For very small children with disabilities, parents can often feel overwhelmed that they must “do therapy”. It’s easy to forget (or even know, if it’s your first child) that regular “normal” things are therapeutic. Think what any baby would enjoy, and try to adapt it for your child.
All babies love looking at face, so just holding your face close to your child’s helps them fix (focus) on you. Move your head slowly so they can follow you. Sing, blow, stick out your tongue, smile like a goof or make silly faces to keep attention.
If your child’s sensory processing has still to mature (common in premature children), they may only tolerate this for a few seconds – don’t worry, it will come in time.
Your child will let you know when they have had enough by turning their head away or closing their eyes. Don’t ignore this signal – you can overload your child’s senses otherwise, and they’ll become irritable.
What are you achieving? Fixing and following eye gaze is the first stage of looking and concentrating. You are also developing turn taking and listening skills – the early stages of pre-speech communication. Sensory development is taking place and you are bonding with, and getting to know your child better.
What if my child has a visual or hearing impairment? It’s even more important that you carry-on anyway – they will be learning to read your facial expressions or your voice, and therefore beginning to compensate for the senses that cause them difficulty.
This is a great time for learning! As you wash your child, use a sponge or cloth with firm strokes (light touch can be too tickly) and tell them or sing to them what you are doing “This is the way we wash our arms…legs…hair” etc.
Your child will start to make the connection between the words and their bodies, so develops their proprioceptive awareness (knowing where their body parts are without looking at them); and you are using all of the lovely eye-contact we talked about earlier.
Splashing, and pouring water from container to container teaches cause and effect, and concepts like in/out, wet/dry, up/down etc.
Drying time can help with sensory issues – rubbing with a towel, or wrapped tightly in a towel can be calming. It also gives you another opportunity to learn those body parts! And when getting dressed you can play peek-a-boo when putting pyjamas on over heads, arms and legs.
Your child is never too young to enjoy you singing to them (although the other members of your family may disagree). Lay them across your knee or on the floor, or sit them up if they are able for songs such as:
- The wheels on the bus go round and round
- Head, shoulders, knees and toes
- Humpty Dumpty
- This little piggy
- Horsey horsey
- Incy WIncy spider etc
If they are unable to do the actions, move their arms or legs for them. Make sure you can see their face – they’ll love it. If your child’s speech is developing, start the line of the song and wait for them to finish it – give them a little longer than you otherwise might t give them time to process what you want them to do.
If your child doesn’t know the words, see if they can remember the actions – there’s lots of ways for them to communicate with you without words.
Children don’t really need a lot of fancy toys, although nowadays we feel they are missing out if they don’t have the latest gadget.
If you want a back-to-basics approach to toys have a go at using these. You may even find them (or make them) in your house.
- Make a sensory rainmaker with lentils or barley in a small plastic bottle. They will love turning it over and over – remember, repetition is how kids master activities. And a small bottle is great for little hands. Just make sure the lid is fully secure.
- Create a drum kit with pots, lids and spoons. Plastic spoons are lighter and hurt less if there’s an accidental bump on the head
- Use a clear storage box to put colourful objects into. Kids love taking things out and putting them back endlessly. Did you know that deliberately spilling the contents also teaches cause and effect? So don’t get mad, do it again!
- Wooden blocks are great for stacking (eye-hand co-ordination), bashing together (two handed co-ordination helps a dominant hand to emerge later), and knocking over (cause and effect), as well as colour recognition.
- Stacking rings teaches size, shape, colour, and eye-hand co-ordination.
- Pop-up toys are largely for cause and effect, but there are often colours, shapes, noises, animals, and lights included – make use of them all!
This is something that we sometimes forget. Just as we need time to unwind, so do children.
Very small babies let you know they’ve reached sensory overload by closing their eyes and/or turning their head away, so watch for the cues.
Very few children (although there are some) can cope with being bombarded with sights, sounds, singing, games etc all the time. Read the signs from your own child.
When some children cry, they are not looking for cuddles, but to be left alone – lay them down in their cot and see them calm down. It feels counter-intuitive, but it does work if it’s what your child needs.
Does your child use a "sleep system" at night?