Keep It Simple... Make It Fun!

Let me introduce myself, and my son Colton. He has Sensory and Auditory processing issues. We have been in therapy for two years and the progress is remarkable. Much of this is attributed to a wonderful team consisting of his teacher and an Occupational Therapist; both well versed in Sensory Integration Dysfunction. A portion of this is also attributed to myself, because I work with him consistently and constantly on his sensory issues and academics. I would love to take this opportunity to share some fun activities I have found helpful, in hopes that you will likewise find them useful.

Fun Activities for You and Your Child with SPD

Bop till you drop

Are you tired of being the punching bag? I sure was! One day I decided I just had enough so I marched into the toy store and came out with two bop bags. One for Colton and one for myself, "that's right, me!" I thought that if Colton had to hit then he must learn what is appropriate and what is not. When I see he is building up and needs a release we go into our in home OT play room and bop it out. Time and again this has turned a frustrated little boy into a laughing bundle of joy. Likewise it helps me to release some frustrations of my own. We end up rolling on the floor in laughter.


Colton was having a very difficult time remembering things he needed to do and things he needed to have with him. In an attempt to help him remember what was needed we invented a game of "check." A good example of this is in the morning getting ready for school. Finished your breakfast? ..."check!" Colton replies. Pick your clothes... "check!" Put them on... "check!" Teeth brushed... "check!" Lunchbox and back pack... "check!" This helps him feel in control and nothing is left behind. Off to another great day. This works well in conjunction with picture boards to help with the transition that is sometimes difficult for him.

Good choice? Not a good choice

It is important for children to be aware of choices and their consequences. Colton and I are always discussing this matter. I will give him an example or situation and then ask him... Good Choice? If it is a good choice then praise is given, otherwise I make a sound like a game show buzzer, and then I reply "not a good Choice!" He has really identified with this and has even reversed our roles and he offers the examples. Again giving him control and offering positive reinforcement.

Help me... help you

Allows Colton to understand his feelings and realize that he needs to calm down. I give Colton ideas for ways to calm himself; again making the decision puts him in control of himself, something that is necessary since there is so much that he cannot control. This also teaches him how to think for himself and to realize alternatives are available. Help me... help you calm down with story time, music time, or how about art time or do you need hug time?

Let's have a race

Having a tough time getting your child motivated? Lets have a race is like a dare to them. They always want to win and this has been a great help to me with getting Colton going. It may be cleaning up, getting to an outing or the school bus on Monday morning. I have found this to be a good diversion to the transition issues as well. My son has so much fun with this game that he even initiates me for a round when he wants to do a certain something. I will let him know that we will play a game after I clean up the dishes. He quickly replies, "I know mommy... let's have a race!"

It's a ball

I took a duvet cover and inserted an egg crate mattress pad then filled it with plastic balls and some chunks of scrap foam rubber. Colton will roll around on it wrap himself up in it, or crawls under it and hide. The ball blanket is a sensory delight for him and seems to also help him calm down. We both enjoyed making this project together. On an occasional weekend he gets to "camp out" and sleep on the ball blanket with a pop up tent on top.

My turn, your turn

I am a single parent of one child and have struggled to help Colton with his social skills. We created this game together. We may be playing an old game or inventing a new game. Inventing a new game is really much more fun and calls for some real creativity. We take turns making decisions, rules and keeping track that we adhere to them. In addition to the above mentioned strengthening skills we include yet another, which is keeping track of each other's actions. This believe it or not will help with memory type issues. Personally I mess up on purpose to see if he can catch me cheating if you will. By the way... that's not a good choice!

Fire the boss

Options for self-control have been taught and learned, all a little to well. Now my child wants to be the boss of everything and tell me what to do! I have several options to help put the ideas of leader and follower into play activities. Use your child's age appropriate learning tool to help them to understand roles. Perhaps Barney is the leader and his friends are the followers. Steve leads Blue, Bear is in charge of the big Blue House, Dora leads Boots, Bob the Builder has his crew, Christopher Robin helps Pooh along, Bible stories, sports teams and so on. Use books and or videos and have your child select who is the leader... who is the follower? Is this the Leader? BUZZ — not a good choice. Discuss the videos and explain roles, ask questions that your child can relate to pertaining to character roles. This is also a great way to incorporate teamwork and the importance of working together to get the job done.

Congratulations, you just worked with your child and got the job done in a fun way. In the event you need a movement break play a game of follow the leader.

Tickle tackle

What a way to release some energy! We chase, we tackle, and we tickle the anxiety and frustration away. What an OT experience this is for your child. The running and jumping is a proprioceptive exercise and a release. I often times use a puppet and say, "I'm going to get you and when I do I'm going to tickle you." The laughter and memories are worth the effort. After which we can start anew and tackle yet another difficult issue. Let your child pick which one comes next.

Shop till you drop

Colton and I love to go to the mall and explore all the sensory wonders it holds. This helps him to realize that all the lights; people and commotion are not a bad thing. Walking the mall can be fun especially on a rainy day. Distract them from the sensory issues that they have by playing games. We play up and down and up, using the stairs, elevator and escalator to feel our movement and strengthen motor skills. We play hide and seek, tag your it, and most of all we love to window shop. Window-shopping is a fantastic way to help your child solve problems and enforce their academics. We pick an item in the store and try to think of items that start with the same letter of the alphabet, or an opposite, perhaps a match or something of the same color or shape. Reward yourselves by taking in a movie and relaxing... you will need it.

Go to sleep, go to sleep

Is your child hard to settle after bathing and story time? Mine sure was and these are a few tricks that I found helpful. Use weighted blankets to help them calm down. Have available a flashlight and a sound machine and give them the control to operate them. Try pajamas that are snug for the sensory seekers. Why not try aromatherapy and spray the pillow or room with lavender or vanilla scents? Classical music is also soothing at a very soft volume. Reassure your child that you are near and available if there is a problem, that you love them and wish them a good nights rest and talk about what tomorrow will bring easing them into this transition. Now you can get the rest you deserve and so very much need.

Therapy and learning is a lot of work for children and for parents. Try to imagine yourself in their little shoes. Children want so very much to please their parents and teachers or caregivers. Add DSI into the equation and you have double trouble. Frustration leads to a real meltdown.

"I find that if you keep up a certain level of fun and humor it makes everything you do so much better."

Can these meltdowns be redirected or avoided by intervention? My personal opinion is yes, its helpful in the long run. I find that if you keep up a certain level of fun and humor it makes everything you do so much better. Children do sense the parents disposition, if you're stressed your child will be too, so keep up that chin and smile, it is contagious. I have the highest hopes for Colton and his successes as well as for each an every child out there with his same difficulties.

— Written by Carolyn M. King, 2004

This article was published in the Summer 2004 edition of S.I. Focus Magazine.

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