Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Beach Sand Doll House

This week we were lucky to have a family holiday which saw us escape the winter cold for a warmer part of the country - it was bliss! 
The girls were most excited to be able to enjoy the beach again. I had packed some little mermaid dolls for them to play with once we hit the sand and they quickly discovered a new favourite game, making doll houses (or mermaid houses) on the beach.

* small dolls
* a beach! 
A sand pit or tray would work too.

I drew an outline of the dolls house in the wet sand while the girls told me what rooms went where. Then we scoured the beach together finding things to furnish our house with.

The girls loved finding bits and pieces for each room, they spent almost as much time creating the doll houses as they did playing with them.

Squeak making a beach rock lounge.

Our seashell toilet.

A TV and lounge made from coral.

The dining table with little shell chairs.

The mermaids particularly liked the shell bath.

Sea shell bed with a leaf for a blanket.

Bubble found a curled leaf to use as a sleeping bag.

Once the beachd house was finished we decided to add a swimming pool out the back.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Free Printables - Sensory Time Outs

Consequences, time outs, punishments - whatever they are called at your house they have been a topic of much trial and error for us.
Our girls very regularly do 'naughty' things. 
They destroy furniture by chewing on it, draw on things they shouldn't draw on, are very rough with their belongings and often hurt us and each other in their over excitement (I have been headbutted in the face so many times it's amazing I still have all of my teeth). 
They crumble up their food all over the floor, flood the bathroom sink and pull all the buttons off their clothes.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
The problem for me has always been how exactly to deal with these behaviours. Although it seems 'naughty' they are all actions motivated by an unmet sensory need; they chew on the furniture because they are hyposensitive and need the deep pressure chewing provides. They injure us so often because they lack spatial awareness, get easily overstimulated and find it hard to regulate their emotions. They crumble their food because the tactile experience is calming and they don't realise the mess they are making until it's too late. They yank the buttons off their clothes because they hate the feel of them.
So what to do? 
How can I discipline our children for their behaviour when it is just how their brains work? I wouldn't send my child to their room for having an asthma attack, so how can I punish my Autistic child for behaving in a sensory motivated way?
On the other hand, they have to learn that it is not OK to headbutt people or smear food everywhere. It's not acceptable to chew on everything you can lay your hands on, and destroying your clothes is not cool.
Our approach to discipline has been to use 'Sensory Time Outs'. The idea of these Time Outs is to give a consequence for a negative behaviour but also redirect the child to a more positive way of meeting their needs. 
When Bubble is jumping all over the furniture we will tell her it's not OK, and give her a Time Out card for the trampoline or the swing. We set the timer and off she goes until the buzzer sounds.
When Squeak is screaming because it isn't her turn during a board game, we tell her that is not the way to behave and give her a Time Out for skin brushing. She sets the timer and off we go.
Giving them a negative consequence for these behaviours ("I've told you not to jump on the furniture, go to your room", "stop screaming or you won't be allowed to play any more") do nothing for our girls but frustrate them. Their sensory needs are still not met and now they are also in trouble. They can't calm down because their avenue for self regulating (jumping and screaming) have just been taken away.  
This system has been working well for us. It provides consequences but also teaches better ways of self regulating than trashing furniture or screeching the house down. Quite often after the sensory time out is complete they are calm enough to resume whatever we were doing.
Don't get me wrong though. It did not work right away. 
At first the girls did not want a bar of our Time Out cards and it took quite a few weeks of reinforcing them and usually partaking in the Time Out ourselves (jumping on the trampoline with them, or doing fine motor activities together).
They are also not appropriate for every negative behaviour. Our girls both have Autism but they are also both just kids, sometimes all they are doing is testing the boundaries and seeing how far they can push them.
But in general it has been a success. Not only does it provide consequences appropriate to the behaviours but also helps to teach self regulation and self awareness.

I have included a copy of our Sensory Time Out cards in this post as a free printable. 
We have ours printed, cut into cards, laminated and hung on lanyards.

Right click to open and print.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Back Pack Sensory Kits

In a previous post I detailed the contents of the Handbag Sensory Kit we take out with us, in addition to this the girls also each have a Backpack Sensory Kit.
These don't always come out with us, usually we only bring them along if we will be out for a long period of time, will be a long way from home or if we think they will be needed for a specific reason (for example, if there will be known stressors at the location we are headed to).
The girls Backpack Kits are more personalised to their specific needs and also contain necessities for a day out. Just like our other sensory kit the contents of the backpacks change as the girls needs do, although some things are 'staples' and are replenished after each trip.
Our ultimate goal is for the girls to learn to self regulate when they are stressed and over whelmed. Having their own back packs means they can have some independence and control over how that regulation is done. We try to help them identify when they not coping and encourage them to learn ways to calm themselves.

