I took Holds to get evaluated by an Occupational Therapist this week. My fabulous friend Stacey recommended I take him to an OT to get a “sensory diet” for him. Holden has always been sensitive to sound. He covers his ears and gets really anxious around loud noises or anything he thinks is scary. And he gets easily over-stimulated around a lot of people. He does a good job of dealing with that, though – in my opinion. Instead of throwing a huge tantrum like a lot of autistic children, he just goes off in a corner or away from the crowd to give himself a time-out.
Anyway, so I really liked the OT. She was good at earning his trust and teaching me what she was doing at the same time. She uses the Jean Ayres method from what I understand, which is to incorporate deep pressure and slow vestibular stimulation done on a swing – while encouraging speech and social interaction (but making it fun). The theory here is that autistic kids (and other kids with sensory integration problems) have nervous systems that don’t give them correct information. So they’re in a state of fight or fright over any little thing because they’re nervous system isn’t telling them “hey, this isn’t that big of a deal – this is not a threat.”
In “Thinking in Pictures,” Temple Grandin talks about sensory processing for herself and many autistic people she’s interviewed. It’s fascinating. So many people thing autism is merely a psychological disorder, but there are usually biological reasons for why they do what they do. For example, she says “When two people are talking at once, it is difficult for me to screen out one voice and listen to the other. My ears are like microphones picking up all sounds with equal intensity. In a noisy place I can’t understand speech, because I cannot screen out the background noise. When I was a child, large noisy gatherings of relatives were overwhelming, and I would just lose control and throw temper tantrums.”
And then she says “Overly sensitive skin can also be a big problem. Shampooing actually hurt my scalp. It was as if the fingers rubbing my head had sewing thimbles on them. Scratchy petticoats were like sandpaper scraping away at raw nerve endings. In fact I couldn’t tolerate changes in clothing altogether. When I got accustomed to pants, I could not bear the feeling of bare legs when I wore a skirt…Most people adapt in several minutes, but it still takes me at least two weeks to adapt.”
Holden doesn’t have (from what I can tell) visual problems and he looks people in the eyes when he really wants something, but this is also really interesting: “Fluorescent lighting causes severe problems for many autistic people, because they can see a sixty-cycle flicker. For Donna Williams reflections bounced off everything, and the room looked like an animated cartoon. . . . Distorted visual images may possibly explain why some children with autism favor peripheral vision. They may receive more reliable information when they look out of the corners of their eyes.”
It is SO interesting how many kids (not with autism) have sensory issues. It’s great that Occupational Therapy and sensory diets can help sensory mixing and calm down heightened senses.
Our OT recommended we do deep pressure hug therapy with Holds throughout the day. Some autistic kids HATE being touched, but we’re lucky with Holden. He’ll let us touch him and loves hugging baby Fitz. But with others it’s usually a no-go. In fact, he said “ouch that hurts me!” when this one therapist at the school district touched his arm.
She also instructed us to encourage him to do Heavy Lifting every hour. She explained that it’s just like how I feel after a good workout where I’ve really used my muscles. Heavy Lifting sends a wave of calm to the nervous system and over time it should even Holden out so he feels more relaxed and less anxious and scared.
We got right to it! He’s been carrying groceries, lifting up his toys to put them away, climbing, playing at the playgrounds, running, lifting actual weights, and anything else we can come up with.