Monday, September 20, 2021

4-7-8 Breathing: A Simple Deep Breathing Technique

If you need a quick and easy breathing exercise, then try 4-7-8 breathing! It's a simple technique that you can do anywhere and anytime to reduce stress and anxiety.

Every night before bed, my husband walks my boys through taking a few deep breaths to help settle them for sleep. He'll flip the light switch off and ask, "Ready to do our breathing?" 

I'm not entirely sure when or how this routine of slow deep breathing before bedtime began (nice alliteration or what?!), but I love it and the kids find it tremendously helpful. It's such a great way to help the kids slow down and ease into sleep. 

And trust me, there are nights where the kids are practically bouncing off the walls and they need a bit of guidance slowing down for the night. A bit of slow breathing often does the trick.

That's where this 4-7-8 breathing comes in. Deep and slow breathing techniques such as this one are especially great for promoting better sleep. Or at least, they help my boys get ready for sleep, which really is often half the battle, right?

So if you're looking to add a new breathing technique to your arsenal, give this one a try.

How to do 4 7 8 breathing

What is the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique?

The 4 7 8 breathing method is a simple exercise for working on deep breathing that was created by Dr. Andrew Weil. It is also known as relaxing breath. And, honestly, once you try it a few times, you'll quickly realize why it's often referred to as that.

The numbers in its name are the key to this relaxed deep breathing exercise. They'll basically be your guide through the full 4 7 8 breathing method. 

Those numbers just also happen to make deep breathing practice more appealing to our kids with hypernumeracy. As you might already know, it's all about using their interest in numbers with these kids!

How to Do the 4 7 8 Breathing Exercise

First, you'll want to find a comfortable place to sit and practice your breathing. You'll also want to exhale completely before going through the steps of this breathing exercise. Here's how it works:

  • Inhale through the nose for 4 seconds
  • Hold your breath for 7 seconds
  • Exhale through the mouth audibly and forcefully for 8 seconds (making a whoosh sounds helps!)

Simply repeat the steps again for a total of 4 breath cycles.

4 7 8 breathing technique instructions

Too Hard? Use These Tips When You Practice Breathing

At first, you might find it challenging to hold your breath for 7 seconds or exhale for 8. However, with a bit of regular practice, it will get easier to do and you can eventually work your way up to the 4-7-8 counts. In the meantime, you could try:

  • Doing each step for as long as you feel comfortable
  • Speeding it up (i.e., count faster or half each step), but still using the same ratio of 4-7-8 
  • Using a video or visual aid to guide you through this breathing exercise. You could try this one or this one. Bonus hint: increase the playback speed if the pace is too hard for you to keep up with.

Every new breathing technique that you learn will take a little bit of practice. But, before you know it, you'll be able to do 4-7-8 breathing like a champ!

Other Deep Breathing Exercises & Resources You'll Love

Free Printable Social Story to Teach Deep Breathing 

Fall Leaf Deep Breathing Exercise

Calm Down Breathing Technique Cards

All about the 4 7 8 breathing technique and how to do it

Continue reading "4-7-8 Breathing: A Simple Deep Breathing Technique"

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Common Signs of Sensory Overload You Should Know About

How do you know if you or your child are experiencing sensory overwhelm? Well, here are some common signs of sensory overload to watch for.

It's one thing to know what sensory overload is

But it's a whole other ball game to know how to help, how to identify sensory triggers, and how to recognize the signs of overload. It's that last thing that we're going to focus on here though: the signs.

It's important to remember that an individual can have a wide variety of responses to incoming sensory information. Sometimes they process the information just fine. Sometimes they might have a mild reaction to that incoming sensory input. And other times, it leads to major sensory overload and/or even big, explosive meltdowns.

However, most of those big meltdowns can often be avoided if you know what to look for. 

You just need to be familiar with the signs of sensory overload and your child's sensory triggers. 

And once you know what signs to look for, you'll feel that much more confident helping and supporting your child. You'll also hopefully be able to recognize the signs of sensory overload before it leads to a full blown meltdown. Really, the goal here is to take a proactive approach instead of a reactive one.

Doing so can hopefully help you and your child avoid any major sensory processing reactions before they arise.

So let's dig in and take a closer look at some of the common signs that you might see when your child is experiencing sensory overload.

Signs of sensory overload in autism and sensory processing disorder

Signs of Sensory Overload

Please keep in mind that this list isn't exhaustive by any means. You may notice other sensory overload signs that aren't included in this list and that's okay. These are just some of the more common signs to watch out for.

