39. Out and About with Autism
Being out and about with children who have Autism can be challenging. Being out and about with children in general can be a challenge, so when you have children with sensory needs (seeking or avoiding) it takes some additional planning and preparation. So I want to share with you all where we have gone, how we prepped, and how it went.
Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder both exist on spectrums. All of what works for us may not work for your family but I believe some of these things will be helpful and a few tips and tools may make things a little smoother if you find leaving the house with your children to be a challenge.
All my life, I have been taught that we have five senses. I imagine most of you have been taught the same. There are the five that most people are familiar with:
In my higher education and in my time teaching in early learning classrooms, when we plan activities we are responsible for making sure that those learning experiences are multimodal and address the different senses. The five that are most commonly known. It wasn't until I started this journey as a mother to children with Autism and Sensory Processing disorder that I learned there are actually eight senses. So what are the other three senses that we don't learn about in school?
Body Movement (Vestibular)
Body Awareness (Proprioceptive)
Internal Organ Sense (Interoceptive)
If you're newer to a diagnosis or have an occupational therapist you are probably like I was when I first heard the word proprioceptive. Lost! I'm not sure what my face looked like but I can assure you that I was bewildered and I felt like the woozy face emoji.
Knowing the five sense and these three additional senses are so important when considering your child's needs because when going out and about knowing your child's needs and being able to meet them helps them to feel not only comfortable but safe. Its also important to remember that (whether its Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, or any other Sensory challenges) that children can be seekers, or they can be avoiders. Seekers are children who are craving and have an increase need for certain input. Avoiders are children who avoid this input. Children can be seekers in one area and avoiders in another area. They may be Auditory avoidant (particularly sensitive to noises or loud sounds) while also being a Vestibular seeker (constantly moving, jumping, bouncing, swinging, or spinning).
Vestibular: the vestibular system are inner
ear structures that detect movement. Its relevant because it impacts children's experiences with the way they integrate space and are able to balance. Do you have a child that bumps into everything all the time? Or constantly tripping and falling seemingly out of nowhere? That is where their Vestibular sense comes into play.
As we talked about earlier, with seeking and avoiding, some children are hyper sensitive to movement and might seem clumsy or avoid movement activities. But maybe you have a child that is hyposensitive. Your child may be constantly seeking movement. Is your child always moving? Bouncing off the walls? Maybe they're like my youngest and scaling the walls. And of course, because there aren't always nice neat boxes to place children or people at all into, come children may be a mix of both.
Proprioceptive: This is the way we sense our bodies in the world. Our bodies let our brains know where we are in relation to the space that we are in so that we can position ourselves accordingly. This system is located in our muscles and joints. It not only helps us to understand our position in space but it controls and helps us to understand force and pressure.
Has your occupations therapist suggested heavy work for your child? This is for proprioceptive input. Heavy lifting, weight bearing, deep pressure, and even oral activities can all help to meet children's proprioceptive needs. Proprioceptive activities can be used to calm children who are overstimulated or to increase input to children who are understimulated.
Interoceptive: Last but certainly not least, and in our household, one of the most important is interoceptive. It is the ability to sense what's happening inside your body. It is responsible for indicating to us when we feel hunger, pain, tiredness, and our bathroom needs. Are you struggling with bathroom accidents? Fighting through potty training? Does your child have a difficult time with sleep? Maybe you have a child that seemingly never eats or the opposite, always eating? These needs and challenges are related to our interoceptive senses.
As I share with you all our journey of navigating the world with my children and their challenges, I will talk about how their sensory needs can be met in some thoughtful and sometimes unexpected ways whether they may be seekers or avoiders. I will also show you where we mess up and share the mistakes we made. I am still walking this journey. I am not perfect and will never be but lessons can be learned from my mistakes.