Seekers usually demonstrate behaviors associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), such low impulse control and constant moving, fidgeting, bumping into things, or fiddling with objects.

Pattern 2: Sensory-Based Motor Disorder (SBMD)

Postural Disorder – Postural disorder affects the body’s ability to stabilize itself and maintain a sense of balance. Individuals with this subtype often have problems slouching or bad posture. They might also appear to be weak, move awkwardly, or have extremely low endurance.

Dyspraxia (Motor Planning Problems) – Those with dyspraxia have difficulty planning and performing new, nonhabitual gross and fine motor tasks. They might appear to have extremely poor hand-eye coordination, problems with concentration, and take much longer than their peers to learn a new skill.

Pattern 3: Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD)

Individuals with this pattern have difficulty recognizing and interpreting sensory information. They’re often unable to gauge the physical differences between objects, such as size, color, shape, or distance. They might be unaware of the pressure or force they’re exerting at a given moment and appear awkward, clumsy, and prone to spilling drinks or breaking toys.

SDD is further broken down into eight subtypes, one for each sensory system:

  • Auditory
  • Visual
  • Tactile
  • Vestibular
  • Olfactory
  • Gustatory
  • Proprioception
  • Interoception

We’ll be taking a deeper dive into each of these systems, including strategies for supporting children with SPD, as our Sensory Spotlight series continues. Stay tuned!

Additional Resources:

*Remember to choose Twenty-One Senses Inc NFP on AmazonSmile and Amazon will donate 0.5% of all eligible purchases!

Spring Break Tips

The holidays are just barely over, but Spring Break is already coming up fast! Whether you’re planning on relaxing at home or flying off to Disney World, accounting for your child’s sensory sensitivities can feel overwhelming–but, with a little extra thought and careful planning, it can be done! Here are a few things to keep in mind as you plan your week off.

If You’re Going Away

  • Don’t stop at online research. Call up the resort, park, or club manager to talk about your child’s specific needs and any available accommodations. (Disney, for example, has a wide variety of services for those with disabilities.)
  • Talk to your child about what to expect. Print out maps, brochures, and photos from Google or Yelp and go over them together. Practice waiting in line and develop strategies for dealing with overwhelming situations.
  • Try to keep your routine as intact as possible and consider renting a house or Airbnb instead of a hotel room. Having your own space will let you have much more control over meal prep, baths, and sleeping arrangements.
  • Think about your child’s triggers and pack accordingly. Helpful items might include noise canceling headphones or earplugs, sunglasses, bar soap (sniff to reset after a bad smell), bath items with pleasant/familiar smells, or a picky eater’s favorite snack.
  • Be sure to bring any other special items that help your child relax and recenter–comfy pajamas, pillows, toys, books, etc. Download a favorite movie or a few songs to your phone/tablet and keep it handy in case of a meltdown.
  • Use your transition time well. Take the few minutes between events to make sure your child has a bathroom break, a snack, or even just a few deep breaths.
  • If you’re driving, make sure to plan your stops along the way. Pack a cooler and eat at rest areas or parks instead of sit-down restaurants. Build in time to let your child run around and burn off excess energy.
  • Keep your expectations in check and leave plans open ended whenever possible. Remember, you will have bumps in the road, and your child’s reaction to hiccups and setbacks will reflect your own.

If You’re Staying Home

  • Try to keep your routine as intact as possible. If you do need to change up your family’s schedule, talk to your child about how this week will be different than usual.
  • Take day trips! Shorter, focused outings are generally cheaper and allow you to maintain more control over meals, timing, etc. Some great ideas for day trips are:
    –Museums, aquariums, and planetariums
    –Hiking trails, nature centers, and zoos
    –Skiing, snowboarding, and water parks
    –Concerts and sporting events
  • Seek out less trafficked alternatives to popular destinations. Check out the local train or art museums, for example, instead of fighting the crowds at Chicago Children’s Museum.
  • Be conscious of when other local schools are on break. Keep in mind that play places and other popular destinations will be much, much busier than usual.

Finally, no matter what your plans are, be sensitive to the fact that everyone’s routine is changing and everyone needs some time to recenter. Build in downtime for each member of the family–yes, even parents–to take a long walk, go for a run, read a book, or listen to music. Taking time to yourself will allow you to be more present, more engaged, and more able to fully enjoy your time together.

Happy planning!

Join us for Sensory Night at Altitude Trampoline Park!

Twenty-One Senses is thrilled to be partnering with Altitude Trampoline Park in Skokie, IL to host a sensory-friendly jump on the third Tuesday of every month. Kids jump for $15.95 (that’s two hours for the price of one), and parents jump for just $2.

The following sensory accommodations will be available:

  • Dimmer lights
  • Calmer music at a lower volume
  • Sensory triggering games turned off
  • Noise canceling headsets available for checkout
  • Paper towels as an alternative to automatic hand dryers

The next jump is next Tuesday, January 21 from 6-8 PM. Head over to our events page to purchase tickets and check out other upcoming events.

Hope to see you there!