Monday, March 28, 2011

Sensory Update

It's been a while since I've written about Daniel's sensory processing issues, and I wanted to give a bit of an update:

Daniel still has trouble with some sensory processing, particularly related to his vestibular (balance) system. He doesn't enjoy being put in certain positions, and falling down—even just from sitting or standing—can be very scary for him. He loses his balance fairly often (as any kid who's learning to stand, cruise, etc. would) but it's a much bigger deal for him than it is for kids who don't have sensory issues. Instead of realizing, "Oh, I've lost my balance and landed on my butt!" his brain goes into "fight or flight" mode and he freaks out.

We're doing several therapies with him every day to help with the vestibular sensitivity (and the other issues he has). Jaymz and I continue to do therapressure brushing several times a day, and I've learned a Qigong massage technique that Daniel loves because it involves lots of vigorous tapping. We're also swinging him every day in a blanket (hammock-style) in all directions to habituate his nervous system to safe position changes. I made a video of one of the other activities we do with Daniel each night:

It really is a lot of fun to watch Daniel enjoying ball time so much! He's also progressing very quickly with it. The first time he was on the ball, he screamed the whole time. But over just a month or so, he's begun to really enjoy playing on the ball, and he has learned to put his hands out to "catch" himself before his head touches the floor. (He also has learned to reach his feet down to touch the floor on the opposite side, though that's harder to see in the video.)

One of the other things that we've been challenged by is trying to get Daniel to eat more solid foods. He seemed to have real issues with certain textures (a sign of oral sensitivity and defensiveness) and would not consume much food. Since he's still breastfeeding, I have not been concerned about his nutritional needs. His growth slowed around the time of his last pediatrician appointment (which also happened to be scheduled right after he recovered from a long bout with a diarrhea/vomiting virus). However, a weight and height check two weeks later showed that he was back to his normal percentiles for both height and weight. Still, there is some concern about him maintaining adequate dietary iron intake, so we wanted to address texture aversions with his Occupational Therapist (OT).

The week before I saw her about the food issues, I discovered that if I fed Daniel chunks of firmer food in between spoonfuls of smoother foods, he was able to consume much larger quantities. When I took him in to the OT, I brought food with me and showed her the tricks I was using to get him to eat smooth foods. After much discussion, we concluded that this strategy was working well enough to help him consume more quantity of food. The OT then deduced through our discussion that the problem with eating was most likely related to being in the high chair, not to the foods themselves.

Daniel's vestibular system was telling him it was unsafe or unstable up there in the high chair, so when he was in it, he was focused on trying to balance himself and regulate his nervous system, instead of focusing on eating. It's totally understandable: if you felt like you were falling out of your chair at the dinner table, you wouldn't be inclined to eat. Rather, you'd be gripping your chair and trying to steady yourself.

Eliminating the high chair (for the time being) has almost totally solved the problem. We feed Daniel while he is standing up and holding on to a low object (table, chair, couch), which seems to be much more comfortable for him.

This journey of discovery and learning about sensory processing and nervous system development has been absolutely fascinating for me. I've learned so much about Daniel, and I feel like I can understand (and empathize with) him better now that I know more about how his brain works. The most profound moments seem to have been when the solution to a problem is so simple: take him out of the high chair and he will eat; take the pajamas off of his feet and he will stop crying.

This motherhood thing challenges me every day. Maybe more? differently? than others because of this wiring issue with Daniel's brain. But I do believe very strongly that Daniel chose the right family to be born into. We listen to him. We love him so much. And we're helping him work through this. That's huge.


  1. Amazing! The ball exercises are so cool! And getting out of the high chair makes a lot of sense. I tend to let Sasha walk around and eat off my plate as she wants, too. She only gets into her high chair when she request it. It is just easier cleanup if she eats off of my plate.

    It must have been SO hard when you started with the ball. I'm glad he improved so quickly.

  2. Linked this post in my Sunday Surf this week. I hope you don't mind.


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