  • Covering eyes
  • Covering ears
  • Anxiety, stress, and/or an inability to relax
  • Fear or panic
  • Physical discomfort
  • Drowsiness and/or fatigue
  • Sleeplessness
  • Reduced eye contact
  • Muscle tension
  • Changes in muscle tone
  • Tremors
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Irritability
  • Loss of balance and/or coordination
  • Shutting down
  • Stomachache, nausea, and/or vomit
  • Crying
  • Screaming, yelling, and/or angry outbursts
  • Hiding
  • Skin changes such as going pale or having flushed, sweaty, and/or clammy skin
  • Restlessness and/or fidgeting
  • Rapid breathing
  • High levels of excitement and/or hyperactivity
  • Difficulty focusing and concentrating
  • Unable to finish tasks
  • Refusing to participate in an activity
  • Elopement (aka running away and/or a desire to escape without considering their own safety)
  • Avoiding particular situations or places
  • Glazed over eyes
  • Distracted or disoriented
  • Increase in chewing or mouthing objects
  • Doesn't pay attention to surroundings
  • Doesn't want to be touched
  • Increase in sensitivity, usually to clothing or certain textures
  • Social and emotional withdrawal

Your child may experience one, two, or even a small handful of these signs of sensory overload so be on the lookout for them!

A list of common signs of sensory overload

Other Sensory Processing Resources You'll Love

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Common signs of sensory overload that you should learn to recognize

Continue reading "Common Signs of Sensory Overload You Should Know About"

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The Best Sensory Room Ideas for Kids

Planning on creating a sensory room or space for your child? Check out this list of sensory room ideas!

Now that you know what a sensory room is and what the benefits of a sensory room are, you're likely wondering what to actually put inside the room itself.

There are literally hundreds of different things that you could have in your sensory room. 

So let's take a look at some of the best sensory room ideas for kids

Think of this as your master list of ideas to pick and choose from when creating your own sensory space at home. 

You'll find lighting and flooring ideas for sensory rooms, as well as seating options, sensory gym equipment suggestions, and so much more!

The best sensory room ideas for kids so you can build your own sensory space at home!

Cool Ideas for Sensory Room Floors

First things first, let's start from the ground up with some flooring ideas for setting up your perfect home sensory environment.

Your child is likely going to do a lot of movement (crawling, jumping, rolling, etc.) right on the ground. So it's important to ensure that your child has a soft and cushiony surface to play on. Sensory rooms are supposed to be safe places to explore, not some danger trap causing injuries left, right, and center.

Here are some flooring suggestions to try:

  • Padded gym mats - If you plan to have swings or climbing walls in your room, then I highly recommend having some thick padded gym mats. They can be quite expensive, but are well worth the investment. You can also use these mats for proprioceptive sensory input (squishing kids like a sandwich, for example). My kids frequently build forts with ours so there's that too.
  • Large soft carpet or rug - Try adding a large fluffy rug, a faux fur carpet, or something similar to add to your space. Not only will they provide a soft surface to play, but they can add a pop of color. They can also be great for kids who are tactile sensory seekers.
  • Gel floor tiles - While these are a fun flooring option for DIY sensory rooms, they are quite expensive. But they're really cool and might be exactly what you need.
  • Sensory crash pad - I highly recommend having a crash mat or pad underneath climbing walls or swings or even just to crash into. But let's be honest, they're expensive. It's a good thing you can make your own crash pad pretty easily using household items though. Seriously, it's one of the most easy sensory room ideas you'll ever make!
Ideas for sensory room floors for kids

Sensory Room Equipment & Furniture Ideas

What equipment and furniture you add to your sensory room will depend on the size of the space. 

A smaller sensory space might be able to fit only one or two items for this list, while a larger sensory space might be able to fit quite a few items. So pick what works best for your space.

Here are some of my favorite sensory room ideas when it comes to multi-sensory equipment and furniture: 

