Is your child with ADHD checking their phone 70-100 times per day? Are you? How does this connect to the importance of recess and creativity?

The TED talk by Manoush Zomorodi called “How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas” is a real must watch for parents worried about their children and their smartphones…and even for themselves! The ADHD brain is often easily lit up by things that excite them or that are novel. This is why technology is so appealing and even addictive to the ADHD brain. Manoush Zomorodi talks about how our most brilliant ideas come about when we are bored. How do we achieve boredom? When we are doing monotonous or repetitive tasks such as walking, colouring, folding laundry or running! These and other repetitive tasks can bring about space for our minds to wander. Manoush talks about repetitive tasks bringing us to an almost subconscious level where we can often daydream and actually come up with new ideas.

Often the ADHD brain can be extremely creative and some of the greatest minds and entrepreneurs of our world have ADHD but what happens when we are constantly connected to our phone? The answer is less creativity.

Take this a step further and ask yourself; How does this connect to the importance of recess for our children? Unfortunately, many children with ADHD are the recipients of consequences at school such as losing out on recess due to problem behaviours or because they didn’t finish their classwork on time. This is probably the last thing that their brains need to refocus. In fact, we know that time outside in free play is an essential part of our children’s brains integrating what they have learned. This TED talk explains some of the science behind our brains needing time doing “nothing”.

If you are a teacher or educator and are tempted to take away a child’s recess to catch up or as a consequence…think again and remember that children need time in free play and doing “nothing” to help them be creative and to integrate new concepts they have learned in school.

Having worked as an Occupational Therapist in the school system in Quebec for years I do realize the challenge that teachers have in trying to accommodate the increase in recess time for students in an already packed day. Constantly having to have little children dress and undress in a school day, especially in winter, eats into a lot of learning time. But maybe, after watching this TED talk and in understanding a little more how the brain learns we may be able to take a step back and realize that more recess time might actually improve children’s school grades, even if they are spending less time in the classroom!

Sports, Autism and ADHD…What to try with these children.

Over the years, I’ve had many parents of children with Autism or ADHD say that their children have trouble fitting in in many sports. They’ve often felt desperate to find something where their child could be accepted and succeed. Sports require a lot of higher-level social skills and attention to detail. Often, children with Autism really struggle with social skills and may miss important cues from their teammates. In return, as the kids get older they often get laughed at or picked last for teams. As a result, they often jump from sport to sport trying a new one each year.

Despite this, the importance of physical activity rich in proprioceptive input (strong input to our muscles and joints) is very important for children with autism and ADHD. They can often have a lower threshold for this sense and crave it and need it for their bodies and minds to work effectively. This is why you may often see a child with Autism running and crashing into mats or at an extreme, hitting their head on a wall. The same reason why many people with ADHD crave high-intensity sports that involve running and crashing (hockey, rugby, football). They are seeking strong proprioceptive input.

My own husband who was diagnosed in adulthood with ADHD struggled himself with sports and was often drawn to more independent sports such as canoeing, skiing, hiking, and snowboarding but which still gave him the proprioceptive input he needed for his brain to stay alert and focused. He ended up excelling at these sports and still practices most of them today.

I often told parents to try Karate with their children, as it was independent but could provide the proprioceptive intensity that is needed. It also can be slowed down to allow a child who is more awkward or clumsy to go at their own pace.

When I saw this link for Autism Karate I thought the idea was amazing. I encourage families to check this out!

Other sports that have been successful for parents of children with Autism and ADHD are swimming, Canoeing (Pointe-Claire Canoe Club), skiing (both downhill and cross country), hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, horseback riding.

If your child continues to have trouble coordinating their body and really struggling with sports, you may want to consider working with an Occupational Therapist who specializes in Sensory Integration Therapy to help develop better coordination and sensory regulation.

Writing by hand helps memory!

Since the day I started practicing Occupational Therapy 20 years ago…I’ve always seen how writing by hand helps boost memory! Check out this article to see how writing notes by hand is still very beneficial to students!

In the Study Skills Workshop I give, I teach students how to take notes by hand and boost their memory of the subject. By using more than one sensory system when we study, we have much better retention. Furthermore, the bigger surface we write on, the better we remember! This is why I often suggest to parents to paint their child’s bedroom door with whiteboard paint or chalkboard paint. This way they can write out those history dates in a big timeline! The big surface provides a big picture (visual sense), a big movement (touch sense)…so the student is not just relying on their auditory sense by saying the dates out loud.

Sensory Friendly Shopping

Creating sensory-safe places could have beneficial effects for our whole society. Often, when we shop we don’t even realize how the lights, the fridges, and the people put an extra stress on our sensory systems.  In particular our visual and hearing systems may be stressed by the harsh lights and constant noise.
Check out what this Ottawa grocery store did for its customers! Even those without autism felt the experience was better.

How I got started in Sensory Regulation

I wanted to start with a story of how I started being really interested in Sensory regulation firstly on a professional level and secondly on a personal level.

It all started when I started working as an Occupational Therapist at Summit School in Ville Saint-Laurent, Quebec.   It is a school for students from 4-21 years old with primarily intellectual disabilities. It became quickly apparent that most of the students there had trouble regulating their senses.  They would often become overly upset when lights were too bright, noises were too loud and when they had to sit still for too long. My colleagues and I worked tirelessly to understand each child’s sensory profile and explain in an easy to understand way to the teachers, attendants and support staff working with these kids how important it was for them to be regulated before we expected them to learn.  It was here that my passion to explain sensory regulation was formed. My colleagues and I would develop mini trainings informing those working with the children how best to help and understand each child’s sensory needs. We now know that 50-70% of the disabled population experience sensory regulation difficulties (add reference).

Fast forward to 2005 when the birth of my first child came slightly pre-term.  I had no idea what I was in for, a baby who cried 20 out of 24 hours per day. If I wasn’t holding him tight and bouncing him, he cried.  He could not be put down, he could not be in a swing nor a stroller. He needed deep pressure and linear bouncing to calm and regulate his system.   I wore him every waking hour in a baby wrap held tightly to my chest. There he was happy.

It was at this point that when my curiosity began to grow of how a typically developing child could be experiencing sensory regulation difficulties.  

I now know that up to 15% of the typical population also experiences sensory regulation difficulties (add reference).  Fast forward to 2007 when the birth of my second child came along, she too was born 3 weeks early, but she thankfully could be put down…as long as it was in a swing!  She would only sleep in her swing. We carried that swing everywhere, we had extra batteries handy all the time. Once again in 2009 the birth of my third and last child arrived.  This time, I was prepared, the sling and swing were ready. I was now convinced that I was not “spoiling” my child by holding them too much. In fact, holding them is what calmed them!  

Now I have spent the last 10 years being curious of how older children, adults and elders experience sensory regulation difficulties in the typical population.  As I began giving longer talks on sensory regulation and behaviour and visiting many different health units while doing so, I realized clearly that clients with mental health difficulties and elders in old age homes were experiencing similar sensory regulation difficulties as my own children had.  In viewing the research being watched and followed by the, I was able to support my observations by research.

It is with passion and pride that I bring to you the Behaviour in the Classroom Workshop so that I can continue to sensitize and give simple tools to put in place to help all those with sensory regulation difficulties.  The hope is to make our schools, daycares, group homes and offices more sensory friendly.

See pdf link attached.