As we move into the world of elearning and teletherapy, we have to get creative. At school, many children with autism have a variety of targeted sensory activities embedded throughout their day. At school, there may be a designated sensory room with a ton of equipment. However, at home, this may not be the case. Now that the home environment is becoming the classroom, how can teachers and OTs work with families to meet sensory needs at home? Here are some tips to try.
Start with what you know.
Obviously, school and home are very different environments, but if you know a sensory strategy consistently works at school, share that information with the family. For example, if a student frequently engages in heavy work tasks and they are successful at school, reach out to your OT to come up with a few home based heavy work tasks to send home to the family to start.
Try to figure out times of day that are hard.
If you are a teacher or therapist, you can start by asking your families what patterns they see at home. What kind of sensory behaviors does the family observe? What is the impact? Parents are experts on their children and their input is essential in this process. Try the Sensational Brain home checklist or collaborate with your OT to come up with some appropriate questions to ask so you can get the information you need. You might ask things like:
- What is the most successful time of day?
- What is the hardest part of the day?
- What does disregulation look like?
- Have you tried any strategies yet?
Get an idea of items families have access to at home.
If you aren’t already working with your occupational therapist, this would be a great time to reach out to him/her! OT can help analyze the input from families and help think of creative ways to use the environment to meet sensory needs. You may want to ask if the family has any special sensory items at home, or any items that could help students get sensory needs met, such as a bike, treadmill, yoga ball, etc.
Based on the information families give you, it’s time to now get creative and problem solve! Definitely team up with your OT for this. Here are some examples of common school based sensory strategies and how you may implement at home. If families don’t have any special equipment, it is ok! Think about what input the child is getting out of whatever behavior you are observing and brainstorm ways he can get that same input using what you have in your environment. Here are some examples:
- If your child typically uses a swing for calming purposes, try rocking on the rocking chair or using a blanket as a makeshift swing.
- If your child typically does heavy work activities at school, try to embed some home based heavy work activities, like carrying the laundry basket.
- If your child typically goes for a walk during class to help calm and refocus, try making a simple obstacle course at home with chalk or couch cushions.
- If your child typically uses flexible seating during instruction like a stool or a wiggle seat, try having the child sit on a pillow or work on the floor.
Additionally, I put together the following general chart that gives a basic idea of some home based calming and alerting sensory strategies for each sensory system. A visual like this could be tailored to each family’s specific needs for home.
A few tips to remember:
- Think about the goal you are trying to achieve when choosing strategies. If you are trying to help a child calm down but they seem more revved up after the sensory activity, or if you are trying to alert a child but he still seems lethargic, you may need to find another activity to try.
- Some strategies may be both calming and alerting, depending on the child.
- I have found the most powerful combination of sensory input is proprioceptive + vestibular + tactile. So for a more structured sensory break, you may start with large movements and heavy work, followed by a tactile activity.
- Consider activities that can be used both as a formal break but also can be embedded within routines and within work time. For example, a child’s household chores may include loading/unloading the laundry and wiping the table, which are both forms of heavy work.
- These are just general suggestions, please supervise children appropriately and be sure to consult with your OT regarding specific activities.
At school, students usually have a visual choice board or schedule that sensory activities are embedded in. Think about how that can translate to home. Using google images, can you whip up a quick sensory schedule or choice board for families to use at home? Remember, it doesn’t have to be pretty. Even drawing on a blank piece of paper can be super effective.
Are the strategies working? At school, I usually ask teams to take data so we can see if strategies are effective. In this distance learning environment, that is tricky. Figuring out a way to implement all this can be challenging. In a school, you are in the same building as the teachers, staff and students and can observe and get feedback in real time. At home, it’s a bit different. Checking in with families consistently and asking the right questions can give you good information. You might consider asking questions like this:
- What strategies have been successful?
- What strategies have not been successful?
- Are there still times of the day when your child seems disregulated? What does that look like?
With a little creativity and teamwork, we can work together to help families support student sensory needs at home. You may want to check out my sensory series for more in depth information on all of the sensory systems.
This blog is for informational purposes only. Please supervise children appropriately and contact your OT for specific recommendations.
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