Thursday, September 26, 2013

"Fall"ing into Calmness

Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

In the last month or so, most people have experienced a ‘season’ of change with the start up of school.  Whether you are a parent, teacher, or therapist, the Fall not only brings a change in weather, but a change in routine, expectations/demands, and behavior.  It is not uncommon for children to be over-tired and worked, resulting in increased agitation, increased arousal level, and overall disorganization of his or her sensory system.  Therefore, we are going to provide some fun Fall activities to help decrease arousal levels and hyperactivity, as well as increase attention and self-regulation. 

The cool, brisk air of the season provides a natural calming component.  Therefore, getting out to play, ride a bike, or take a hike to gather up leaves and acorns for a craft helps use up the extra energy after school.  For ideal success in lowering the arousal level, complete the high-energy activities first, followed by something more calming, such as wheelbarrow walking across the lawn. 

One of the best things about Fall, is the beauty of the changing leaves, however it goes without saying that those leaves bring about a lot of extra work.   Raking leaves is beneficial for all children and they sell rakes in about every shape and size.  The pulling motion provides bilateral coordination, but is an excellent way to get a nice dose of heavy work.  And the hard work is always capped off with a great jump into the leave; also a nice tactile experience in itself.  Although leaves appear to be light, when in a pile they provide a good amount of weight, so complete the whole task by having your child scoop up the leaves with both arms and dump them into a wheelbarrow.   And do not forget that pushing the wheelbarrow is another natural activity that provides therapeutic benefit.

Pumpkins are not just for decoration these days.  They are a nice way to increase the fun to your activities, providing a great amount of ‘heavy work’.  Have your child carry them from one end of the yard to the other in a race, load up a wagon to push or pull them around the yard, or use them to set up an obstacle that they have to wheelbarrow walk, skip, or do an animal walk around (ie. crab, bear, etc).   Arrange some bales of hay for them to set the pumpkins up on. This is a great way to get some extra lifting while strengthening the shoulders.  In addition, the bales of hay are fun to for them to climb and jump off, providing some nice overall proprioceptive input.  Pumpkins can be used for a fun bowling activity, providing a bit more of a challenge then using a ball.

Have a daily costume party by having your child pretend to be a mummy.  Lay them on an outstretched blanket and then roll them up tightly, as you would to be a hot dog or burrito, and you have an instant mummy .  Or use body socks to have her walk around as a monster.

For the older child, have him decorate a large pumpkin using hammer and nails (with adult supervision).  This is great for attention, focus, bilateral fine motor skills, and using the hammer to complete his design provides a nice amount of proprioceptive input
If you have the child who calms with fidgeting or tactile input, filling a large bin with popcorn kernels to run her hands through or to find small objects is both fun and exciting.  Get creative (and work on school work) by hiding foam shaped objects, such as leaves, pumpkins, ghosts, with letters or sight words on them so that they have to find them and then read them to you.

For those creative people, there are a ton of crafts and art activities that complete the Fall and Halloween seasons.  So, once you have done the calming activities and your child is regulated, pull out the materials to do some fun crafts to work on fine motor skills.  Utilizing tools such as bingo dobbers, corks, glitter glue sticks or medicine droppers for painting Fall scenes are both great for strengthening the fingers and hands, but also require a bit of ‘heavy work’.  Increase the calming effect by using a weighted lap pad, vest or other material.

Therefore, beauty of the season can help bring some ‘calmness’ to your life.  It goes without saying, that initially this is a tough time of year for all children with the increased amount of changes, as well as the amount of attention that is required to get through their days.  So take a few minutes to help your child get to the right level of “organization” to  have fun and be successful.