Friday, July 18, 2014

Discovering sensory needs

Afua spent half of her life (thus far) in an orphanage that left her alone  in a crib majority of her days. Children in orphanages like Afua's are often sensory deprived and learn to resort to other behaviors such as rocking, head banging or various self harming strategies to feel something. In an environment where there is no stimulation (white walls, only a crib to explore, no toys and very little human contact, some children also give up and close off the world entirely. Neither reaction is good for a child's development as children are meant to be held and nurtured, not left alone in cribs.

girls rocking in our big hammock

Imagine coming from this dull but predictable world into our world. Bright colors, freedom to move, textures, tastes (not just bland porridge), smells and sounds. How about interaction with people who want to hug you, touch you and take care of you? For many if not most children this is incredibly hard. It is overwhelming. Many adoptive moms try to figure this out with medical professionals even though their child may be the first time they have treated a chil adopted out of an institution. It takes a willing learner to walk this journey with a family and it takes a a lot of trial and error to see results.

Without discussing Afua's specific challenges, I can say that she needed sensory integration work from day 1. She loved being hugged and held which was wonderful, but our world was so overwhelming at first that she was happiest when we placed her in the crib for naps and at bedtime. I could see how she relaxed in that environment the best.
Siblings love to help her with brushing

I have worked with children with sensory processing challenges, autism and CP. Sensory work is not new to me. But I still sought out a pediatric OT who has been instrumental in discovering Afua's sensory needs. It's great to have someone as the practitioner and I can be the parent.

I shared in a previous post that Afua is getting a DMO suit. It's coming next week!!! It will be a huge help in mobility and sensory processing as well.
This tiny rocking chair is great for organizing and for core strengthening as well

One of the ways Afua organizes is with the Wilbarger brushing protocol. Using a special brush, we go through her legs and arms and trunk in specific patterns and it calms her sensory seeking needs immediately. This morning, she crawled to the table, picked up the brush and handed it to Joy. She is developing awareness on what she likes and what helps her. 

Another way Afua reorganizes is through her mouth. She is always exploring her world by putting things in her mouth and after some specific sensory work with a vibrating tool or the Nuk brush, she is ready to focus on other things.

We have also found that swinging is great for her. Our hammock is a great place to swing and she can snuggle with a sibling or parent at the same time. I am looking at getting a swing in our play room too to help her. 

Pinterest is full of sensory ideas and some activities are great for ALL children. Awareness of sensory integration is growing and it's value is known now. Discovering a child's particular sensory triggers and calming techniques will take time, especially if a child was in a sensory depriving environment. But it is a worthwhile discovery that results in improved attention and social interactions. We get to see the true Afua, not the behaviors that masked her sweet and spunky personality.

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