The girls each have a small backpack which contains what they need for a day out. It stays packed and ready to go near our front door, we just need to add the water bottle!

The current contents of Bubble's backpack.

One of the biggest triggers for melt downs for our girls is thirst and hunger. We always carry snacks, cold water and if we are out for a long time a packed lunch.

Another big trigger for Bubble in particular is cleanliness. She hates mess, it distresses her greatly. We carry wipes and flushable toilet wipes wherever we go so we are never caught out.

Fidget toys. Anything that flashes, holds interest like a current favourite character toy, is stimulating or engaging in some way.
Our favourite fidget toys come from The Toy Bug website and also dollar shops. 
For character toys we often go to McDonalds when they have a series through their Happy Meal campaigns (you can buy the toys without the meal for $2 each).

These ID Bands are from HERE and are always packed in the front pocket of the girls back packs. Bubble is a wanderer and Squeak is a runner, so we put these on them in case we are ever separated. 
They are reusable and have both of our mobile numbers on them.

Wide brimmed hat and sunglasses. Not only are they good to carry for sun protection but they also provide security when Bubble's anxieties are running a little high. She enjoys the enclosed feeling of a hat and glasses, especially when there are a lot of people around.
To the right is a cheesecloth wrap which is a comfort item. If she is tired or stressed the feel and smell of it help calm her down.

Bubble is most defensive of smells. She can smell things that we can't detect at all and often becomes overwhelmed by all the different scents that are around when we are out. She carries an empty bottle of vanilla with her because this is a smell she enjoys.
Another great tool for olfactory sensitive kids are these scented cards from Lime Tree Kids.
The necklace is silicone (by Jelly Stone Designs) and perfect for chewing on. Bubble finds the sensory input from chewing soothing.

Ear Defenders. These are another must have. Both girls but especially Bubble are very sensitive to sound. Not only sounds that are loud but also certain pitch and tone, and also when there is just too many sounds all happening at once. 
The ear defenders give them the ability to silence these sounds and retreat for a little while, or protect their ears from loud sounds like fireworks and race tracks.

Notepad and pen. Sometimes Bubble cannot articulate her feelings verbally, especially when she is overwhelmed. Sitting her down with her notepad and a pen sometimes helps her to calm down or organise her thoughts.
She also uses it as a journal at the moment because she is interested in being an 'investigator' :)

Resistance band or Theraband. Bubble is a deep pressure seeker and resistance bands are a great way to get some sensory input while we are out.
I will do a post on some of her favourite exercises to use these bands for, but her favourite is Tug Of War, either on her own pulling the band between her hands or with someone else.

Small dolls and Theraputty/Silly Putty.
In the same way that her notepad can help her articulate and organise her feelings, the small dolls we carry around often help as well. A lot of our social learning comes through imaginative play. They are also toys that Bubble enjoys and are great for distraction.
Therputty or Silly Putty provides a tactile experience that both of our girls really enjoy. It can be stretched, bounced, rolled, squished and manipulated and has a soothing texture. It also builds hand strength.

Popper toy. This has been one of Bubble's favourite squeeze toys for a while and gets taken out with us a lot. To launch the foam balls you have to squeeze the penguin very hard and both the action and the result are calming for her.
This was a gift from her Aunty and Uncle but they can be found HERE.

Other Items We Use:

Drinking straws: Bubble is happy to drink from cups and bottles but Squeak still needs the oral input from straws so we always carry them.
Small mirror: not only are they distracting but the girls like to watch their own facial expressions. They are a great tool for discussing emotions.
Lycra wraps: both girls enjoy the deep pressure of being wrapped in lycra, I buy 1m lengths of it from Spotlight when it is on sale.
Liquid drop timers: the girls find these soothing to watch. Their action is repetitive and predictable.
Stickers: great for fine motor practice, tactile input and rewards.
Body/skin brush: Bubble does not enjoy body brushing but squeak does, it is the one thing that will instantly calm her. Read more about it HERE.
Change of clothes: we keep a season appropriate change of clothes in the car at all times.
Towels: towels are something else we keep in the car always. 
Battery operated fan: both girls enjoy the tactile feeling of a fan in their face, and in warmer weather it stops Bubble from overheating  which she does easily.
ipad: ipads and ipods can be great therapy tools. If we are going somewhere that there will be a lot of waiting or sitting, or somewhere particularly crowded, these are useful.
Memory game/puzzle: simple easily portable games are great distracters .

