young child going to schoolWhen July turns to August every year my ‘Mum’ brain switches from summer to ‘back-to school’. As I was making my back-to school list today my mind wandered back to when my hypersensitive/over responsive oldest child was starting big-school or primary school. I can tell you, it was a worry for me! This was a child who had to be removed from crèche/nursery at the age of 2 for biting, kicking, hitting out and causing general mayhem. I had to move her to a private babysitter until preschool.

Through pre school year I wondered and worried what would happen when my child went to primary school. Nine years on I can say we survived! But as I write this I am thinking about all of you parents out there who are in the shoes today that I was in 9 years ago.

How many parents out there have the same worries about a sensory child that I did?

Here’s a little research I did.

An article published by the Journal of Child Psychology in 2009 looked at children with sensory over responsivity (SOR) and starting primary school. It says’’ in elementary school age the child encounters social contexts that are less predictable and tailored for their sensory needs thus the impact of individual reactivity(how the child reacts) becomes pronounced. The research showed up to one in 6 children entering primary or elementary school have sensory issues.

 

What does this mean?

I wish I had read this article 9 years ago; I would have realised that I was far from being the only parent with my worries! The above research is saying that for every 6 children going through the doors of crèche, preschool or primary school, one has sensory issues that may impact on their social skills (interacting with others) on their learning and even on their play. The child might seem destructive, inattentive and even be labelled with behavioural problems.

What’s the result? often it is anxiety for the child and parent plus frustration for the teacher and other children in the class who are trying to focus and learn.

At least 1 in 6 children have ‘sensory issues’.

Wow- can this be true? From my observations as a sensory educator teaching schools and parents all over Ireland and in different parts of the world I can definitely say yes. In fact many years have passed since the study above was completed and I fear that the in the present day-the number is even higher in socially deprived areas. I am thinking about the inner city Dublin school where I developed my BRAINCALM program and other programs. The ratio of children with various issues that impact on behaviour & learning entering primary school is as high as 1 in 2.

Many don’t just have sensory issues they; have other co-existing conditions such as dyspraxia & ADHD. In recent years when I have screened children starting my BRAINCALM™ pilot primary school, I have noted that half have SGO or was I call ‘something going on’. These SGO kids often struggle to learn, attend and behave. In other schools, even in rural or country schools, I am seeing at least 25% of pupils with SGO and sometimes more. It truly seems to be an epidemic of this era!

What are the sensory issues are being seen in young primary school children?

Over sensitive children can go into overload and this might lead to sensory meltdowns. This child may seem to have an excessive reaction to a normal sensory stimulation in comparison to his peers.

This child may:

  • be overwhelmed by crowds of kids such as in yard
  • look for a quiet place to escape noise
  • squint or cover eyes in bright lights
  • hate putting hands in sand or other textured materials
  • complain of clothing being itchy and sometimes even remove items of clothing
  • be a picky eater at lunch and complain of some smells making them feel sick in the lunch room
  • startle easily or cry at loud or sudden noises
  • get upset by change in routines and appear anxious and fearful

Sensory seeking child:

This child may appear to:

  • be constantly touch objects in a class-room
  • seek hugs and squeezes/deep pressure
  • not be able to sit still; may squirm and fidget excessively
  • rock excessively in a chair or spin in circles
  • get easily distracted compared to their peers
  • bump into tables chairs & toys
  • be clumsy and uncoordinated
  • shout out excessively
  • not know his own strength even kick and scratch others

The Sloth-like Child

This child may seem sleepy and disinterested and may consistently lie across a table may seem easily distracted

**Very often I see a mix of some of above issues in the same sensory child. I am VERY familiar with mixed sensory issues- I have 2 children who struggle with processing their senses.

