Last Minute Sensory-Based Gifts
by Stacy Turke, OTR/L
Tis the Season of Giving…and it seems that many folks are wondering what they should be giving to their friends and family members who are “Sensory” kiddos or grown ups. This year more than any other, I’ve been asked what a sensory seeker might like for Christmas, or what that anxious niece might like to open on the first day of Hanukkah. It is a good sign, I believe, that these questions are coming up more frequently, because I think it means that folks are generally more aware that these sensory processing challenges not only exist but also can and should be lovingly supported. And because there have been so many questions about this topic in the last few weeks, this month’s post will help you decide “What should I give my special someone who has “Sensory” needs?
First a caveat. Everyone is unique, so this is NOT a one-size-fits-all list. I encourage you to consider your certain someone’s preferences, age, and living situation when you consider gifting. For example, a 10 year old child who lives for banging and loud sounds might LOVE a drum set…but the neighbors in the apartment upstairs might not think that’s particularly awesome! And while we know that research shows endless benefits of owning a kitten or puppy for mental and physical health, rescuing a kitten from a shelter should NEVER be done without full, enthusiastic consent of your particular giftee!
And without further ado, here are my Gift Giving Ideas, in no particular order of importance.
For that picky eater
ezpz Happy Mat and/or Mini Mat: Oh my goodness people, I am totally in love with these products for several reasons. They are aesthetically pleasing. The mats are made of dishwasher and microwave safe silicone that feels soft and smooth to the touch. The colors are kid-friendly and engaging. They suction to the table so food doesn’t go flying…well, at least not from a flying bowl or plate. And for goodness sake, their Happy Mat and Mini Mat SMILE AT YOU WHILE YOU EAT! Plus, the dividers in the mat themselves help to separate food so that things don’t touch (if you have to wonder why food that touches is a problem, ask a picky eater!). They help provide portion control for those who may want lots of only one thing. The fact that there are three different sections imply there should be three different things on the plate, so maybe you’ll even get an extra bonus of increasing food tolerances over time. The silicone keeps mealtime quieter than normal because there isn’t any “clink clink” of the silverware on the plate. And just think of all the fun you can have using these mats within the realm of fine motor skill development! Cheerios, chunks of meat, small pieces of fruit…all of these things will sit patiently for your little one to practice their pincer grasp when they pick them up with their fingers. The raised sides of the sections will provide a little support with utensil use. Check out the ezpz website for lots more great ideas in their shopping section and on Ms Dawn’s blog! (If this seems like an unpaid commercial for a really great product by a really great company it’s because I love them!)
For the Sensory Seekers
You know these kinds of people. We are folks who seek lots and lots of input. We move a lot. We chew on our fingers and clothes and gum (if it’s allowed). Some of us seem to be able to crash into things without apparent harm or ouches. So consider any of the following:
Compression clothing: these items can be worn under street clothing or just as the shirt! My favorites for kiddos are the Hug Tees from funandfunction.com, but you can find cool compression clothes at most sporting goods stores. Make sure the label includes the word “compression” and be aware that the shirt may look a little small. That’s okay, you want it to feel snug like a hug!
Body Sox: don’t knock it til you’ve tried it, really! These fun tools offer moderate to heavy deep pressure input while also giving a child a reduced-sensory environment. This picture shows a person completely INSIDE the “sox;” some of my students enjoy placing the top of it over their shoulders instead of hiding totally inside it. Try adding it to your before bedtime-routine, maybe even during that bedtime story. If your child enjoys playing in the sox, just be aware that it can be a little slick when walking on uncarpeted surfaces, so use with supervision.
Yoga Ball: there are so many uses for Yoga balls besides just yoga! One of my favorites is to roll the ball over the child from head to feet, slowly and with moderate pressure, and pretend you are rolling out cookie dough. The pressure of the ball will be calming, and the playtime will be fun. A yoga ball and this cool set of Therapy Ball Activity Cards would make a great gift!
Weighted tools such as pillows or stuffed animals: You can buy a weighted toy, or weight your own by opening the seam of a favorite stuffed toy and adding a small, reinforced Baggie of dried beans. I really like these pillows that are filled with cherry pits from hotcherrypillows.com. They weigh approximately two pounds, and have the added advantage of being able to be warmed in the microwave. So soothing, and lots of senses touched through the use of this tool.
For the Anxious among us (and really, who isn’t from time to time?)
Aroma therapy: Essential oils are a really hot gift item in my part of the country right now. Small bottles of oils and lovely diffusers are available even in my local grocery stores, and it seems everyone has a favorite brand or scent. It’s important to remember that not everyone loves the intensity of the various smells associated with essential oils, so tread lightly at first and even consider cutting the intensity by diluting the oils with a few drops of a neutral smelling oil like a light olive oil. Your anxious child may benefit from the use of lavender oil; I know it works for me! But check with your local health food store or other knowledgable vendor for recommendations regarding which oils to try. Recently the parent of one of my littlest students contacted me to say that they had added lavender oil to their bedtime routine. Mom mixes a couple drops of the oil into a little bit of coconut oil and massages it into her son’s hands and feet before bedtime. She said that as soon as she brings out the bottle each night, he goes to the massage location and lays down, because he knows it feels good. She also told me that his sleep has improved since they started using the lavender oil massage. Gotta love those kinds of success stories, right?
Small tent: These are functional for so many reasons! They help provide a small space for homework, a spot to calm and settle, a quiet place to play during a busy holiday family event.
Compression tools: The same compression clothing and body sox that help sensory seekers also help folks who are anxious. Because compression items typically fit close to the body, they add a neutral warmth that is soothing for most folks. Pay attention to overheating and remove them if your loved one gets too warm.
Weighted tools: Weighted tools are soothing and calming overall. They can include stuffed animals, pillows, vests, even blankets. You can weight a backpack with a few books for a young child. Whatever weighted tool you use, please use them with supervision.
Quiet time: You can never underestimate the importance of giving everyone opportunities to retreat to a quiet spot, especially during the busy family events that accompany the holidays. Anxious folks among us often need time to warm up, to ease into gatherings, along with time to themselves. Try to honor that when possible. And consider offering a pair of noise dampening headphones, especially when you know the festive events will have the potential of being noisy or loud.
(Compassion word cloud courtesy of: https://pixabay.com/en/word-cloud-compassion-joy-connect-936542/ )
Give the gift of understanding and compassion. Try to honor schedules and routines that are important. Take time out to recharge and refresh. Have familiar foods on the table during those big meals so that picky eaters don’t feel pressured to eat things they don’t like or haven’t tried. There will be other times to work on stretching food preferences or sensory tolerances. During the holidays, remember to enjoy the people you are with for who they are, and they will love you for it.
Stacy M. Turke, OTR/L: “On the Road with @stacyturke OTR blog.” Stacy has been a school OT for 31 years with the same intermediate school district in Michigan in what she describes as “my dream job.” Her career has ranged from working in a “center-based” school to working in public and private schools throughout the county, including those in the rural, suburban, and urban areas. She has experience working with students with a wide range of educational needs, to include cognitive impairments, Autism Spectrum Disorder, physical challenges, sensory processing needs, and many other learning challenges. She expresses her enthusiasm when she says “This career has been fulfilling, always presenting new and interesting challenges, and is NEVER boring!” You can connect with Stacy on Pinterest at https://www.pinterest.com/stacyturke/ and on Twitter at @StacyTurkeOT.
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