Sensory Processing...What is it?
Sensory Processing is how the brain receives, processes, understands (or makes use of), and reacts to sensory information (input given via our senses).
What are our senses?
Body Awareness (Proprioception, knowledge of where your body is in space)
*Some say LOVE is a sense, I would agree! :)
Why is it important to offer young children, even babies sensory experiences?
All of us are have challenges. Things that are harder for us. I'm dyslexic. Reading/spellings/sounds didn't just come to me. I had to "practice" to learn, earn and memorize every word that I read/spelt for many years (think hours of flash cards from an amazing mom who wouldn't give up on a daughter she knew could do it). Eventually I stopped having to earn or memorize each word learned. There was a generalization of skills. If cat was spelt, C-A-T. And fish was spelt, F-I-S-H. Then catfish must be spelt, C-A-T-F-I-S-H. You get the point.
Many children have challenges with sensory processing, even some "typical" children. The more they are exposed to it in a safe, controlled manner, the more they will learn to correctly process it.
This is not an easy task. Especially for children with Autism. You see most of these children have difficulty with speech and are unable to explain or even identify the areas of sensory processing that they need "help" with.
Their parents, teachers and therapists must painstakingly try with figure out what makes these special children tick. Then it takes even more time "convincing" the child that a given task is the sensory need they are seeking.
Wow, that was long and confusing...But basically, we must expose our children (babies) to sensory experience when there is the least amount of "noise" (think uncontrollable outside stimuli/ learned behavior/ compensatory strategies). This is easiest when they are babies. At this age they tell us what they want and don't want. They want food. They don't want to sit it a yucky diaper.
Learn your baby's/child's cues so that you can tell when something isn't processing just right. Then trust yourself.
Use this learned information (cues your child gives, crying, avoiding, turning away, seeking, reaching, grabbing, cuddling) so that you can safely and calmly expose your child to undesired sensory stimulation. So that they too can "learn" from it.
I have friends that say...My child isn't a cuddler. Okay, so their child doesn't like to be constantly touched, held all the time and sleeps better alone. Does this mean they should never hold their child or even cuddle them? Absolutely not. Should they force their baby to cuddle all the time or co-sleep? No way. Find a happy medium. Maybe the baby wants to be held but not tightly into the chest, maybe facing out or stretched out on an arm. You get the idea. Don't stop doing "normal" things with your baby/child because they don't like it. Alter the activity so that the child learns to be comfortable with it.
Let's face it, you can't control your child's whole life. Eventually they are going to have to learn to deal with undesired stimuli.
What can I do to expose my baby to sensory experiences? (Please SUPERVISE your child during ALL activities.)
1. Lotion/Oil rubs after bath time or during diaper changes, put gentle pressure on the joints (knees, elbows, wrists) by softly pushing or pulling at the joint (you can even name the body part you are touching to further work on body awareness).
2. Give your baby PLENTY of "Tummy Time" or playtime (supervised) on different surfaces (carpet, pillow, sand, grass, tile/wood floor-just be right there with your hand under their little chin so they don't smack their face).
3. Put a metal cookie sheet at the end of the bassinet/crib. How does it feel on bare feet? While lying on their back? While lying on their tummy? Swap the metal cookie sheet out for a silicon one.
4. Tickle their hands, feet, face with a feather, a sock, a soft toothbrush.
5. While in the bath put your baby's hands in a bowl of cooler water and a bowl of warmer water. Do they react differently? Watch for cues.
6. How does satin feel on baby's skin? Wool? Spandex?
7. Do they fall asleep when their is alot of noise (church/tv on, older siblings running around)? Or do they prefer it quiet? If one is greatly preferred DON'T let that dictate life try/work to get your baby to sleep when it is totally silent and insanely busy (even if the first step is just a white noise fan). My baby girl prefers quiet but she can usually sleep if she is self soothing with a finger/hand, binkie, and a soft blanket draped over her to help, close her out from the world.
8. Play with "toys" that make different sounds. (Plastic cups, rattles, crinkle paper toys, whistles, etc...)
9. Explore the world in dynamic planes. (Swinging, rocking, bouncing, take them for a ride on a large blanket (must be older with a strong neck 4+months) by slowly pulling them across the floor while laying on their back/tummy.
10. Let them get messy! Don't wipe their face after every bite. Wait until the meal is over. If this causes too much stress or anxiety, start by wiping every other bite them spread the cleaning out even more.
*More ideas to come but this Therapy Mommy is sleepy!
**Talking to your baby is so important too! Don't forget to narrate what you are doing..."Can you feel that cold water?" Label her body parts for as you rub them.