  • Sensory swing - When it comes to sensory room ideas, sensory swings are at the top thing on my list. I mean there's a reason why I ended up making so many sensory swings myself. By the way, be sure to check out my DIY sensory swing guide.
  • Mini trampoline - If your kid loves to jump, then I highly recommend getting a little trampoline for your sensory space. It's seriously one of the best things I've ever purchased for my boys.
  • Sensory tunnel - Tunnels are great for providing sensory input, increasing body awareness, and developing gross motor skills. A tunnel is great to have in a sensory integration room.
  • Body sock - A body sock is a great way to meet your child's daily sensory needs. And it's sure to get your kids giggling.
  • Weighted blanket, vestlap pad, or stuffed animal - I personally use a weighted blanket myself as it gives me the right pressure to help with my restless legs. But lots of kids can also benefit from the deep pressure of a weighted tool. You can also make DIY sensory toys and tools like these quite easily, if you'd like to go that route.
  • Rocker board, wobble board, or balance board - They go by many names as you can tell. And while they all look slightly different, they do serve the same kind of purpose: working on balance. They all work great in a sensory room, no matter what you pick.
  • Fidgets - Having a bin of fidgets is a must in a sensory room. You could try pop its, tangles, chewelry, spinners, or even Rubik's cubes, for instance. Each child likes different things so you might have to try a bunch of different options until you find ones that your child likes.
  • Indoor play gym - If you have the space and want to splurge a little, having an indoor play gym with monkey bars and whatnot might be a great fit for you. It really depends on the sensory needs of your child though.
  • Play tent - A great place for kids to retreat to when they need somewhere quiet to go.
  • Balance cushion - These are great for working on balance. But they also make excellent seating options, which leads me to the next section: seating options!
Sensory room equipment and furniture ideas

Sensory Room Seating Options

Here are some suggestions for seating options for your sensory space:

  • Bilibo - I remember that these things were all the rage a number of years ago. They're the perfect seating option for kids who love to spin or need some help with balance.
  • Wobble stool - I love these types of stools for wiggly kids! My son had one at school in kindergarten and grade one and they were so helpful for him. So if you have a sensory table of some kind in your room, then you might want to try a stool like this instead of a traditional chair to go with it.
Suggestions for seating options in a sensory room

Sensory Table Ideas

One of the most popular sensory room ideas is a sensory table. That is, a table where kids can explore different things via their senses. But here are two of the more popular suggestions when it comes to sensory tables:

  • Sensory table - Keep in mind that it doesn't have to be a table, per se. It might just be a large plastic bin or storage container to play in. Or it might be a full-fledged table. Use what's right for your space.
Ideas for tables to put in a sensory room for kids

Sensory Room Lighting Ideas

When it comes to sensory room lighting, you'll want to keep things soft and dim. Try to avoid harsh lights. Here are a few suggestions to try:

  • Christmas lights or fairy lights - You don't have to buy fancy sensory lights for your room. You can use fairy lights or Christmas lights for simple lighting.
  • LED Light Strips - Here's another inexpensive lighting suggestion that will definitely jazz up your space. Or if you're looking specifically for sensory bedroom ideas, then light strips are great for that too!
  • Sensory Light Projector - Light projectors like this one are so cool! They're calming and soothing to look at. Many even come a built-in sound machine too. Again, if you're wanting to make a calming sensory bedroom space, a light projector is perfect for that.
  • Bubble Tube - Bubble tubes are a really fun option for a sensory room. The combination of bubbles and lights is so soothing!
  • Lava Lamp - Or go a bit more old school and try a lava lamp in your sensory space. They're mesmerizing to watch and perfect if your child loves visual sensory input.
  • Fiber Optic Lamp - I used to love these things as a kid! They're so cool looking and would be an awesome addition to a sensory room.
Suggestions for sensory room lighting

Sensory Balls to Try in Your Sensory Room

I didn't think I would need a whole section dedicated to different types of balls, but yet here we are...

Balls are just one of those must-have ideas for a sensory room.

As you can see, there are so many fun options that would be great for a sensory room, including:

  • Exercise ball - A large ball like this one can be used for all sorts of different things in a sensory room. You can use it to sit on. You can use it to roll across your child's body for deep pressure and sensory input. You can have your child push it through a sensory tunnel as a heavy work activity. If you need more ideas, try these activity suggestions here.
  • Textured balls - These spiky textured balls are great for use in sensory rooms. Again, these can be used for a wide variety of purposes.
  • Hopper balls - I remember buying two hopper balls for $10 each one super cold winter day (think -50 C with the wind chill) as a way for my kids to burn off energy. They were worth every penny! They're such a great way to get kids moving and provide sensory input. I highly recommend getting one for your sensory room. You can even get fun animal hopper toys.
  • Peanut ball - You can use these balls in the same ways I mentioned with the exercise ball. They just have a slightly different shape. Try using it for working on balance, encouraging movement, and increasing core strength. Peanut balls are a great addition to a sensory integration room.
  • Light up balls - When my husband used to go to conferences, he would often come home with a variety of swag. Often that swag would include light up balls or flashing spiky bouncy balls. Basically, the balls would light up once they hit the floor. My boys loooove them! They're great for visual sensory seekers.
  • Puffer squishy balls - These types of balls are stretchy, squishy, bouncy, and tons of fun to play with. You can usually find these at the dollar store.
  • Stress balls - These types of balls come in a variety of options. But they're great for helping kids regulate, building hand strength, and more!
  • Ball pit with balls - Ball pits make for an awesome sensory room idea and you can actually get them for pretty cheap too.
Sensory balls ideas for kids

Sensory Room Decor Ideas

You've got the right lighting, check. The right flooring, check. Some fidgets, equipment, and other items, check. Now it's time to think about the finishing touches for your sensory room. 

