Using Aerial Yoga for Kids with ADHD, ASD, and everything else!

As I’ve mentioned before, I love yoga.  Recently, I had the opportunity to observe an Aerial Yoga class for children.  After that, I just had to try an adult class myself.  I kind of had an idea of what to expect, but the class totally exceeded my expectations.   I practice yoga and I use it with my Occupational Therapy students all the time.  I think yoga is such a wonderful way to work on strength, balance, and coordination.  It also helps to quiet the mind and increase focus.   Aerial Yoga has all the benefits of traditional yoga, as well as the added benefits of sensory input.  Traditional yoga provides sensory input, too, but in a different way.  I am writing this blog post about my experience as an OT in both observing and participating in an Aerial Yoga class.  I recommend that you also read the post “Aerial Yoga from an OT’s perspective”  by the owner of the facility, who is able to give her perspective as a Occupational Therapist specializing in the treatment of Sensory Processing Disorders.   I’ve attached the link for you at the bottom of the page.

You may be wondering exactly what Aerial Yoga is.  Have you ever seen Pink do one of her performances where she sings as she hangs from the ceiling and twists, swings, and flips herself around?   Picture that! Ok , ok. I didn’t hang or twist like a rock star… but the theory is there.  And I felt like a rock star!

Lycra “hammocks” are suspended from two hooks in the ceiling.  The height can be adjusted based on the size of the person who will be using it.   The stretchy  material hangs in a “u” shape.  The material is super stretchy but also very strong, so it can support a child or adult size body midair. The instructor and staff members measured each person to make sure their hammock was the right height.   Aerial Yoga focuses on strength, balance, and coordination through different poses with the Hammock.  The children’s class that I observed was at Sensational Development in Massapequa.  There were 8 students, a Yoga Instructor and three staff members assisting the kids.  The therapists at Sensational Development are trained in Yogapeutics.    For more info on Yogapeutics, please check out the link at the bottom of the page.

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Even the room itself was cool!  The lights were dimmed and soft music was playing in the background.  The floor looked exactly like a hardwood floor, but when I looked closer I realized it was made up of foam mats!  The kids ranged in ages from about five to sixteen.  The students seemed familiar with the yoga instructor’s verbal cues and were able to follow the directions.  The music really helped to provide a calm and relaxing aura. Later, when I would get into the complex inverted positions myself, I was able to feel my body become “un–calm”.  My heart would be racing from physically exerting myself as well as whatever else I was feeling from being upside down. Somehow, the instructor Linda, knew how I was feeling too.  After the “stimulating” poses, she would go back to a relaxing, calm pose.  She called it “chill-axing”.  I loved it. She really knew how to get our bodies back to right “state”.  Not too high, and not too low: Just right. The class consisted of children of all different levels of ability or “disability”. There were children on the spectrum, children with impulsivity and hyperactivity, and children with low tone.  The instructor, Linda, had an awesome way of providing the kids with the cues and descriptions to follow her instructions.   I was amazed at how the kids were able to follow up to ten step directions to perform the different moves she was showing them.  I was also surprised at how well the staff was able to manage all of the kids.  They were all different ages and abilities!  The owner told me later that the parents have to sign up their children for the class in advance so she can make arrangements to have the appropriate staff members present based on which kids were attending.   That made sense.  No wonder everything ran so smoothly.  They had it down to a science.