Please note - This post is NOT sponsored, all online store and supplier links are genuinely where we buy our products and are items we use by choice.

Hand Bag Sensory Kit

Sensory kits are a great way to help children with Autism self regulate and calm themselves by satisfying their sensory needs or sensitives. 
'Sensory' items encompass things that calm or stimulate the senses; sound, smell, taste, touch, sight, movement and also pressure for some children. 
These needs are different from child to child, so what goes into your kit will differ from what is in ours, think about your own child's likes and dislikes then tailor your items to suit them.
We have two different sensory kits that we take when we leave the house. This one pictured below is kept in my handbag, and the girls also each have a 'Sensory Backpack' which is personalised for each of them. I will post about their backpacks in our next post.
Our sensory kits are used everywhere from doctors waiting rooms, car trips and during the grocery shop. It means we have what they need on hand at all times and most anxieties or melt downs can be dealt with.

I keep our handbag sensory kit contained inside a large pencil case from the dollar shop. The contents of the kit change continuously to keep the items interesting.
I keep all of the items not in use in a large box in our study so it is easy to change out the contents of the kit every few weeks.

One of the most popular items in our kit are stamps and notepads. Not any old stamps though, our girls most enjoy the ones that have a push down action which gives them some deep pressure relief.
These stamps are only a few dollars at our local dollar shop and I have also bought them from BigW and KMart.

Silly putty or Theraputty for fine motor manipulation. I include small items like beads and work them into the putty so the girls can spend some time getting them out.
We buy our Theraputty from Special Needs Toys.

Jumping frogs and snap bands are great for fine motor and pressure seeking, and bubbles are a great oral motor activity that our girls find calming. We use scented bubbles to add an olfactory element. Touch-A-Bubbles which are bubbles you can catch add a tactile element.

These wooden toys are elasticated and can be manipulated into different shapes. This provides great sensory feedback. Both were bought from The Toy Bug.

Pinwheels are another oral motor activity our girls enjoy, I buy these in bulk packs from our local dollar shop very cheaply.
We also have mini kaleidoscopes in the kit which provide visual input.

Spinning tops, wind up toys and a larger kaleidoscope. PEZ shooters are also great for tactile stimulation.
The most important item in our kit is definitely our timer. We use this more than anything for things like turn taking (your turn for 5 minutes, then your sisters turn), pre warning (we will be leaving the park in ten minutes), calming strategies (you are over excited, lets blow bubbles together for 5 minutes) and in conjunction with our schedule boards.

Other Sensory Kit Items We Use:

Lengths of lycra fabric for wrapping
Battery operated fans
Mirrors (compacts)
Koosh balls
Magnet sets
Stress balls
Punch balloons
Back massagers

Stay tuned for our next post all about the contents of the girls Sensory Backpacks for more ideas.

Please note - This post is NOT sponsored, all online store and supplier links are genuinely where we buy our products and are items we use by choice.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Portable Schedule Board System

Like most children with Autism, Bubble and Squeak thrive on predictability and routine. They also both work best with visual aids and prompts so schedule boards are used a lot in our home.
We have night time routines, morning routines, schedule boards for packing their school bags and selection charts for choosing their snacks. Our schedule boards are forever changing and adapting to suit the girls needs.
Recently I made a portable schedule board system for using when we are out which has reduced the number and duration of Squeak's melt downs and greatly helped with Bubble's anxiety when we are away from home.
For us, this system has worked brilliantly, especially with Squeak who was prone to regular and explosive meltdowns. The entire system stays in my hand bag (or rather, in my ridiculously giant satchel bag) so that I can create a schedule board at any time and for any given situation with minimal fuss.


* zippered folder file to hold everything
* mini clipboard
* pen
* whiteboard marker
* post its (sticky notes)
* laminated A6 sheet
* reward stickers

I found a cheap zipper file in our local dollar shop which holds all the bits and pieces perfectly and fits well inside my handbag.

The contents of the file folder.

The mini clipboard is the perfect size to not only fit inside my bag but also for the girls to hold and carry around with them when in use.

I pick up sticky note pads from our local dollar shop in all sorts of colours and shapes.