Give these sensory room ideas and decorations a try:

  • Large pillows - Adding pillows to your sensory space is a great way to add a pop of color, offer up some extra sensory input, or create an inviting and calming corner for relaxing. For example, you could try fluffy ones for cuddling with or crashing into. Or you could try textured sequin ones that are great for tactile sensory seekers (aka they're good for stimming with).
  • Sensory path stickers - One of the most popular sensory room ideas as of late are to use sensory path stickers or decals. They're a great way to personalize your room, but what's really awesome about them is that they encourage lots of movement too.
  • Glow in the dark stars - Did you have some of these in your bedroom growing up? My brother did and I remember loving them! Anyway, they are perfecting for decorating your own sensory room too.
  • Mirrors - Want to make your small sensory room space look bigger? Then try adding some mirrors! They make a great addition to any sensory room. We personally had some mirrors next to our light table which made from some really fun sensory play.
  • Vertical surfaces to write or play on - Think chalkboards or whiteboards. Both make for great sensory room ideas. Or if you don't want something specifically for writing on, you could try a magnet board or felt board as alternatives.
Other sensory room decor ideas

A List of Awesome Sensory Room Ideas for Kids

Phew, I know that was a lot! So here's a quick list of all the different sensory room ideas that were mentioned above. Obviously, this list isn't exhaustive. There are definitely lots of other ideas to consider as well like sound machines or essential oil diffusers, for instance.

A list of ideas for a sensory room

Other Helpful Resources for Creating Your Own Sensory Space

What is a Sensory Room?

What are the Benefits of a Sensory Room?

How to Make a Sensory Room on a Budget

The best sensory room ideas for kids so you can build your own sensory space at home!

Continue reading "The Best Sensory Room Ideas for Kids"

Thursday, September 09, 2021

10 Important Classroom Considerations for Hyperlexic Learners

Ten important classroom considerations for hyperlexic learners. These are things parents can look for in a school and things teachers can do to accommodate these students in their classroom.

When it comes to picking the right school setting for a hyperlexic child, it can be a tough decision to make. Should you homeschool? Should you send them to public school? How about a language immersion program or Montessori? There are plenty of options!

And really, hyperlexic kids can thrive in any school setting as long as these 3 things are kept in mind.

But let's say you've decided on sending them to school versus homeschooling them. 

Well, what should you look for in that school?

Or maybe you're here reading this as a teacher, wondering how to best support your hyperlexic student. 

Well, these classroom considerations for hyperlexic learners are a great guide for both parents and teachers. Below you'll find 10 criteria that you'll want to consider.

Hyperlexia and school: things to consider

10 Classroom Considerations for Hyperlexic Learners

There are a few things parents and teachers should consider when it comes to teaching and supporting hyperlexic learners at school. Keep in mind that these 10 criteria are just a starting point. There will likely be other things you might want to consider that are unique to your child. So let's take a closer look, shall we?

1. Small Class Sizes

Hyperlexic kids do best in classrooms that are small in size. They need peers to learn from, but too many kids can be overwhelming for them. Kupperman, Bligh, & Barouski (1998) offered these class sizes as guidelines:

  • Preschool: 6-10 kids
  • Kindergarten: 10-15 kids
  • Elementary years: 18-25

If you can find a school program that has small classroom sizes like this, then that's great. However, in actuality, the chances of finding small classroom sizes like these aren't always possible due to school budgets, enrollment levels, and staffing issues. But they're still important to keep in mind. After all, some programs and schools might offer smaller class sizes that will be a better fit for your child.

2. Limited Visual Distractions

Most classrooms are filled with visual clutter. There are usually brightly colored posters all over the place, for instance. The thing is that all that visual clutter is distracting for hyperlexic students. It's best to keep the classroom d├ęcor minimal so that it isn't distracting or overwhelming to your students.

3. Preferential Seating Arrangements

A hyperlexic child does best in the classroom when they are seated close to a teacher and away from distractions. That means having them sit away from windows, doors, heating/cooling units, thermometers, etc.  

