Kids Storytime with Samantha and Friends

Check out this really cool new YouTube channel: Kids Storytime with Samantha and Friends! What makes this channel so great is its unique approach to storytelling and engagement: Samantha, a charismatic and cute-as-a-button 9-year-old reads shares her passion for reading and learning by reading to kids of all ages!

We all know the benefits of reading and being read to: increased vocabulary, improved listening and language skills, and social emotional connection and development. Not only does having a peer read to your children improve their comprehension and social connection, but it can also provide some added motivation to work on their own reading.

Make sure to check it out if you’re looking for a run way to spruce up storytime.  (And the bloopers at the end are not to be missed. So cute!)

Happy listening!

A note from Jennifer (Samatha’s mom):

Kids Storytime with Samantha and Friends was created during the beginning of COVID-19. I saw a need to make literacy captivating for children who might not find reading a joyful experience. 

My 9-year-old daughter loves to read and was often found as little as 3 years old pretending to record herself reading books. She now is involved in an amazing theater group and performing dance troupe. These two opportunities have expanded her talents when recording and acting. She honestly just loves to make people smile and laugh.

My husband is a professional photographer, but has work experience in the audio visual realm. He truly loves to make things look easy, but only produces the best result. He loves to really put all the smallest details into each book recording.

My background includes: special education and at-risk preschool teacher, developmental therapist, tutor, respite worker, and the best job of all: being a mom. 

With my love for getting children of all abilities exposed to literacy, I came up with an idea to start our YouTube channel. We have supported local authors as well as mainstream authors. It has been truly a blessing to see the families that I served and continue to serve feel fulfilled by the stories. 

We continue to seek more books for our channel and ways to make each video a bit of its own creation. Finally, please don’t forget our bloopers, because who doesn’t need a good laugh these days. 

Hope the book videos bring you joy as they have brought to so many children and their families. 

–Jennifer (Samantha’s mom!)

Nurturing yourself so you can nurture your child

Finding Your Calm

Here at Twenty-One Senses, we follow the Attachment, Regulation, and Competency (ARC) framework. Over the next few months, we’ll take a high-level look at each of these concepts and discuss ways you can use the framework in your everyday parenting life. Check out arcframework.org for more information.

In short, the framework asserts that in order for children to learn or process information, they must first feel Attachment, which comes from feeling confident in that:

  1. They are in a safe physical environment.
  2. They are safe with the person teaching them.

As parents and caregivers, our job is to create this sense of safety for our children. Attachment is the process of strengthening and supporting caregivers so that they might be a consistent source of calm, safety, and support. You can’t be a source or calm, however, if you’re overloaded or stressed.

This month, we encourage you to spend some time thinking about your own sensory triggers and experiment with ways your senses can help you find your calm. Have a favorite coping tip? Let us know in the comments!

Step #1 – Know Your Triggers

Try to notice what kinds of sensory input make you feel stressed or deregulated, and be mindful of how your triggers can compound. A loud TV might not usually bother you, but it just might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back if you’re already feeling exhausted or overwhelmed by the mess in the kitchen. Some common sensory triggers include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Auditory – Yelling or talking over each other; loud electronics
  • Visual – Messy or disorganized house; bright or poor lighting
  • Tactile – Constant touching or snuggling; feeling too hot or cold
  • Vestibular – Being bumped into or hung on; constantly stepping around messes
  • Olfactory – Poor or reduced ventilation; bathroom or diaper smells
  • Gustatory – Food fatigue or boredom; cravings
  • Proprioception – Not getting enough exercise or physical contact
  • Interoception – Not noticing when you’re hungry or exhausted

Step #2 – Know Your Fix

We all know self-care is important, but it’s not always as simple as pouring a glass of wine or taking a hot bath. If you are truly experiencing sensory deregulation, you might need to turn back to your senses to help find your calm. Maybe you’re crawling out of your skin due to being constantly touched, grabbed, or bumped into by your children, but wrapping up in a weighted blanket feels soothing. Maybe you can’t stand the sound of your children screaming or playing loud video games, but focusing on a podcast or calming music keeps you from losing it. Listen to your body and experiment with ways sensory input can help you stay regulated.

Finally, learn how to communicate when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Have a phrase (“My brain is scrambled”) or some nonverbal signal that lets others know you’re hitting your limit. Get the entire family in the habit of rating their level of stress or anxiety on a scale of 1 to 10, and check in with each other throughout the day.