Aerial yoga is one of those wonderful activities that works on a bunch of goals at once.  Here are just a few of the areas that I saw being addressed:

Attention and focus – as I watched the children adjust their bodies according to Linda’s instructions I noticed that each child had a different way of listening and attending to her words. Some of the children stopped moving and watched her quietly and others kept bouncing as though they were on a trampoline. Each child was able to control their bodies and their positions to what felt comfortable for them. In the classroom, there are children who cannot sit still and listen. But just because they aren’t sitting still and just because they aren’t looking at the teacher doesn’t mean they aren’t listening and they aren’t learning. Some children need to move more than others. And some children need to move all the time. This class was the perfect example of showing that you can still listen when you’re moving around. All of the children followed Linda’s instructions. Occasionally one of the kids would try a different move than what Linda was explaining. The staff just gently went over and redirected them to stay on task and with the class. Some children needed more direction and more physical assistance than others.  So the children who needed less assistance were able to “play” in their hammocks until everyone was ready. This worked out great for everyone.  In the school setting we sometimes talk about a child’s need for self-regulation in the classroom.  What we really mean is that we want the child to be able to keep their own body awake and alert without being hyper or “wild”.  The point is that every child’s body and sensory system is different and their needs can be met in different ways.  It doesn’t mean that they have to sit still.

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Strength– the kids used their core (abs and back) muscles throughout the session to arrange their bodies according to Linda’s instructions.  When I had the chance to try the poses myself, I really felt the muscles in my back and abs working to keep myself in the right position. I also felt the strength in my arms and legs during every pose. When we did the upside down poses, we had to use our arms to pull ourselves back up.  You know in the action movies when someone is hanging from a bridge or a train or something and they miraculously pull themselves back up? Yeah.  That was me!  One thing I didn’t expect was the amount of fine motor coordination and dexterity that was incorporated into the aerial yoga class.  Linda often had us re-orient our swing, to make sure it wasn’t all bunched up, so that our bodies would end up in the correct positions. She used cute expressions like “make a bikini bottom”  to help the kids understand what she wanted. The kids learned to use their fingers to bunch up the material the appropriate number of times according to Linda’s request.  It kind of reminded me of scrunching up a sock or a pair of stockings before you put them on. It takes a lot of small movements in your fingers and hands to get that material all bunched up. We had to do it over and over again, so those muscles got a great workout. What an awesome way to hide fine motor strengthening in a gross motor activity.

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Motor planning – as I mentioned before, following Linda’s instructions required a lot of listening and watching her physically demonstrate the movements. She made it look so easy!  It was much harder to get my body to do what she just did. Motor planning is the ability to cognitively plan out how you’re going to move your body to complete an activity. We take motor planning for granted, but it can be really hard for some people.  The  entire one-hour session was filled with motor planning challenges.  Any new movement can be tricky if you’ve never done it before.  The staff was awesome about making sure that each child in the children’s class as well as every adult in the adult class was able to complete the movements either with or without assistance from staff.  

Tactile and proprioceptive input – As the children stretched and pushed their bodies against the Lycra Hammock, they were receiving tactile and proprioceptive input throughout their entire bodies.  Our largest organ is our skin. So when you engage in an activity that stimulates your entire body, the receptors in your skin are sending a ton of feedback to your brain. This can be calming or alerting; it depends on the child as well as the setting of the activity. Proprioceptive input is also known as deep pressure.  Inside that Lycra swing, your whole body is pressing against that material. And the material is pressing back as you hang against gravity, providing proprioceptive input throughout the entire class.  When I had the chance to do it myself, I was surprised at how my perceptions of the input changed throughout the hour-long class. There were times when I was calm and relaxed and there were times where I felt a little nervous or anxious. The sensations and my emotions changed in different poses.

 

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Vestibular input – Hanging from the ceiling with nothing holding you but a large stretchy sock (hammock) can be a little unnerving. Most adults rarely go on rides. I am no exception to this. In fact, I’ve been on a roller coaster twice since the eighth grade. The reason for this is that most rides make me feel sick. Even swinging on a playground swing too high or for too long can make me a little nauseous, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Aerial Yoga. The instructors told me that it’s normal to feel a little lightheaded or dizzy after class. For the most part I was totally fine. Vestibular input can be extremely calming or alerting to a person’s sensory system. Many children actively seek out vestibular input by swinging, rocking, or hanging upside down. They simply know what their body needs. Then, there are other children whose bodies need vestibular input, but it makes them uncomfortable. Some children avoid having their feet off the ground at all. This is called gravitational insecurity and it can really interfere with typical childhood play.  I thought it was amazing how aerial yoga, with one piece of equipment, could provide so many different kinds of sensory input. How awesome!