Tips on preparing your sensory child for primary school:

Complete my BRAINCALM™ program with the child for 15 minutes a day at home in the weeks leading up to the start of primary school & even after starting school. In 80% of children who complete the BRAINCALM program we see a reduction in anxiety, an improvement in attention, behaviour & ability to learn. See www.brendacassidy.combraincalm/ for details. Ask your school if they run the BRAINCALM program and if so ask if your child can be included. Feel free to send this link to your school if they don’t already run it.www.brendacassidy.com/braincalm/

  1. In the weeks leading up to starting school have the child sit at their own small table and chair at home to colour in pictures and to do puzzles even if it is for a short amount of time every day.
  2. Arrange to bring your child to the school in advance on a day when there are no other children present. Let the child see what his classroom looks, sounds and smells like. Ask the teacher to allow him to sit on the chair at a table so he becomes familiar with it.
  3. If you have an Occupational Therapy or other therapy report for your child give it to the school principal well in advance of the child starting school. Some pre-schools have a ‘passport system’ where a booklet about your child goes with him from preschool to primary school. Give the school time to make preparation for your child. Remember he is likely to be one of at-least 4 or 5 other children! The school needs time in advance to make plans for your child plus all of the others. Also be aware that school staff may have had little or no training in the area of sensory issues so be prepared to help them by passing on as much of your knowledge as possible.
  4. If your child has highly sensitive hearing (covers ears and complains of loud noises being painful) consider asking the principal to allow the child hear the school bell during your quiet visit. This might give him time to get used to it! If the bell is loud or shrill the child may benefit from wearing ear defenders (noise blocking headphones) coming up to break times and home time.
  5. The school uniform: if your child will be wearing a uniform get him used to wearing items many weeks in advance. In a child with over sensitivity to touch it is highly likely that a shirt, tie, stiff jumper, new shoes & trousers with seams will bombard the child’s touch sensors. Make sure clothing is adapted as needed to be comfortable.
  6. Work on their little hands to make sure they are ready for big-school activities! Have the child play with sand, shaving foam, tubs of rice, water and play doh. I see hand weakness in many children starting school -whether they have sensory issues or not. I developed a simple video program called STRONG HANDS to help little hands hold crayons, cut & manage items in school successfully. ** See the ‘STRONG HANDS’ video program on www.brendacassidy.com
  7. Play, play, play! All children need an hour of rough and tumble play every day so that they have enough strength & sensory challenges to be able to function in the primary school environment. Bring your child to the play park at least 2 to 3 times a week for an hour at a time in preparation for big school. Swings and slides are great for developing sensory ‘body & space awareness’ & monkey bars are great for developing grip and arm strength.
  8. Ask teacher about movement breaks to alleviate a fidgeting/moving/squirming child. ‘Quiet zones’ or a tent at the back of the classroom for the over sensitive child is really essential to offer breaks. The over- sensitive child can be prone to becoming overwhelmed. Also talk to the principal or teacher about possible items that may help the child to concentrate-such as soft ear plugs (to block out excessive noise so the child can concentrate better) or a wobble cushion for a seeker ‘fidgeter’ to sit on.
  9. The Lunch Box: during the weeks prior to starting school try to get the child used to lunch time food and smells particularly if your child is over sensitive to tastes and smells. Think about making a Crunchy lunch box if your child is a ‘mouth sensory seeker’ with items such as hard pretzels crunchy apples carrots sticks and bread sticks may be a good option to help ‘feed the seeking’ and therefore help calm the child in preparation for the lesson after lunch.

These are just a few tips that I give to parents of preschool children during workshops I give on getting ready for big-school. Preparation in the months and weeks ahead is key. As is a good sleep routine is also vital.

Caution! If you are anxious and stressed coming up to take every step you can to be REGULATED & CALM yourself! The sensory child (especially those who are over or hyper sensitive) will absorb and possible mirror your anxiety.

Oh yes and like every other parent on big-school day 1…. remember to bring a packet of tissues!

** If you are a parent or guardian who suffers on-going anxiety get in touch with me- I can recommend practitioners who can help – contact me here.

child tantrum versus meltdownThis is a question I frequently get asked during my workshops: what is the difference between a tantrum and meltdown? Parents & guardians ask me this question- but school staff often struggle to understand the difference too!

According to HADD Ireland (the charity organisation to support those with ADHD & their families)

‘’a tantrum is an outburst that happens when a child is trying to get something he wants or needs. The tantrum stops when he gets what he wants he has some control over his behaviour. However during a meltdown- referred to here as a sensory meltdown- the child feels overwhelmed because he has too much in sensory information to process. The child is unable to control his behaviour.’’