Need some more tips on dealing with deregulation? Check out our previous articles on managing anxiety and building good transition habits.

Sensory struggles during the winter months

Sensory Struggles in Winter

Winter is here! For many of us, winter is a time of outdoor play, indoor coziness, and creating memories with family and friends. However, winter can bring a whole new set of challenges and for families with sensory needs.

This month, we’re taking a look at some common sensory struggles in winter and offer a few suggestions for keeping your child regulated, engaged, and safe during the cold months. Have another tip? Let us know in the comments!

Challenge #1 – Outdoor Winter Activities

Winter games like sledding, ice skating, and playing in the snow are generally great for seekers, particularly: tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive. However, children with sensitivities and discrimination issues often struggle with these activities.

Proprioceptive and tactile avoiders may be unable to tolerate cold wind on their faces, fast movement, or being close to other children. Visual avoiders may become overwhelmed by the glare of snow and ice. Finally, those with vestibular, proprioception and visual discrimination disorders may have difficulty walking on snow or ice and keeping a safe distance from other children. 

Tips and Tricks:

  • Ease your child into new activities. Hold his hand and practice walking on ice and snow, slowly pull him around the yard in a sled, and help him pack snowballs.
  • Practice new or scary activities at home. Skate on the kitchen floor in your socks, have a snowball fight with socks or stuffed animals, or race to put on your snow gear.
  • Break down overwhelming or scary activities into small, manageable steps. (“First we sit on the sled, second we push, and third we lean back and ride.”)
  • Experiment with outdoor games and activities that don’t require being in close proximity to others, such as geocaching, Pokemon Go, or simply making snow angels.
  • Be mindful of seeking behavior in activities like sledding, skiing, and ice skating. If your child is being unsafe, try to figure out the sensation he’s craving and help him find other ways to achieve it.
  • Wear sunglasses or baseball hats to reduce glare from ice and snow.

Challenge #2 – Winter Clothing and Dry Skin

Even children without sensory issues can struggle with winter clothing. For tactile avoiders, however, getting into winter gear can feel completely overwhelming: sweaters are itchy, boots are heavy, coats are bulky and restrictive. They may find dry, irritated skin to be extremely painful but, along with olfactory avoiders, be unable to tolerate certain lotions or skin care products. On the other hand, those with tactile discrimination disorder and interoception discrimination disorder may not notice cracked or bleeding skin.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Avoid clothing made out of bulky or scratchy materials like wool. Stick to soft, comfortable layers of fleece, cotton, or flannel, and remember to remove the tags!
  • Have your child try on and approve every piece of outdoor gear―coats, hats, gloves, you name it. If you can, buy extras of smaller items in case something gets lost.
  • Find alternatives to uncomfortable items. Experiment with earmuffs instead of hats, hand warmers instead of gloves, or snowboarding pants instead of snow bibs.
  • Apply moisturizer frequently, especially after bathing. If your avoider can’t stand lotion, experiment with body bars, coconut oil, shea butter, or aloe vera gel.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day. Add fruit slices, flavor packets, or seltzer to combat flavor fatigue.

Challenge #3 – Sensitivity to Cold and Heat

Not everyone experiences the sensations of winter in the same way. Tactile avoiders may feel unbearably cold while playing outside or uncomfortably hot in certain types of clothing. On the other hand, tactile seekers may love to play outside on very cold days, hold snow in their bare hands, or take extremely hot showers. Finally, those with tactile discrimination disorder and interoception discrimination disorder may be unable to feel extreme temperatures at all, making them susceptible to frostbite or overheating.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Check in with your child frequently, especially during outdoor play, to make sure he’s not become overheated or becoming too cold.
  • Ease your child into the colder temperatures. Use indoor sensory bins to help him get used to the texture and cold of ice and snow.
  • Be mindful of seeking behavior around extreme cold. Put time limits on outdoor play and make sure gloves, hats, and coats are being worn.
  • Combat feeling cold by taking warm baths, heating up towels or clothes in the dryer prior to dressing, and making hot chocolate after playing outside.