Self Esteem and Confidence -There was one student, a teen-age girl, who was the sibling of one of the kids in the class.  She was very quiet, but she was great at the poses; maybe even the most comfortable and skilled in the class. The staff told me that she attends the class every week with her sister, who is on the spectrum.  This is one of her “extra-curricular” activities, such as taking dance or gymnastics.  When I commented on how good she was, the staff told me that she progresses each week, learning new and more difficult poses. They tailor certain things to meet her need for a challenge, since she is capable of more than some of the other children.  The best part was that the staff reported that this girl had really transformed since coming to aerial yoga.  She has become more confident, more self-assured, and more outgoing.  How cool is that?

 


For a more detailed description of how Aerial Yoga can impact a child’s sensory system, you should read this post by Sara, an Occupational Therapist specializing in the treatment of Sensory Processing Disorders, and one of the owners of the facility where I took the class. Click here for the link.

 

So, are you willing to try an Aerial Yoga Class? Want to see if your child likes it?  Sensational Development is offering a deal with this blog post; “Buy five classes, get one free”.  Mention “Miss Jaime, O.T.” to get the deal.

 

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~Namaste!

 

 


 

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Dollar store, stocking stuffers, sensory, fidgets

Dollar Store Stocking Stuffers for your Sensory Kid…

The “little” holiday gifts are sometimes the hardest to think of….

Opening my stocking on Christmas morning was one my favorite parts of the holiday.   My mom always stuffed my stocking with little nail polishes, socks, and other tiny fun things, all individually wrapped. I’m sure she spent a fortune and a ton of time wrapping every little thing, only to the five of us rip through the stockings in less than five minutes.  As we all grew up and moved out, the stocking tradition stopped, which was soooo sad.  Oh well!  Life goes on!

As I ran to the dollar store yesterday to get some tinfoil pans for the ten pounds of mashed potatoes I need to make for Thursday, I was struck by all the awesome Sensory stuff at the Dollar Tree.   In the spirit of the holiday season, I decided to share  some of my Dollar Store know-how for all you moms out there who need to stuff a stocking for your sensory kid!

Some of this stuff is “non-traditional”,  but shouldn’t stockings be individualized to the child?

So if something seems weird but might be something your child loves, go for it.

StressBalls – Tactile and great as a fidget (also great for hand strength)

Koosh balls– Tactile and great as a fidget (some kids are very defensive to Koosh balls for some reason)

Silly Putty – Stretchy and tactile, heavy work for little hands.  (also great for hand strength)

Fake Play-Doh– I say fake because it is imitation play-doh and it’s definitely not as good as the real thing.  However, it is still fun to squeeze, squish and create with.  It just won’t last too long.

Silly String – Tactile- Kind of wet and cold when it squirts; (AMAZING for hand strength – see spray snow) and so fun to play with in the snow!

Shaving Cream – For finger painting, sensory squeeze bags, or the moonsand recipe below, etc.

Body Lotion – For massages, deep pressure and tactile input (can help calm and get little ones to sleep) Dollar Tree has princess lotion!

Hair gel – For finger painting, sensory squeeze bags, etc.

Slime/Gak – These little eggs of goo are usually in the same aisle as the stress balls – they are wet, smelly, slimy, and the containers are hard to  open (need 2 hands and great practice for opening lunch/juice boxes, etc.)