‘Toddler tantrums’

If you are a parent you will likely have dealt with toddler tantrums many times. If you are not a parent you may have seen this scenario in a store. Let’s say a toddler sees a toy that he wants while passing a toy store in a shopping mall. He wants it…..and he wants it NOW! Parent says no. Child starts to cry and keeps asking while pulling the parent back. Parent continues to say no. Child starts screaming and maybe even lying down on the ground and kicking.

So this child has a PURPOSE. He wants the toy and is in control. Once in a while he might stop to look at the parent’s face for signs of giving in! The parent may be mortified by people looking on and buys the toy for the child. The tantrum stops. Victory has prevailed! Or, alternatively, the parent refuses to buy the toy and cajoles the child to keep moving on. The child soon realises ‘’I’m not going to get the toy!’’ He admits defeat! Tantrum over. On to the next shop. So in this case the chid is in control of his behaviour during the tantrum.

Sensory Meltdown

In a true sensory meltdown something has triggered the response and the child goes into a meltdown. This may manifest in a child screaming, crying, kicking or showing other behaviours. The child is beyond reasoning and is ‘out of control’ of his behaviour. In my workshops I describe this as the child ‘’going up & up an escalator and when they fall off the cliff edge this is where you witness the out of control meltdown’’.

What does a sensory meltdown look like?

Tantrums are often associated with toddlers.

However a sensory meltdown can happen at any age and can look quite similar to a tantrum. Some of these manifestations may be (but are certainly not limited to)

  • Screaming/ kicking/ inconsolable crying
  • Lashing out physically and verbally
  • Throwing objects

In my personal experience my own child (who has hypersensitive sensory issues) would often throw items around in her bedroom after a long day-in school. Yes even chairs! Even at the age of 7, 8 and 9; even older. I discovered that she was ‘holding in’ her anguish all-day while at school and having the meltdown for she felt safe with the person she trusted & loved the most- which was with me or her dad. I am really glad to say that she is now a fantastic 13 year old who can regulate herself by recognising her own triggers. She uses this plus some exercises from the BRAINCALM™ program to manage her ‘sensory escalation’ and to catch herself before she goes off the ‘cliff edge’. Once in a while she still needs a little intervention from Mum- this comes in the form of a cuddle and a mug of tea!

Sensory Overload

Let me try to explain sensory overload as simply as I can. During my workshops I ask attendees to close their eyes and focus on their 5 ‘outside the body’ senses which are

  • Sight
  • Taste
  • Touch
  • Sound
  • Smell

I also ask them to focus on their 3 ‘inside the body’ senses which are

  • Sensors in muscles and joints
  • balance sensors and
  • sensors on organs such as the stomach bladder and even temperature sensors

I will go into more detail about sensors and sensory overload in other articles, videos and courses.

But for now visualise that you have a ‘’volume button’’ in your brain. Information is constantly and quickly being gathered from the above 8 senses and travel up the billions of little ‘super highways’ to the brain for processing.

Let’s say your brain’s ’’ volume button’’ is turned up too high. The result is that

  • sounds are too loud & may even be painful
  • smells too strong and even nauseating
  • touch is painful
  • And so on with some or all of the other senses.

It is exhausting for the hyper sensitive child or adult to process the overloaded senses. They often describe feeling ‘bombarded’ by a mix of senses. When a highly sensitive brain becomes overwhelmed by the intensity of sensory signals it ends up in sensory overload.

This is where a fight or flight response can kick in to a stressor. Sometimes the stressor may only be going into a classroom or even getting dressed! It may even be something as simple as driving a different route to school. The child becomes dysregulated and he cannot control his behaviour or emotions. The reasoning part of his brain is completely bypassed .The child goes off the ‘’cliff-edge’’ and reacts like you are I might react if a tiger suddenly jumped out in front of us!

 

Does a sensory meltdown only happen in children?

No, a sensory person- in particular a person who is hyper or over sensitive to sounds, smells, tastes & even feelings, emotions, touch and other sensors can gradually go up the escalator become overwhelmed and exhausted by their sensory overload. They go into a state of fight or flight or ‘sensory meltdown’. It can happen at any age. I often see sensory adults struggle to manage their behaviour & emotions. Being a ‘hypersensitive Mum’ to sensory children, I can really appreciate what overload feels like!

