Keep Kids Present
Some kids and teenagers on the autism spectrum are always planning ahead. Okay, I’m always planning ahead too, but I’ve gotten better at being present. You know, practicing the ancient saying, “Be Here Now.” But how do you help your kiddos enjoy the moment?
Recently, we went on vacation to Safari West, a 400 acre animal sanctuary where you can glamp (super nice tents with bathrooms!). It was amazing and I highly recommend the destination, but my focus today is that while my son was up close and person with a giraffe, he was asking me what was next.
A magnificent giraffe is in your face, about to kiss you, and you’re worried about what is next?!?!
That’s a moment to savor and I didn’t want it to be lost. So, I asked him questions which happened to be sensory based.
“What does her tongue feel like? How soft is her fur? What color are her eyes? Do you think she gets dizzy being so tall?”
And it kept him in the experience. Instead of stressing about the safari adventure, what we were going to have for lunch, where he was sleeping, he just stopped. His mind was cleared. And he got to enjoy the once in a lifetime experience with that spectacular beast.
Now, when I hear his brain cranking into tomorrow and beyond, I bring him back (and myself back) by activating his sensory systems.
Nothing New Under the Sun
Yes, I totally get that this concept is not original. In fact, yoga has been practicing sensory stimulation to stay present for a hundreds of years (and also the removal of sensory distraction).
Many classrooms are adding sensory elements to help keep children focused. Exercise balls as seats. Figets in hand during tests. Lights dimmed during circle time. Weighted lap pads to aide with attention. You name it! Find tips here.
Science is now supporting this news, sensory helps keep kids present. Teenagers and adults too. Put a lava lamp in your teens room to help him/her relax. Try a diffuser with essential oils (and lights). Think about investing in a massive bean bag that hugs their entire body!
Helping Kids Stay Present
When your child has sensory sensitivities, or SPD, or just sensory preferences, the world can feel overwhelming and chaotic. But a solution can be as simple as asking a sensory question like I mentioned before. Try to stay on topic and be specific. You don’t want to stress them out even more!
GOOD example, “Fred, do your feet tickle on the grass?”
BAD Example, “Fred, how do you feel?” See, it’s too general, too vague, too much pressure to articulate what’s going on in his body. Limiting the question to his feet and asking if it tickles because of the grass, gives him a distinct feeling to focus on instead of grasping for something there are no words for.
Being Present isn’t always Rainbows and Sunshine
Sometimes we need to help our kids understand what they are feeling in the moment whether that be sadness and grief, frustration, anger, and other unpleasant, but necessary gauges. Instead of distracting a sad child with a chocolate treat, perhaps it would help them develop healthy emotional relationships if we sat next to them and said something like, “I see that you’re sad. I’m here to give you a hug if you’d like.”
Don’t try to make the bad feelings go away immediately. Also, don’t support them lingering for an unreasonable amount of time, but it’s completely normal for feelings to come and go. Allow them to be present and know how to recognize what is happening to their body and mind.
Bring them Back Again and Again
If you child is always on to the next thing, or asking about your planned trip to Disneyland while you’re at the zoo. Gently guide them back to the present. And do it again. And again. Thus creating a new habit for your both (only takes repetition to create a new brain path!) You may notice at the end of the day, after bringing them back a thousand times, both you and your child feel less stressed and more fulfilled at the end of your day.