Loofah – Great in the bathtub or out, loofahs can be great for tactile and sensory input

Nail files – This is a tough one to sell for any kid, but a sensory kid really can be defensive when it comes to nail hygiene.  For girls, the promise of glittery nail polish or polish that is “Anna and Elsa’s” favorite color can help persuade them for a little, soak, scrub, and file.  For  boys, sometimes watching mom or dad or an older brother can be a little helpful.  If they really hate getting their nails clipped and or filed, try to do it after a bath and use a buffer instead of a nail file (until they tolerate it).

Velvet color by number– These are fuzzy and fun for kids who enjoy coloring and the tactile feedback helps kids to color within the lines

Scratch Art – These vary by store but the concept is the same, grab your scratcher (with a perfect pencil grasp, of course) and scratch the paper until some fabulous art shows through.  It’s fun.

Chalkboard games – Many of these from the Dollar Store are cheap and don’t last long. But writing with chalk provides a kinesthetic feedback that kids don’t get to experience with dry erase, pencil, writing on a tablet, etc.  It is fun and if used consistently, can really help a child’s motor skills.

Cornstarch – This is a weird one, and your kid may think you’re crazy.

1)  You can use cornstarch to make “oobleck” ( a Dr. Suess favorite – look up the book and here is the link to the recipe)

2) You can make moonsand

Bubblewrap – so, so, fun.  I bring bubble wrap to my classes sometimes when I want to strengthen a pincer or pencil grasp. The weak kids always want to “rip” the plastic with their nails.  Not on my watch!  Get those “pinchers” moving.

Stretchy Bugs, Animals, Creatures, etc. – These are great fidgets for a kid who needs to have something in their hands all the time.

“Fidgets” – I consider mini koosh balls, tops, jacks, mini slinkys, etc. all to be fidgets.  They are small and keep little hands busy when mouths are supposed to be quiet (teacher is talking, waiting in waiting room, sitting in movie theater, etc.)

Grow In Water Pills – I buy these pills a lot when I’m at the Dollar Store – they look like an aspirin, but when they are submerged in hot water, the plastic coating around them starts to melt and then a little sponge in the shape of a bug, dinosaur, etc., pops out for kids to play with.   Because I am always looking for ways to work on hand strength, I put a bunch in a tupperware and then give my students Travel Size Water Bottles  filled with hot water so they can squeeze, squeeze, squeeze until their hands get tired.  I’m so mean, right!?  But they love it and then they get to have water play.  Also, the sponges can be used later for painting activities, etc.   You can do a lot with these little guys – and they are usually 9 pills for a buck – what a bargain!

Grow in Water Animals –  Same concept as above.  But they are bigger and cost $1 each – and they will definitely take up more room in the stocking (that’s always a plus!)

Mechanical pencils -there is something thrilling about replacing the broken lead of a mechanical pencil. That is, the first few times.  After that you start to get annoyed and then think… Maybe I shouldn’t press so hard….If you have a child that presses way too hard when he or she writes, give these a try.  The feedback from the break may be a help with that habit.  If your child is in the second grade or older, I suggest trying to get them to change the lead themselves. Resist the urge to automatically do it for them. Maybe they will be able to do it.

Highlighters – Kids love highlighters.  I think it is because they are mostly a “grown-up” thing.  However, highlighters can be great to help kids with copying, “highlight one line blue, copy it, next line yellow, copy, etc… They can also be great to help outline a shape when your child needs to “cut on the line”. They can help highlight where to write when they need to skip spaces or write smaller. They are even good to make boxes to keep your letters and words spaced properly.

Flashlights – What kid doesn’t love their “own” flashlight?  It may seem like a weird gift, but you can explain that it is their special flashlight to use if the lights ever go out. You can also use it to work on visual tracking and scanning, games like I spy, ( turn the lights off in the living room, “I spy, Daddy!,  I spy, the TV set!, etc.” Your child  has to move the beam of light (aka. tracking) and then settle on the object he is looking for.

Basting Brush – Again, this one is a little weird, but it is basically a plastic paint brush.  The bristles are a different texture for your “multi-sensory” kid and it can be just another tool to have fun and paint with.  Besides, your child doesn’t even know what basting is.

