Managing your child's sensory needs at home under lockdown

17th April 2020
Pod-Ability host Dave King with Zoe Mailloux and Michael and Paul Atwal-Brice

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Official coronavirus lockdown advice has, for the most part, ignored the way the lives of children with sensory difficulties have been turned upside down. In this episode we’re asking: 'What impact is the current lockdown situation having on your child with sensory issues? And how can you manage them at home?' Pod-Ability host, Dave King, is joined remotely over Skype by Zoe Mailloux, an occupational therapist and internationally-renowned expert in the area of sensory integration, as well as Michael and Paul Atwal-Brice, parents to twins Levi and Lucas, both of whom have autism, among other conditions. 

Our closed Facebook group offers a safe, private, supportive and understanding space to share issues raised by this episode with like-minded parents and families of children with special educational needs and disabilites.

We've listed below some of the key suggestions and takeaways that emerged during this episode's discussion.

Pod-Ability host Dave King with Zoe Mailloux and Michael and Paul Atwal-Brice

Suggestions for parents from this episode's discussion

  • Please note that not all of the suggestions below will work for every child. It’s important not to assume that one size fits all.
  • As a parent, you probably know your own child best and understand what their sensory needs are as well as their aversions and sensitivities.
  • An OT who has worked with your child in the past might be able to suggest more targeted ideas than the ones that emerged from the discussion.

Suggestions for managing your child’s sensory needs

  • Being at home all day is an opportunity for your child to learn and practice life skills. Instead of thinking ‘my child couldn’t possibly handle this task’, try and engage them in daily life routines like mopping the floor, washing windows, folding laundry and carrying groceries – tasks that involve pressure on the joints. 
  • Try installing a pull-up bar in a doorway. This is an easy way to get hanging and swinging motion, providing some of the sensory experience that is calming and organising.
  • Have your child watch clips of something fast-moving like a rollercoaster, and give their body a little bit of a sway at the same time, so they get the sensation of a movement experience.
  • Allowing your child to watch activities they’ve done in the past might be engaging to them.
  • Try setting aside 10 or 15 minutes every day where one adult is with one child, with no distractions. You can try keeping a special box of activities that you use only for that time. The predictability of knowing that they’re going to have that time with one adult, every day, makes a difference to a child.
  • Think about what your family is missing most now, and see if there’s some way to approximate this.
  • Try using visual storytelling, with pictures, to give your child a sense of what’s happening and what they can expect.

Using the crisis as an opportunity to learn about your child

  • Put on your ‘detective hat’ and watch what kinds of activities your child is drawn to – what are they liking?
  • Be on the lookout for things you didn’t think your child could do, that they suddenly can do. Take some notes to capture your new insights and strategies. 
  • Try journaling during this time: when does your child seem at their best, most calm, organised and focused? And what kinds of activities precede these great moments?
  • When you’re looking at a behaviour in your child, try to think what kind of activity the behaviour might suggest he or she might need – and then look for constructive, practical, safe ways to create that sensation.
  • For example, if your child is rocking, you could try getting a rocking chair with a stopper that allows a child to rock safely, giving them that sense of motion at home.

Creating structure under lockdown

  • Try to keep a similar routine and timetable to the one your child had at school.
  • However, parents are not teachers and can’t be expected to manage the level of structure you find in a school setting. But to abandon it altogether is to give in to chaos which will make it difficult to manage the day and will also not do your child any favours when we move out of the current crisis. Try to keep a balance between keeping structure and giving everyone a little leeway, while not being too hard on yourselves.
  • If your child is using an iPad or tablet, try to point them towards some of the apps they use during school hours, to maintain their routine.

Looking after yourself as a parent and managing your expectations

  • Don’t hide how you feel. Be honest and open and use your support network and other families to offload – this is a kind of therapy!
  • Reset your expectations regarding what you can do. Nothing about the current situation is ‘regular’ or normal or uncomplicated. And it’s new to everybody – nobody’s done it before.
  • Carve out a little bit of time to do whatever is going to make you as a parent feel centred and organised.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. Know that you’re doing the best that you can – keep expectations of yourself realistic.
  • Remember how much you’re doing to keep your child safe, to understand them and to give them a loving home.

Other resources

  • A lot of occupational therapists are currently putting useful content online, such as Playsense ‘Morning Cup of Go’
  • ASI WISE also has a lot of useful resources. Make contact with therapists in their group.

The Pod-Ability signature music track is by Sonic Boom Six. Many thanks for their kind generosity.​