To create a schedule board when we are away from home I use the post it notes and stick them to the clip board.
Above is an example of how we might use the schedule board at our local supermarket. 
Squeak used to instantly melt down when we entered the shops because she wanted to look at the toy section (she has a Lalaloopsie obsession and likes to count how many are on the shelf). It didn't matter what I did or said, the meltdown would escalate to the point of no return within seconds, whether we visited the toy section or not.
For her, the anxiety of not knowing exactly when we would get to that section was too overwhelming and it got to the point where her screaming would start as we pulled up in the car park outside. 
Now, before we even enter the supermarket, I make her a board showing each of the sections we are going to visit with the toy section at the end. We read through it together so she knows where we are going. As we finish our shopping in each section she removes the post it note and can see where we are going next and how long it will be until she gets to look at the toys.

This system gives her an element of control and reassurance, and we now actually get to grab some groceries!

Stickers work well as an incentive for both of our girls so I like to keep them on hand to use them as rewards when they have overcome something significant (like sitting through a wait at the doctors office or not running off during a shopping trip).

Inside the small pouch I also carry around some schedule cards and blutac. I used Google Images to locate pictures of everywhere we go in a given week and then printed and laminated them. Sometimes I use these instead of post it notes and attach them to the clip board using sticky tack.

Occasionally we will use the white board marker to make schedule boards as well. The girls like that they can rub off each stage as it is completed.

We also carry our Reminder Necklaces inside the schedule kit, you can read about these in this post HERE.

Do you have any techniques that work well for your children when you are out and about? I would love for you to share them.

Over the next week we will be doing a series of posts on different techniques we use to help our girls self regulate and reduce melt downs when we are out of the house. 
All children (on the spectrum and not) are different, so not every idea will work for your child and family. If not hopefully they may inspire an idea or technique that will.
Please feel free to share any ideas your family has for making daily routines and outings run  smoothly.

Reminder Necklaces

Over the next week we will be doing a series of posts on different techniques we use to help our girls self regulate and reduce melt downs when we are out of the house. 
All children (on the spectrum and not) are different, so not every idea will work for your child and family. If not hopefully they may inspire an idea or technique that will.
Please feel free to share any ideas your family has for making daily routines and outings run  smoothly.
This very simple but effective idea is used by our family regularly and has saved a lot of melt downs and diffused a lot of anxiety. Like the majority of Autistic children both of our girls are visual learners, so these 'Reminder Necklaces' come in handy all the time and work much better than any verbal instructions we might give.

A few examples of how we use this system:

* drawing pictures of an end goal (a trip to the park, a sticker, a balloon from the toy shop etc...) and referring to it as a non verbal prompt. For example if we are going to the doctors office and then the play ground I will draw a picture of the play ground and put it inside the necklace as a reminder, "next we go to the park".
* to record a length of time while waiting. Bubble and Squeak both have a lot of trouble waiting their turn so we often use the reminder necklace in conjunction with a timer ("it will be your turn in ten minutes, lets set the timer").
* as a non verbal prompt when learning a new skill. For example when Squeak was transitioning from Pull Ups to using the toilet we used the necklace with a picture of a toilet on it as a reminder every hour. Using visual prompts in place of verbal ones is usually much more effective for children on the spectrum.
* as a count down. We will often use the whiteboard marker to draw or make marks on the necklace which can be rubbed off. For example if one of the girls is waiting in line and there are four people in front we would put four lines on the tag. The girls can then rub off a line each time they move up the queue and the necklace is a visual reminder of how much longer they have to wait.
* to hold small rewards, such as stickers. Our girls both love stickers so I will often cut out stickers and put them inside the necklaces with the backing paper facing out so the sticker inside is a 'surprise'. When a given task is completed they can open the necklace and get their sticker out. For other rewards (like a movie night or getting to choose dinner) I will write and draw a representation on a piece of paper, fold it up and put that inside.  
* as an id system. We often write our name, mobile number and an alert that our child has Autism on the necklaces when we take them out to crowded public places in case we ever become separated.


* an elastic necklace
(the girls chose these ones themselves and love to play with the wooden beads on them)
* key tags
(we bought a pack of 6 for $1 from our local dollar shop)

Making the Reminder Necklaces is a simple process of attaching the key tags using the slip loop.

The key tags can be opened up and pieces of paper inserted inside.
I use small post it notes which fold up to fit perfectly.

We use the necklace system in many different ways, including in conjunction with a timer.