by Amy (Friedy) and Evelyn (Roizy) Guttmann, OTR
The last bell of the school year has rung. Notebooks, folders and binders have been stuffed deep in a closet to hibernate. It’s time to focus on fun, not on homework. It’s summer vacation!
While summer vacation can come as a sigh of relief from the grind of school (and its accompanying challenges), for the child with sensory processing disorder, summer brings its own challenges.
We wanted to share with you some of the more common issues our parents run into during summer vacation, and our tips on how you and your child can have a smooth, positive summer experience.
New experiences are challenging for children with sensory integration issues. Even if they’re very excited and looking forward to camp, the actual transition can be overwhelming. How do you ease your child into the experience?
Preparation is the key. The more preparation your child has, the more comfortable he will be.
Get the names of his counselors in advance. Ask if you can reach out to them and apprise them of the situation. If so, contact them and let them know about your child’s sensory issues. If your child needs or would benefit from sensory diet exercises over the course of the day, explain that and coach your counselor on how to help.
When you’re speaking to the counselor, ask if your child could speak to them briefly just to say hello and be familiar with them coming into camp. A phone call is good. Video chatting works even better.
See if you can go down to the camp in advance so your child can get used to the physical environment. This is extremely helpful even if the campgrounds are empty at the time. Just being familiar with the external environment – where the pool is, where the bathrooms are – will go a long way toward making your child feel comfortable when he steps off the bus for the real thing.
One of the great things about camp for children with ADD and ADHD is that they don’t need to sit still. Camp is all about constant activity. If your child with ADD is off medication for the summer, be especially careful with her sensory regulation, or you will have an awful time re-regulating her come back-to-school time.
Don’t let her veg in front of the TV, the computer or any other screen as soon as she returns from day camp. Give her some food. Then encourage her to do some physical activity (counter-intuitive, we know, but that’s how the body works). If she needs screen time to relax, limit it to 20 minutes.
In the Car
“Mommy! David doesn’t feel good! He says he’s gonna throw up!”
Car rides are the bane of existence for any parent who has a child who gets motion sickness easily. The very sound of a rustling plastic causes you to tense your muscles. Will he get it all in the bag?
Here’s our motion sickness prevention and cure. Motion sickness is an issue of the vestibular system – the sensory system in charge of balance and spatial orientation. As long as all elements involved in the system (the eyes, the inner ear) agree on what’s going on, the body feels fine. But if the inner ear is sure you’re moving, but the eye does not (because you’re reading, or looking at the inside of the car) – these mixed messages make your stomach churn.
How do you solve the issue? JUMP.
Have your child get out of the car every 45 minutes and jump on solid ground for one minute. Jumping resets the vestibular system.
45 minutes is an average. If your child needs to jump more frequently, do so. When my daughter was a baby, on long trips down to Baltimore, we would pull over to the side of the highway every 20 minutes and jump up and down with her. The older she got, the longer we were able to wait in between jumps
What if your child throws up as soon as you pull out of the driveway?
Give them ginger (real ginger – not ginger flavor). Find ginger candies and let them suck the candies in the car.
Visual screen stimulation can also help overly sensitive children. You can let them look at pictures on your iPhone or iPad.
When You Get There
There may be so many fun things to do that you’re busy from morning ‘til night. Make sure you work in time for your child’s sensory diet. You’ll benefit both in the short-term (being sensory regulated will make her more willing to try new experiences) and in the long-term (you won’t have lost ground when you come back to school and a regular schedule).
Beaches and Pools
Apply sunscreen BEFORE you get to beach. You know that gritty sensation of trying to put sunscreen on when your legs are sandy? For you it’s annoying. For your sensory child, it’s TORTURE.
Going to use insect repellent? Get one that is mixed with sunscreen. The less things you need to apply, the better
Toes are one of the most sensitive areas of our body. Be sure to get him waterproof shoes.
The smell of chlorine in a pool can be overwhelming. You can try noseplugs to help him with the odor. Outdoor pools should be better than indoor pools, because the smell has more room to dissipate. If your child still can’t take the smell, stick to beaches and lakes instead of pools.
With the appropriate preparation, summertime can be a wonderful experience for you and your child. Think in advance, prepare, respect your child’s sensitivities – and have a great time!
Amy (Friedy) and Evelyn (Roizy) Guttmann are Occupational Therapists at Hands On Approach. They service children and give conferences in the NYC area.
They can be reached at 718-621-3385 or firstname.lastname@example.org.