Spray Snow – Spray Snow can provide hours of fun, but obviously your child needs to be chaperoned.  Aerosol cans like these can be dangerous, but I love the position that the little hand needs to take in order to get it to “squirt”.  It is EXTREMELY difficult to hold the cylinder of a can in your thumb, middle, ring and pinky while your index sits on and squeezes the cap.   This one is for older kids (like 8 and up).

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Sensory Processing 101 is a vital resource for parents, therapists, and teachers who work with Sensory Processing difficulties.

Oral Motor

Okay, I am going to include this because so many children have weak oral motor skills and it can impact their speech,  eating habits, and oral hygiene.   That said, your house will be very loud and potentially obnoxious if you stuff your kids’ stockings with these toys.  BUT! in the spirit of the holidays…. it is supposed to be all about the kids, right?  Maybe confiscate the loud ones for “another day” when they can go outside or in the soundproof basement, etc.

Whistles – in the party favor section, there are a lot of different whistles, princess, whistles, hunting “duck” whistles, etc.

Blow toys- not sure what these babies are called exactly, but you have to control your breath so the ball goes up but not too far, etc.  This works on force modulation (if you remember from last week) and breath control.

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Balloons – Kids love balloons and there are a million ways to play with them.  You can put them in their gift and then offer to blow one up and they are likely to play with the balloon longer than your other present.  For older kids, trying to blow up a balloon is a major deal, and something we totally take for granted.   Many dollar stores have them multi-colored bags or one color, which can be fun if you get your child to “help decorate” for the holidays.

Blow outs – these look like the annoying noise makers from New Years Eve, but way bigger.

Novelty straws – Straws are a great way to work on “sucking” and oral motor “strengthening”.  The Dollar Store has fun ones for both boys and girls.

Noise Horns – Again, so annoying but so strangely addicting…

Musical Instruments – On this particular trip to the Dollar Tree, there were a lot of recorders.  Blowing would be work alone, but then you have the eye-hand coordination to try to cover up the holes at the same time.

 

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What is your favorite Dollar $tore Stocking Stuffer?  Please leave a comment and let us know!

 

Happy Thanksgiving!      ~Miss Jaime, O.T.

 

 

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Take that out of your mouth!

 

What to do when a child is still mouthing everything…

So, I am addressing this issue this week because it is only the first week of school and already a bunch of teachers and some friends have asked for advice about their student or their own child in regards to kids putting inedible objects in their mouth.  Here is what I told them:

During infancy, children go through a developmental phase of putting things in their mouth.  Toys, feet, clothing and everything else goes right in the mouth.  This continues throughout  the toddler years, and then they eventually outgrow it.  At least, you hope they do!

 

Some kids continue to put inedible objects in their mouths into their preschool and school-age years. Although it is normal for kids to want to explore the world around them using all of their senses, it can also become a hygeine & safety issue.  Additionally, for some children it can become a social problem when other children take notice of the habit.  Children in Kindergarten should not be sucking on their sleeves or the neck of their shirt in class.  Of course some kids may occasionally bite the end of their pencil or bite their fingernails, but when it becomes a safety or social issue, it should be addressed.

Chewing on the neck of a shirt is a common form of oral input for kids who are sensory seekers

Chewing on the neck of a shirt is a common form of oral input for kids who are sensory seekers

So why are they  doing it? 

It is possible that your child is seeking oral sensory input.  This means that they crave the sensations of having things in their mouth and may feel pleasure from the sensations of sucking, chewing, or licking.  It might provide them comfort when they are upset or make them comfortable when they are relaxed and playing.  Sometimes it even helps them to focus and pay attention.  It depends on the kid!

A child wearing a chewable necklace

Chewing inedible objects can be bad for your teeth, too!

So what can you do as a parent or a teacher?

