Be specific when asking a child to take a ‘movement break’
There are many false beliefs surrounding the use of sensory strategies to turn a child’s unwanted, challenging, or inappropriate behaviour into engagement and participation in learning and play, those important occupations of children!
The following 4 examples reveal common beliefs that are false, in particular for children with sensory processing disorder.
It isn't a sensory processing problem. S/he can do homework or schoolwork when s/he wants to or when s/he likes the subject.
Our sensory processing abilities are variable. Some days our brain and nervous system are in better tune with our bodies than other days. Imagine a school day when quiet reading time in the library comes after a fire drill. Now compare that to a school day when quiet reading time in the library comes after the class goes for a long nature walk.
For many children, their bodies feel like they’ve been through a fire drill when they haven’t. And yes, after a fire drill we can settle into quiet reading time, but it may take all of our attention, thought processes and energy to do so quietly, leaving little left for concentrating on learning to read.
S/he didn’t want to do the sensory strategies s/he chose. S/he didn’t want to do the sensory strategies I offered. S/he must be ready for schoolwork.
Do you always choose to do the thing that is most helpful to you? Ever grab your fourth cup of coffee of the day during your afternoon slump to wake up instead of going for a brisk walk in fresh air with a bottle of water? We all make poor choices. Help children make the very best choices they can to get their brains and bodies ready to learn and play. Even when they balk a little!
Letting him/her have a movement break doesn’t work. Recess doesn't help. Gym class doesn't help. S/he just wanders around. S/he doesn’t pay attention during the movement break. S/he does participate in recess and returns less focused.
Ah, the bane of my occupational therapist existence: the idea of taking away something like recess as punishment because it doesn’t really help anyways.
Recess and even short movement breaks are great opportunities for heavy muscle work; and movement helps to focus. But children who need to move may not necessarily know how to move in the best way to help them get focused.
So, make a plan for movement.
Add structure, visuals and routine to recess.
Saying to a child “Do five jumping jacks, five push-ups and five sit-ups” is much more helpful than saying “Take a movement break.”
S/he enjoys doing the behaviour. S/he is smiling. S/he is laughing.
Our emotions are closely related to sensory defensiveness. A a smile or laughter may actually be evidence of discomfort or confusion. Ever get tickled too much? You are laughing but really uncomfortable at the same time. Ever laugh when someone says something that makes you feel really uncomfortable. So be cautious ascribing enjoyment to a challenging behaviour.
As an occupational therapist who helps parents, caregivers, teachers and other therapists, I would encourage to you look beyond your own common beliefs and dig deeper when your child is engaging in inappropriate behaviour. Be a sensory detective! If you want help to be the best sensory detective for your child, my eBook, Sensory and Behaviour: Strategies will be all you need.