Will a meltdown have a detrimental long term effect on the child?
Generally, no as long as the child is kept safe. However it is important not to yell at the chid and make him feel worse than his ‘out of control’ self already does. A sensory parent (is in a state of overload him or herself) or even a parent who doesn’t know how to handle the situation or who constantly meets a meltdown with yelling and screaming, will get nowhere. Often the child feels bad and the parent feels guilty.

It is really important that the child ‘feels what a state of regulation (control) FEELS like’ by completing a program such as my BRAINCALM™ Program.

Top tips for handling a child in a state of sensory meltdown:

  1. Make sure that the child is safe; remove any objects that could be potentially harmful to the child or to others.
  2. Don’t get angry! Take a huge deep breath, bring your index fingers and thumbs together, close your eyes and say this 3 times. ‘I am calm, I am in control and I’m relaxed. You need to be calm and regulated YOURSELF before you can regulate the child.
  3. Don’t talk to the chid. He cannot hear you. Don’t try to reason with him- he is likely beyond reasoning.
  4. Gently come down to the child’s level and wait for the storm to pass.
  5. Offer a quiet, gentle hug but only if he is ready. If he says sorry acknowledge and accept it.
  6. Take note of any possible triggers which may have started the meltdown. Examples might be bright lights in a supermarkets; ongoing noises such as silverware or clinking cups in a coffee shop. It may possibly be an accumulation of gradual triggers over the previous few hours. Try to keep a note of this information so that over time and with learning you will be able to watch for & catch the child’s triggers and remove triggers (or remove the child from the triggers). as he goes up the escalator and catch him before he falls off the cliff into a full blown meltdown
  7. Always remember this saying- ‘’this too shall pass’’ and it will. Like any storm, the sun will eventually come back out. But prevention of meltdowns- as much as possible- is the best possible outcome. The goal of being able to ‘self regulate’ is the ultimate goal of the BRAINCALM™ program.

Following the success of our sold out Braincalm Training workshops in January and earlier this month we have 3 more Braincalm training workshops for parents, SNAs & SETs in Galway, Cork & Kildare

For information & to book online click here

Galway

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/braincalm-training-for-snas-sets-parents-galway-feb-march-2019-tickets-55853608647

Cork

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/braincalm-trainingsnassets-parents-cork-sat-march-2-april-13-tickets-56231573149

Kildare

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/braincalm-training-for-snas-sets-parents-kildare-mar6thmar-27th2-parts-tickets-55854089084Braincalm

Benda Cassidy

I have taught my hugely successful Braincalm(TM) program to over 3000 school staff and parents across the country. Every day I receive emails from school staff- mostly special needs assistants, special education teachers, resource teachers and parents who take children through the simple set of brain calming and organizing physical exercises for 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

Below is the Braincalm(TM) information video:

We have seen some excellent results with reports including

  • better writing
  •  improved focus and concentration
  •  better behavior and self regulation
  •  improved sitting
  •  less anxiety and better self esteem…… to name but a few.

The demand has been so great for live Braincalm(TM) workshops that I decided to the train tutors to run workshops across Ireland.

Braincalm Tutors:

Over the past number of years I have been blessed to meet many wonderful parents, preschool and school staff at my workshops and while training in schools. At the end of 2018 I decided to approach 7 of the ‘best’ to train as tutors for my Braincalm workshops which kick off in January 2019.

In order to teach Braincalm(TM) my tutors

  •  must have attended to or more of my own live workshops
  • work in the education sector or healthcare sector with children
  • have completed the Braincalm(TM) tutor training with myself
  • are Braincalm(TM) practitioners themselves.

My 7 new tutors come from a variety of backgrounds

  •  primary school teachers/ special education teachers
  •  early years sector 0 to 6 years
  • a primary school principal
  • a post primary/ secondary school special education teacher

Some of my tutors have children with ‘SGO’ or something going on themselves. My 7 tutors and I teach from in depth professional and personal experience.