Challenge #4 – New Foods and Smells

For most of us, winter means tweaking our diets to include more hot and multi-textured meals like stews, soups, and crockpot dishes. Many fruits and vegetables are out of season and will have a significantly different taste or texture than they do in the spring and summer. All of these changes can be extremely upsetting to gustatory avoiders and tactile avoiders. In addition to struggling with new foods, olfactory avoiders may be bothered by cleaning, cooking, and other household smells they might not notice when the windows are open.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Introduce new foods slowly and methodically. See our previous article for a step-by-step guide.
  • Have your child help plan and prepare meals. This will get him familiar with new smells, textures, and ingredients without having to taste them.
  • Know your child’s favorite foods and have a way to make them inside. For example, you might buy a George Foreman grill or grill pan to make burgers or hot dogs.
  • Be conscious of cleaning, cooking, and other strong or unpleasant household smells. Open the windows when possible and keep the house well-ventilated.

Challenge #5 – Staying Active

We all have different reactions to being cooped up inside on a cold winter day. Vestibular seekers and proprioceptive seekers may become manic and start bouncing off the walls, while vestibular avoiders and proprioceptive avoiders may become withdrawn and almost completely sedentary. No matter whether your child is seeking or avoiding, engaging in regular physical activity is critical for relieving anxiety, improving concentration, and transitioning between activities.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Schedule times throughout the day to do jumping jacks, stretch, or run in place. This can be especially helpful when transitioning into a new activity.
  • Have a designated area of the house where “rough” play is okay. Include things like pillow forts, obstacle courses, and crash pads, trampolines, etc.
  • Play family games that involve lots of movement, such as Twister, I Can Do That!, and The Floor Is Lava!
  • Have your child help with chores that involve executive functioning and proprioceptive input, such as snow shoveling and carrying groceries or laundry.
  • Experiment with different seating options that increase movement and concentration, such as yoga balls, foam rollers, and balance beams.

Combat boredom by bringing tents, pool toys, and other outdoor equipment inside. Experiment with alternatives to outdoor games, like the Hover Soccer Ball.

Challenge #6 – Changes in Routine

Like any significant disruption, the changes in routine brought on by winter break can be difficult for children with special needs. Without external timekeeping cues such as what class they’re in or where the sun is in the sky, children with interoception discrimination disorder often have difficulty knowing when to eat, when to sleep, and when they need to use the restroom. 

Tips and Tricks:

  • Prepare your child for any changes in routine. What exactly will be changing? What will stay the same? Are there new cues can he look for to know what to do next?
  • Set timers or alarms throughout the day to remind your child when it’s time to eat, use the restroom, or shift to another activity.
  • See our article for building good transition habits for more tips on establishing routines, creating rituals, and managing expectations.

Save the Date: GivingTuesday is December 1st!

GivingTuesday is right around the corner!

Now more than ever, our communities need us to come together and give back to those who matter to us—not just with our money, but with our time, talents, hearts, and creativity. GivingTuesday is just that: a day of global giving to support and continue the missions of the people and organizations who do the most good in their communities.

Head over to our GivingTuesday page to learn more about how your gift can help Twenty-One Senses make a big difference to special needs and at-risk families. Can’t give money right now? No problem! Our Get Involved page lists several other ways you can help further the cause. Finally, be sure to check out the official Giving Tuesday website for more creative ways to get involved and support the organizations you love.

Happy giving, everyone!

Cheers to One Year!

It’s our anniversary!

The entire Twenty-One Senses team is thrilled to be celebrating one year of supporting families with sensory issues. We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time and, although there’s plenty of work left to do, we’re taking take a night off to celebrate with everyone who’s been with us on this incredible journey.

Join us this Saturday, November 14th at 8:00 PM CT for our first Virtual Trivia Night. The event is free for all, but please make sure to RSVP so we can send you a Zoom link prior to the start. Register here.

Can’t make it to the party? You can still participate in the silent auction or make a donation.

Also be sure to check out for our first ever Virtual 5k. Walk, bike, or run anytime until November 28th and help support special needs families. 

As always, thank you for your continued support. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Helpful Resources and Products for SPD

At Twenty-One Senses, our mission is also our passion. As parents and caregivers of children with sensory processing issues, we are dedicated to providing resources and support for families like ours.

As SPD Awareness Month comes to a close, our team would like to take a moment to share just some of the resources and products we’ve found to be particularly helpful over the years. Keep in mind that sensory supports don’t necessarily need to cost money. Get creative and experiment until you find something that works for your family—pushing a laundry basket full of books or groceries around the kitchen is great stimulation for the muscles/joints, and a nook full of pillows can work just as well as a crash pad. The possibilities are endless!