I remember my son getting distracted by the traffic lights that he could see outside his classroom windows when he was in grade one and two. Or there was the time that my son was trying to play with thermometers at our local children's center because the only open chair for us to sit and wait in was right underneath a thermometer. Seriously, who puts a chair under a thermometer anyway? 

4. Structured Routine

Hyperlexic kids do well in classrooms that have a structured routine. Like many young kids, hyperlexic kids love routine. They like to know what's happening next, but they can also struggle with transitions between tasks. However, having a clearly outlined routine or schedule can have a huge impact on their success in the classroom.

You'll also want to make sure that the routine is visual in nature. Our hyperlexic kids need things to be written down instead of just given verbally. So things like visual schedules are super helpful for providing the structure that these kids need.

5. Visual & Manipulative Aids

Since we just discussed visual schedules, let's talk more about visual aids and using manipulatives. Hyperlexic kids are visual learners so it's important to use things that make learning more visual for them. That may include using hands-on manipulatives, posters, checklists, and so on. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Posting a list of written rules (instead of relying on verbal reminders)
  • Creating a storytelling basket with props to aid in comprehension
  • Using a Story Grammar Marker, a tool that helps kids remember the different parts of a story
  • Providing manipulatives such as bear counters, base ten blocks, etc. to work on math concepts
  • Writing down a checklist of steps to break down larger tasks
  • Showing an example or two of a completed art project so they know what it should look like when they're done creating theirs
  • Using graphic organizers for assignments
  • Labels on drawers, lockers, desk, supplies, etc. so they know what belongs to whom and where

6. Appropriate & Ongoing Supports

In order to be successful in the classroom, your hyperlexic child should have accommodations, supports, and/or modifications that are supportive of their ongoing needs. Some of these might be outlined in an IIP, IEP, 504 plan, or similar. What these supports might be, however, will vary from student to student. 

7. Strong Language Development Module

As Kupperman et al. (1998) outlined, the "curriculum for the classroom should include language development both expressive and receptive, written and oral, as well as the development of the use of language which accommodates the learning style of these children."

8. Additional Support Services & Teacher's Aides/Assistants

Hyperlexic kids often - but not always - need support with speech, language, and sensory integration, among other things. So it's important for them to have access to an occupational therapist, speech therapist, or even resource room programs (e.g., maybe a small group that focuses on comprehension) at school. 

They can also benefit from having a paraprofessional, teacher's aide, or teaching assistant help them throughout the school day.

9. Flexible Program

Kupperman et al. (1998) noted that programs for hyperlexic kids "should be flexible enough to use reading and rote learning skills even if they are out of order developmentally." 

And it's vital that the school recognizes the hyperlexic child's reading abilities and uses them to help them learn (see point #1 here for more information). I cannot stress that enough.

10. Comprehension is Prioritized

Here's something else I cannot emphasize enough: prioritize comprehension! 

"If a young reader is known to have hyperlexia...parents and professionals should consider the child at risk for comprehension issues from the start of the reading career, and certainly from the start of school." (Iland, 2011) Basically, it's been argued that the presence of hyperlexia can be considered a red flag (I hate that term, by the way) for comprehension issues. 

However, potential gaps in comprehension can be missed due to the hyperlexic child's strong decoding skills. Or, as Robertson (2019) points out, "the comprehension deficit was there all along - hiding in plain sight but overlooked by parents and educators who may have been blinded by the students' early reading strengths."

So please don't overlook, minimize, or brush off potential comprehension issues even if your child seems to comprehend fine right now (don't get me started on this!). Instead, make it a priority to build comprehension skills. It's important to make sure that your child's school and teacher are on board to help build these skills too. Hint: include it in your child's IIP/IEP plan.

A Quick Recap on Hyperlexia & Classroom Considerations

So just to recap, a hyperlexic student will do well in a school classroom that:

  • Has a small class size
  • Limits visual distractions
  • Uses preferential seating arrangements
  • Follows a structured routine
  • Uses visual and manipulative aids
  • Allows for appropriate and ongoing supports
  • Includes a strong language development module
  • Provides additional support services and a teacher's aide or assistant, as needed
  • Is flexible and recognizes the hyperlexic child's reading abilities
  • Prioritizes comprehension skills

Hopefully you found these classroom considerations for hyperlexic learners helpful!

A list of things to consider when it comes to school for hyperlexic learners

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Important school classroom considerations for hyperlexic learners

Continue reading "10 Important Classroom Considerations for Hyperlexic Learners"