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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Juggling On Planet Sensory

I've always wondered what it would look like to run a nanny cam on my life.....what am I, INSANE?  NO ONE in their right mind (which I have never advertised to own) wants one of those wretched things.  But if I DID jump off the deep end one day and you were watching it, it would show among other things, my less than Martha-Stewart-clean counter tops, how I seem to go from room to room with great purpose and come out the other side scratching my head wondering why it is I went in the room to begin with, and the frequent interruptions when I try to spend time with one child doing a specific activity and how the other one will INEVITABLY need me right that second Or-They-Will-Spontaneously-Combust.  Am I losing the battle of guiding my kids through THE JOY OF LEARNING?  Are we having FUN YET???  Oy. Let's NOT watch that tape okay??

No, what I'm really talking about is what our life would look like to the newcomer to Planet Sensory. Maybe you're starting to figure out that your child moves through the world with a different motor, a different speed if you will, and maybe he/she looks at things through a different lens.  I'll just share how we do things, maybe something will strike you as useable.

First off, my two kids are polarily opposite in many ways, but at the same time they have very similar "special needs".  At any given moment the invisible Nanny Cam would show one child bouncing, pushing, rolling back and forth on his head, or in his bedroom lying on his bed completely still, while the other one is either talking non-stop at me (or my husband, if he's home), organizing her 448 plastic dog figurines or, if it's later in the afternoon, out trolling the neighborhood for friends to play with, which is to say that both kids are sensory seekers. 

It's a crazy juggling act and I don't think on any given day I ever achieve that elusive state of Home Schooling Bliss (I'm pretty sure I lost the map to that place awhile back)......I just try to make sure that both kids get their major sensory needs met throughout the day, along with what most people think of as "academics".

The very first thing that I MUST beat into your head as the newcomer to this unpredictable and sometimes befuddling life on Planet Sensory (you wore a helmet, right?), is that our learning time is NOT defined by the clock!  For instance, my son and I may do his reading words during breakfast one day or before bed time another day.  We sometimes read books and work on vocabulary outside on the mini-tramp or sitting on my bed after lunch.  It depends on how HE'S doing; if he's firing on "all cylinders" that day, if his overall tone is super low, so he'll need some stimulation to activate his system or does he seem okay?  He has Trisomy 21, a genetic condition which has an underlying low muscle tone component to it, but aside from that he was born profoundly deaf and has major global developmental delays due to an infant seizure disorder, so some days he needs LOTS of big muscle input like swinging, bouncing on a big exercise ball, pushing, pulling and doing what we call "Big Time Wrestling" with Dad.  I consider all of that movement stuff foundational to all other learning endeavors throughout the day.

Conversely our daughter "looks" normal (remember, "normal" is just a setting on a washing machine) but has more than her share of "invisible" challenges (mental, emotional and cognitive) that threaten to rock her boat everyday.  She was born with full blown sensory integration dysfunction (which was diagnosed at a few weeks old) and her sensory stuff comes out in not liking to be touched (tactile defensiveness), not liking loud or unexpected noises and certain pitches (unless she's making the loud noises, and then it's all fine), not being able to able to listen to anything for very long without getting overwhelmed (think of all the listening involved in the learning process), and lastly, she's a kinesthetic learner with a capital K, so she needs to move A LOT.  In fact if you were watching the pretend Nanny Cam last week you would have seen me reading Shakespeare to her while she was twitching ALL OVER THE BED.  And she was actually listening!  Usually I offer a ball for her to sit on, sometimes she likes to draw while I read to her, but not always.  But if you saw her the other day while I was reading to her you would have thought she was a marionette on a string, completely beholden to an invisible puppeteer.  I'm pretty used to it, but sometimes it drives me up a wall.  For her sensory stuff, I try to make sure that she gets LOTS of breaks throughout the day.  So I send her outside to run, ride her bike, practice her rollerblading and skateboarding, and to play for ten-twenty minutes at a time.  When I'm really on my "game" I try to make sure she has squishy stuff she can play with while we're reading or watching videos.  And now that she's older (12), she's pretty good about making sure that she has her own supply of squishy balls, play dough, silly putty, slime, etc.....so she can calm herself when she needs to.

And here's the deal with the sensory activities I've mentioned and with those I haven't (there are books written on this stuff, so I'm not going to recreate the wheel in this post):  Sensory breaks/accomodations can't be scheduled.  I know we "organized" types want to schedule everything so it fits neatly in that Home Schooling Calendar that all the "cool moms" at the local co-op use, but that doesn't serve our kids AT ALL.  That type of rigidity and insistence on doing such-and-such activity at a certain time only leads to epic frustration, especially if your sensory child is having "one of those days".  Trust me, I have a master's degree in Epic Control Issues.  If your kid is having one of "those days" you've got to be flexible and make sure that their neurological driven need for sensory integration is met first before you try to force any "learning".

I think this is one of those posts that I'm not even sure has any value at all.  I may not even post it, but if I keep it on my blog it's because I want to stress that there is no ONE way to do this thing called home education, especially for kids who have sensory integration dysfunction.  Everyday is so much like "50 First Dates" it's ridiculous: everyday truly IS a brand new day and everyday I have to be willing to adapt my planned agenda to what they can actually handle.  I've learned the miserably hard way that forcing my plans on them is just horrendous for everyone involved and won't help remediate their sensory issues one bit.  Please don't try to teach your sensory kid out of a book or from a homeschool-blog-recipe.  Our kids are NOT one-size-fits-all and really, that's what keeps it interesting, at least for me.  I hope this helps you!

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