Books and online resources:

A few helpful products:

October is SPD Awareness Month!

What is SPD?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a neurological disorder in which sensory information—such as light, sound, or touch—is either undetected or incorrectly processed by the brain. This often results in either extreme sensitivity or extreme underreaction to normal sensory input, especially in children. Individuals with SPD may also have problems performing certain motor tasks, appear withdrawn and anxious, or exhibit unusually aggressive or thrill-seeking behavior. 

Check out our What Is SPD? page for more information, including specific tips on how to support children with seeking/avoiding behaviors and sensory discrimination challenges.

Did You Know?

Do you have to have autism, ADHD, or some other diagnosis in order to have SPD?

No, sensory processing issues can be—and often are—diagnosis agnostic. However, recent studies have shown as many as 40% of children with ADHD and 75% of children with autism spectrum disorders have significant sensory processing issues.

What causes SPD?

The cause of SPD is currently unknown. Some research suggests there may be a genetic or inherited component. Prenatal/birth complications and environmental triggers have also been named as potential factors.

How do I know if my child struggles with sensory processing?

No two children are alike, and the exact symptoms of SPD can vary widely depending on each child’s surroundings, emotional state, and particular sensitivity. That being said, many children with SPD will show one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch, or smell
  • Poor gross or fine motor skills/coordination
  • Exceptionally high or low pain tolerance
  • Refusal to eat certain foods/gagging while eating
  • Tendency to become distracted or “spaced out”
  • Late or impaired language development
  • Difficulty recognizing others’ physical space/boundaries
  • Difficulty learning new things or following verbal instructions
  • Constant fidgeting, climbing, wrestling, or other “problem” behavior
  • Tendency to become frightened or overwhelmed in busy, crowded environments

If you think your child is struggling with sensory processing issues, contact your pediatrician or teacher for an evaluation. The STAR Institute also has a great symptoms checklist and a plethora of resources to help you learn about SPD and available treatments.

Back To School: When Your Child’s Needs Aren’t Being Met

A few weeks ago, we talked about ways to be proactive, flexible, and collaborative when advocating for your child’s special needs at the start of the school year. Now that schools are fully back in session, parents everywhere are starting to feel the true limitations of virtual and blended learning. Many children—especially those with special needs—are struggling to manage their time, emotions, and workload outside of a traditional learning environment.

Your child might not be getting the support he needs right now, but that doesn’t mean your hands are tied. Below are some possible ways you can go about addressing gaps in your child’s accommodations. Remember, each response has pros and cons, and no solution works for everyone. You might even take different approaches at different points in your child’s life—and that’s okay! As always, only you know where you are on your journey and what feels right for your family right now.

Need someone to talk to about how to structure your child’s school day or advice on how to look for outside resources? Check out our new Caregiver Coaching service!

Option #1: Do nothing.

Though it can feel hopeless and frustrating, there are a myriad of reasons why you might not choose to pursue special accommodations for your child at this time. Maybe you feel overwhelmed by his struggles and aren’t sure where to start. Maybe you believe allowing him to have a “normal” childhood is more important than addressing some minor academic setbacks. Maybe you simply don’t have the bandwidth to juggle this new project in addition to the multitude of other responsibilities already on your plate.

Whatever the reason, finding yourself on this path doesn’t mean you don’t care about your child or that you’ve given up on him. Rather, frame this time as an opportunity to observe and learn about what makes your him tick. What kind of things make him frustrated? At what point does he give up or ask for help? What kinds of things does he love to do, and how does he excel at those things? This knowledge will be invaluable if/when you do pursue accommodations in the future.

Pros:

  • Both you and your child’s teacher will be able to observe his struggles and start collecting the data/examples you might need to advocate for him within the school.
  • You won’t be forced to spend time, money, or energy you don’t have right now.

Cons:

  • If you do nothing, nothing will change and your child will likely continue to struggle.
  • Those involved with your child on a daily basis (e.g. teachers, classmates, family members) will also continue to struggle to manage and support him.

Option #2: Demand change within the school system.

