If you’ve got a gustatory avoider or olfactory avoider, you know how difficult it can be to get through a typical meal, let alone trying to introduce new foods. However, we know that eating a variety of good foods is the best way to stay healthy. So how do you go about getting your picky eater to try new foods?
Before you start: Make the place and time are consistent and the atmosphere is calm. Chaotic family dinners may not be the best time to try new foods, as there are so many potential distractions and sensory triggers. Once your child is calm and regulated, have him move through the following steps at a comfortable pace.
How to Introduce New Foods:
- Tolerate the food on the table, but not on his plate.
- Tolerate the food on his plate.
- Touch the food with utensils.
- Touch the food with his hands.
- Hold the food up close to his face and smell it.
- Hold the food up to his lips.
- Touch the food lightly with his tongue.
- Bite down on the food and spit it out.
- Bite down on the food and hold a small amount in his mouth.
- Finally, bite down on the food and swallow.
Patience is key, as it might take several days—or even weeks—for your child to progress through each step. Remember, you should never force or coerce your child into eating. Moving at a pace that feels comfortable to him will allow him to feel more in control and less anxious.
Other Things to Consider:
- Stepping out of your comfort zone can be stressful for anyone, especially sensory avoiders. Build in time to let your child calm down and relax after completing one of the steps above.
- If he’s able, have your child help with the food shopping and meal preparation. This will let him get used to the sight, smell, and feel of new foods without having to taste them.
- Try to introduce new foods in your child’s preferred texture. For example, serve raw fruits and vegetables if your child prefers crunchy foods. If he prefers soft foods, start with applesauce, mashed cauliflower, etc.
While many students are now starting to return to in-person classes, many more are gearing up to get back to remote classes. Parents, having learned from the pains of last spring’s abrupt shift to e-learning, are frantically working to create the best possible at-home learning environment. Setting up at home doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be thoughtful. When it comes to children with special needs, a little monetary investment and a lot of creative thinking can make a big difference in terms of focus and regulation.
Over the course of the summer, we’ve been taking some deep dives into pandemic parenting tips, things to think about prior to reopening, and how to better care for yourself so that you can care for your child. Need a refresher? Take a look at our previous articles on how to advocate for your child’s special needs, managing meltdowns, creating good transitions, and setting flexible goals.
Set up your space for success.
- Create a separate, dedicated workspace in your house for each child and, if at all possible, make sure they’re far enough apart to keep them from seeing, hearing, or otherwise distracting each other while working. Let each child personalize his space—within reason—using posters, stickers, fun lighting and seating options, etc.
- Take care to recreate any sensory-specific accommodations the school has made for your child up to this point: flexible seating and lighting, fidget options, etc. Don’t hesitate to reach out to his old teachers or special ed teachers if you need help or ideas.
- Recreate some more general classroom elements as well. Many stores are now selling laminated wall charts featuring the alphabet, days of the week, and the weather. You can also make your own and have them laminated at your local office supply store.
- If you’re able, get your child pumped up by going “back to school” shopping—whether online or in-store—and let him pick out some school supplies he’s excited about. Think funny notebooks, new headphones/headsets, flash drives, pens with different colored inks, and anything with a favorite character.
- Set aside a couple hours to make sure all your child’s technology is set up and working properly. Download apps, double-check passwords, pair Bluetooth devices, etc. A little bit of time working out the kinks now will save hours of frustration later.
Focus on creating good transitions.
- Create a weekly schedule for each child and hang it in an obvious place. Include a list of each class or subject, preferably color-coded, and a brief description of what your child should be doing in the few minutes between subjects (“Do 10 jumping jacks and get a glass of water,” or “Use the bathroom and move to the desk for math time.”)
- Consider single-use timekeeping devices such as digital watches, timers, or alarm clocks. Whether it’s an old-school egg timer or a multi-sensory alarm clock designed for children with special needs, having a dedicated way to track time will keep your child from picking up his phone and becoming distracted throughout the day.
- Further avoid distractions by using dedicated apps rather than bookmarks in your browser whenever possible. (Here are some ways for Mac users to turn web pages into dedicated desktop applications.)
- Develop some strategies to help your child transition between activities that have to be done in the same space. Consider using different devices for different subjects, changing the lighting for math, facing another direction for social studies, putting some desk items away for reading, or simply hanging a sticky note with the current subject name above the desk. If you color-coded your schedule, make sure folders (both physical and digital), notebooks, and pens for each subject align to those colors.
- Remember to keep moving! Remote learning likely means your child will be sitting in one or two spots for the majority of the day therefore won’t have as many natural breaks to get up, go outside, move up and down stairs, etc. Start the day with a walk or some exercise, and remember to build in frequent movement breaks.
- Try to keep your child’s routine as regular as possible. Studies have shown that roughly consistent sleep and waking times help children stay focused and more regulated throughout the day. You might let him sleep later than he would for in-person classes, but the basic routine should be intact (brushing teeth, getting dressed, etc.).
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!
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
Let your child pick out his own helmet and pads and add extra cloth or padding if needed. Introduce new textures and sensations slowly.
Problems with balance, motion, or spatial orientation, such as feeling out of control, unsteady, or too far away from the ground
Consider getting a tricycle, scooter, or balance bike first. Practice balancing and moving with speed before making the leap to a regular bike.
Difficulties maintaining stamina, determining the order in which to make certain movements, or coordinating different muscle groups
Break new skills down into small, simple steps and use repetition to reinforce new concepts. Physically guide your child through the process.
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
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.
Meltdowns, anxiety, or refusal to practice caused by any of the above issues
Be supportive and patient. Make sure your child is regulated before you begin, and allow him to go at his own pace.
Learning to Ride
- 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.
- Have him practice getting on and off the bike while you continue to hold it steady.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Being on a bike automatically forces children to maintain a safe social distance from one another, but it lets them be just close enough to talk as they ride.
- Less traffic and more open parking lots allow new or less confident riders the privacy to practice and make mistakes and without feeling watched.
- Social inclusion and participation – Riding with their peers allows children to make social connections and form lasting friendships.
- Mental health – Mastering a new skill can dramatically improve your child’s confidence, concentration, and independence.
- Physical health – Bikes are a great way to get fresh air, build stamina, and improve balance and muscular coordination.
- Make sure your child’s feet can reach the ground while he’s sitting on the bike and that he can operate the brakes on his own. Avoid flip-flops and loose, baggy clothing.
- Find a good place to practice. Empty parking lots are great because they’re generally flat and have plenty of room to practice braking, coasting, and making wide turns.
- Make sure your child is regulated before you leave the house. If he’s hungry, overtired, moody, or irritated by his helmet or clothing, it’s just not the right day for a lesson.
- Make sure you are regulated and have the time to totally focus on your child.
- Keep your expectations in check. Plan to focus on a single task or lesson per day.
Have another suggestion? Let us know in the comments!
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 regularly, 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.