As a teacher you should speak to the child privately about it.  Tell them that you have noticed this habit and you are concerned because of germs, they are ruining their nice clothing, etc.  Tell them that you would like to help them break this habit.  With the child’s help, decide on a non-verbal signal that you will use to remind the child not to put things in their mouth.  An example could be tapping his desk as you walk by, making direct eye contact and nodding at him, etc.   The purpose is to alert the child of the behavior, not to alert his classmates or embarrass him.

Also, talk to the parent.  Inform them what you are seeing and why you are concerned. They may have not noticed or they may not realize that the mouthing is developmentally inappropriate.  Or, they may have some background info in regards to why it is happening (dental issues, speech therapy issues, sensory issues, etc.) .   Tell the parent that you are open to helping the child to break the habit and let them know about the system you came up with (like the nod or the tap).  If you are open to it and the school allows it, tell the parent to send in sugar-free chewing gum.  If the child is craving oral input, chewing gum once or twice a day may be enough input to wean them from the habit.   Don’t worry about what other kids will say if one child gets to chew gum.  Explain that it is simply a tool that “Johnnie” needs in order to focus and do his work.  Point out that some kids have a pencil grip and some kids don’t.  Some kids have a cushion seat and some kids have a visual calendar on their desk.  Gum is just another “school tool” that some kids use, and some kids don’t.  End of story.

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Gum can be sensory “tool” at school

 

As a parent, there are more options.  You can purposely give your child things to eat that are crunchy, chewy, or require hard work (aka heavy work) to eat.  Here are some examples:

  • Really crunchy pretzels (Miss Jaime prefers Synders large pretzels)
  • Carrot sticks
  • Pickles
  • Dried Fruit (big ones like apricots or prunes, not raisins –too small)
  • Sugar Free Fruit roll ups
  • Sugar Free Lemon Drops
  • Sugar Free gummy worms
  • Sugar Free Licorice Sticks
  • Slim Jim
  • Jerky
Crunchy snacks can help!

Crunchy snacks can help!

These are all options to send in for snack so your child can receive extra oral input throughout the day.  You can also give them things that require hard sucking through a straw, such as drinkable yogurt – the thicker the better. Make sure you give them a straw!  Notice that I wrote “sugar-free” for the candy objects.  Sour is great, but sugar can lead to increased hyperactivity and a consequential crash when the sugar high is done.   Try to give them  really crunchy cereal for breakfast before they go to school.

 

For drinks at school, send in water bottles with a sports cap.  Ask the teacher if the child can keep the bottle on the desk.  These tops are chewable, and they are much more socially appropriate.  Try to use a thermos with a plastic straw. If possible, put a regular straw inside the short straw of the thermos.  This will encourage your child to suck up their drink, rather than to tip the spout into their mouth, which does not provide as much sensory input.   At home, use a silly straw for regular drinks, because they require more sucking.

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After school, provide your child with non-food sensory input items.  Teach them how to blow up balloons and to blow bubbles of all different sizes.  Try to spend some time every day giving your child sensory input through their mouth.  This will help them to learn how to self-regulate the amount of sensory input that they need.  Use a vibrating toothbrush instead of a regular one.  Set a timer or sing the ABC song and use the toothbrush for a little longer than usual.   If  they like it, brush more often.  It can’t hurt!

blowing straw

 

Some objects are available through therapy catalogues that are specifically geared for kids who crave oral sensory input.  Chewelry, Chewy tubes, and Pencil Toppers are just a few.  You can try these out and see if they help at all.

Blow Bubbles

Blowing bubbles is hard work for little mouths!

Sucking is harder than just drinking

Sucking is harder than just drinking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These suggestions are simple solutions to help a common problem.  If your child continues to persist in putting inedible objects in their mouth, see your physician or contact an Occupational Therapist or Speech Therapist for help.

 

Do you have any other techniques that have worked?  Please share with us!

~ Miss Jaime, O.T.

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