 

In some ways, this is the hardest and longest path to change, but it also yields the highest potential benefit to your child. That being said, you have to be tenacious. You need the time, energy, and resources to educate yourself about your particular district’s programs and policies. You need to have an understanding of how these programs operate during COVID—i.e., don’t expect services in week 2 if special ed programs aren’t starting until week 3. Finally, you need to come prepared with a clear description of your child’s struggles, anything you feel might contribute to his frustrations or inability to make progress, and some suggestions as to how the team, including parents, can address them in a virtual or blended setting.

Start by assuming the school is on your side, the teachers are good at their jobs, and everyone involved wants what’s best for your child. At the same time, acknowledge that COVID has been disruptive to virtually everyone and every system. Whether or not your school is able to provide him with every accommodation he needs, you will be on the path towards a better situation.

Pros:

  • Ideally, engaging the school is the first step in building a strong, coordinated team—including teachers, therapists, and psychologists—that will rally to support your child.
  • At the very least, you will be able to collect more data/examples/documentation on your child’s struggles and what the school is either unwilling or unable to address.
  • School services are provided during your child’s regular school day and generally don’t take time away from homework, extracurriculars, family time, or being with friends.

Cons:

  • It is hard. Dealing with the school system takes a lot of time, energy, purposeful observation, and creative thinking about how to solve problems—even when it feels like solving those problems should be the responsibility of teachers or case workers.

 

Option #3: Establish relationships directly with therapists, tutors, or other outside supports.

Whether you’re looking to establish entirely new supports or supplement existing ones, finding the right outside services for your child takes a lot of trial and error. In some cases, you’ll be able to provide the needed supports at home with relatively small investments. Most likely, though, you will need to spend some significant amount of time researching coaches, tutors, occupational therapists, physical therapists, psychologists, etc. Though these services can be expensive, this is the path that will have the most immediate effect on your child. 

School services are often incomplete/imperfect and might not be able to provide all the accommodations you need right now. This doesn’t necessarily mean your school is terrible or unwilling to cooperate; they simply might not be able to see things you’ve noticed in a home setting, or your child might be performing better at school—with various in-class supports—than he is at home, where schoolwork seems confusing and out of context. If you do feel the need to go outside of the school system for additional help, make sure you’re at least keeping them in the loop.

Pros:

  • You will be able to proactively, directly address your child’s issues and personally ensure that he’s getting the support and accommodations he needs to succeed.
  • You might be able to gain insight or more details about how to support your child in a day-to-day home setting, not just in an academic context.

Cons:

  • Tutors, coaches, and therapists can be costly in terms of both money and time.
  • You will become your child’s case manager. The burden of researching, scheduling, and coordinating different services now falls entirely on you, and it takes a lot of bandwidth.
  • Outside services don’t take place during your child’s school day. You will either need to occasionally remove him from class or take him away from extracurriculars, friends, etc.

Back to School: Returning to Remote Learning

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 needsmanaging meltdownscreating 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.).
  •  

Sensory Spotlight: Interoception (Internal Bodily Awareness)

This is the ninth and final installment in our Sensory Spotlight series.

Interoception is the body’s ability to recognize and interpret its own internal cues, such as hunger, thirst, exhaustion, and pain. Children with interoceptive processing issues typically have disproportionately weak or strong reactions to normal bodily urges, such as feeling hungry or needing to use the bathroom. They may not be able to recognize pain or symptoms of exhaustion, or they might be unable to properly gauge the severity of such symptoms. You can read more about how the interoceptive system works on the STAR Institute’s website.

Like proprioception, interoception is not as commonly recognized as other senses, but it plays a critical role in the body’s ability to regulate and protect itself. It’s how you know when you’re exhausted and need to rest, when you’re hungry and need to eat, or when you’re cold and need to put on a jacket.

See below for a quick guide on identifying interoceptive seeking, avoiding, and discrimination issues in children.

Interoceptive Seekers May:

  • Have disproportionately weak reactions to normally bodily cues.
  • Crave interoceptive input and have problems with self-regulation.

Interoceptive Avoiders May:

  • Have disproportionately strong directions to normally bodily cues.
  • Constantly feel they are hungry, thirsty, or need to use the bathroom.
  • Feel pain more intensely or for a longer duration than others.

Those with Interoception Discrimination Disorder May:

  • Have disproportionately weak reactions—or no reaction—to normal bodily cues.
  • Have a high pain threshold and may not notice when injured.
  • Be unable to register hunger, thirst, or the need to use the bathroom until it’s an emergency.
  • Be unable to detect increased heart rate or breathing and may not feel tired until totally exhausted.