Before resorting to meds for what we thought was just an aggressive ADHD four-year-old, we tried one more thing: occupational therapy (OT). We were lucky to be near a Children’s Hospital facility that offered OT in an amazing facility designed for children.
Steven’s OT therapist worked on several agendas with him. She tried to help Steven release some of the pent up energy that needed more space and force than was available either at school or home. They had all sorts of heavy duty swings bolted to beams in the ceiling! they had balance beams! they had hammocks! they had rope ladders! and they had a ball pit!
Part of the routine was to mutually design an obstacle course for Steven to go through. It had to have elements of swinging, spinning, timing, balance, and pressure. Over time, the therapist determined that Steven specifically responded well to both spinning and pressure.
He particularly loved spinning in the parachute hammock swings. Once a week hardly seemed enough and we wanted a therapy swing at home, but boy are they pricey! We ended up recreating something similar with a parachute hammock in the basement. We attached both ends to one beam. He can spin, swing, sit all curled up, lay out flat, and hang upside down. He’s had hours of vestibular input entertainment in our basement for less than $50. Tell me if you’re interested in instructions or photos and I’ll work something up.
Part of the therapy was pushing Steven to his emotional limit in a safe environment and then teaching him coping mechanisms. One move was to have him transition from one moving swing to another moving swing (in an acrobatic timing move worthy of the circus) that we could never recreate at home. Getting the timing right was really frustrating!
Being under the clock was another sure fire stressful situation for Steven, so his therapist would time him on the obstacle course. There’s no way he wouldn’t have had a melt down with me. I think it was better for us both to have a non-family member be the one to work with and push him. Steven tried harder for his therapist than he would have tried for me.
She did some fine motor work with him too, hiding toys in the ball pit and making him find them with his eyes closed. He had to describe what he felt before he opened his eyes – whether it was smooth or bumpy, round or flat.
His therapist worked with oral therapies also. She actually identified that for my son chewing crunchy sour candy helped calm him down, in particular lemon heads or those newer really sour candies that the kids love. I guess some kids calm down with soft things like gum, or sweet things, or savory things like mac and cheese. I’m sorry I don’t know how she figured it all out. We thought I’d be a distraction so I wasn’t in the room.
I’m hoping that by sharing our story, others will find techniques or therapies that will work for them. We had never heard of Asperger’s Syndrome at this point, but we found techniques and therapies that worked for him. I think it’s wonderful to have this venue to share experiences.