 

 Countrywide Braincalm Workshops January 2019:

If you are a school staff member especially SNAs ,SETs & parents- we have a workshop near you! Click on the links below for more information & to book online.

 Donegal    https://www.eventbrite.com/e/braincalm-training-for-snas-sets-parents-letterkenny-jan-26feb-23-2-parts-tickets-53381395190

 Mayo        https://www.eventbrite.com/e/braincalm-training-for-snas-sets-parents-mayo-janfeb-19-2-parts-tickets-53220398645

 Galway     https://www.eventbrite.com/e/braincalm-training-for-snas-sets-parents-galway-janfeb-19-tickets-53220453810

 Cork         https://www.eventbrite.com/e/braincalm-training-for-snas-sets-parents-cork-febmarch-20192-parts-tickets-53220497942

 Mullingar  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/braincalm-trainingpreschoolsnas-sets-parents-mullingar-janfeb2-parts-tickets-53382208623

 Dublin      https://www.eventbrite.com/e/braincalm-training-for-snas-sets-parents-dublin-jan-22ndfeb-5th-tickets-53382118353

 

Spaces are very limited and tickets tend to go quickly book so ASAP to avoid disappointment. See you in 2019!

Brenda Cassidy Home Page

I am delighted to finally launch my new website www.brendacassidy.com! Although I am a little sad to say goodbye to the old company name- Zoom Boom Kids- and of course the colourful bouncing eyes, I wanted to make everything easier for people to remember. So I decided to go back to basics and just use my name!

As you can see on the website my ‘brand’ colour is purple. I find purple and many different shades of it very calming. Plus I just like purple. So you will be seeing a lot of it from now on.

As for the website….what will you find there? My focus has moved to providing the best but simple education around sensory issues (and other issues such as behaviour & anxiety related to sensory problems) to PARENTS & SCHOOL STAFF…..most especially Special Education Teachers & Special Needs Assistants. However many parents & school staff of children in mainstream classes are the ones who come to me for help and who use my programs.

By using my new site www.brendacassidy.com I want to offer my tried and tested but down to earth, no jargon programs to anyone in the world who needs help. I do have a short page about ‘Sensory Issues’ on the site but I will expand on this in the future to offer more help in understanding this complicated but common condition. (Around 1 in 6 children have a ‘Sensory SGO- something going on’ as I call it!) It really is vital to understand what you are dealing with both as parents & as school staff (who spend half of the child’s waking day WITH the child!).

You will find a ‘Meet Brenda’ page and this will tell you a little more about me, my background as an OT and as a Mum of sensory children.

The first online learning program featured on my site is ‘Braincalm For Parents‘.  Have a look at the video on my home page and it will tell you a little more about this groundbreaking and highly effective 15-20 minute a day activity based brain organising & calming daily program. In future blogs I will be explaining more about the Braincalm Program™. 

I will be offering ‘Braincalm For Schoolstaff’ very soon and plan to have the following courses online by the start of the next school term

  • Sensory Made Simple For Parents‘- how to identify your child’s sensory issues & manage them at home
  • Sensory Made Simple For Schools‘- how to identify a pupil’s issues and learn how to offer targeted and effective sensory breaks
  • Strong Hands‘- a simple click & play 5 minute a day video program for preschool staff and for teachers of younger pupils to help combat the ‘weak hands- poor pencil grip’ problem that we are seeing today in classrooms
  • Strong Tummies‘- a simple ‘click and play’ 5 minute a day video with printable ‘home plan’ to build strength in the core of younger children
  • FUNPRAXIA‘ – understanding & managing dyspraxia & gross motor (big movement) problems in children in simple every day language
  • Getting Ready For ‘Big School‘ – a simple guided video for parents on how to prepare your child’s physical skills for ‘Big School’ (building strength, coordination and making sure they can manage basic daily skills such as putting on their coat and opening a lunchbag).

But for now, welcome to the new part of my journey to bring simple and effective but easy to run programs to struggling parents and stressed school staff all over the world. Please feel free to get in touch brenda@brendacassidy.com and let me know what you think of my new website!

Best wishes,

Brenda Cassidy,

OT & Sensory Educator

You can watch the introduction video to the website www.brendacassidy.com here.