Promoting Social Interactions through Sensorimotor Play

Written by: Alyssa Wilkins, MT-BC, owner and founder Dynamic Lynks Alyssa is a passionate Autism provider, Board Certified Music Therapist, music educator and adaptive yoga instructor.

I work with a lot of young children and children on the autism spectrum. Often this means that cooperative play and typical social interactions are challenging. Activities where we need to play as a group or hold hands are difficult, but sensorimotor props make learning these play skills much easier!

In this post I will share a few ways I use the stretchy band and ribbons to accomplish this goal.

Using the Stretchy Band

I have written several posts: A Stretchy Band for Every Skill and 5 Ways to Use the Stretchy Band about how I like to use the stretchy band, but one way it has been coming into my sessions recently is for classic childhood games!  Something like Red Rover or Ring around the Rosie now becomes a piece of cake for children who struggle with spatial awareness or peer relations.

  • Ring around the Rosie
    • I assign each child to a color and sing the classic rhyme.
    • When it comes to “we all fall down”, I have the children drop the stretchy band to the ground since it can be difficult to get some of my kiddos back to standing.
    • I sing the song several times and always change the ending so instead of “we all fall down” it becomes “we all jump up” or “we all stomp”.

 

  • Red Rover
    • I start with 1 child holding the stretchy band on each end, keeping it taught.
    • We chant the Red Rover song and call one child’s name to run over into the stretchy band.
    • They run as fast they can into the band and get flung backwards by the pressure.
    • That child then helps hold the band and we call another friend over.
    • We repeat this until everyone has had a turn running into the band.

Row Your Boat Stretchy Band

 

  •  Storytelling
    • For fall, I particularly like “Way Up High in the Apple Tree”. I do the story chant-style, but the Learning Station also has a version for those who are unfamiliar with the song.
    • I chant the song while we are all holding the stretchy band in a circle. The kids have to follow my movements with the stretchy band throughout the whole story.
    • There is fun shaking, stretching, climbing in the story so you can get creative with how you all move the band together.
    • Once the children know the chant well, I assign different leaders to chant the song and create their own versions of the movements that we all have to follow.

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[Tweet “Read al about promoting social interactions through sensorimotor play with the stretchy band and streamers”]

Using Ribbons

Ribbons are so versatile, and Janet makes many versions perfect for children of all ages and abilities. The thing I like most about ribbons is that they are visually engaging and give an easy way to track another peer’s movements so you can have extended interactions without many distractions.

  • Shake Your Ribbons
    • This is one of my original songs that I use often in my early childhood sessions. The song instructs children to move their ribbons in different ways.
    • In the song, the children go “fishing” with their ribbons and have to share what they caught with the group.
    • You can use the same chords of the song and ask different children to choose a movement, and all the other children have to follow and copy that movement for the duration of a verse.

 

  • Ribbon Walk
    • Some of my children really struggle with staying in a line or keeping appropriate personal space. I like to use a Ribbon Walk to work on this skill.
    • The children stand in a line and are each given a ribbon. The person 2nd in line has to hold the end of person number 1’s ribbon and keep it straight and tight the whole time they are walking. They have to stand a “ribbons-length” away from their friend in front of them.
    • I put on, or play, one of the group’s favorite songs and they have to follow-the-leader and walk around the room, keeping a ribbons-length of space between them and each friend.

 

  • Mirror my Ribbon
    • For children who are working on engaging in prolonged social interactions, this is one of my favorites!
    • I pair 2 children up and the goal is for them to be perfect mirror images of each other, copying each other’s movements. Often this is done with the children touching hands, but that can be difficult for my little ones.
    • The children instead have to hold each end of a ribbon and use that as a guide to complete the movement of the leader.
    • The leader switches about every minute, so they always have to be ready to lead and follow!
    • I play slow, simple music patterns in the background to guide slow, clear movements.

Ribbon Wrist Streamers

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I hope you can use some of these ideas in your next class or session! I find that sensorimotor props are the most effective way to engage an entire group and get them working on social skills that are usually very challenging. For more songs to use in session, you can check out my latest CD, Mini Musical Minds. I also have an entire curriculum dedicated to social and emotional developmental for children of all ages and abilities!

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Autism: How to be Inclusive

Create a welcoming and safe environment.

 

 

Do you know what it’s like to go to church when Autism is part of your story?

 

George has autism and Down syndrome.

 

Every Sunday, George is welcomed with his whole family by their local church. He isn’t just “welcomed” as in, they-let-him-come. He is welcomed, as in, they actively seek ways to make it comfortable and safe for him to come.

 

This is the essence of inclusion and it impacts George’s whole family.

A church for George and his whole family.

When I scrolled through my Facebook and encountered an update my friend Yvonne made, it warmed my heart and intrigued me.

 

In her post, she expressed her appreciation and thankfulness to her church family for welcoming George so well. George has Autism and Down Syndrome. She gave thanks for the love and welcome which the church extends to George and flows out to George’s family.

 

 

I knew in that moment, that I wanted Yvonne to help me discuss the ways in which their church made a home for their family for this blog post.

 

April is Autism Awareness Month.

 

Last year I wrote about how isolated many persons with autism may feel.

 

Natural Play Therapy encourages parents and caregivers to bridge the gap by moving into the world of the person they love through play. I also described how isolated caregivers themselves can feel in the midst of the care they give.

 

It’s so easy for the rest of the world to carry on with their busy lives. Families dealing with autism can feel that they don’t have a place to belong in the outer world as they deal with the unique challenges that have entered their lives through Autism’s portal. I want you to hear from Yvonne’s own words, what it has meant to them to have the members of their church reach out to their family over the past year:

 

 

 

 

 

What I appreciated most about the church we decided to go with, is that several people approached us and let us know that they were glad we were there. And you could tell they meant it.  They also had a pretty good special needs population and were fine with ‘noises’ in the sanctuary.  They also had a special needs class on Sundays and when approached about it I voiced my concern that George can’t do ‘a class’.  They said no problem that they would accommodate his needs and just love on him.  They said there would be no harm in giving it a try.  They were willing to work with his special needs, some of which required securing the door shut so he couldn’t run off, making sensory items available to him such as tactile items and auditory items.  They were very willing to learn how his communication device worked and how they could help him to communicate with it.  This class was only on Sundays but I was also wanting to come on Wednesdays so my older boys could participate in the youth group and I could do a bible study.  They had no place for George so they created a place for him and provided a one on one helper so I could go to a bible study!  It has been such a blessing to be able to participate in a women’s bible study again.  I have not been able to do that for 9 years!

[Tweet “They said, “No problem!” That they would accommodate his needs and just love on him.”]

Let’s discuss some specifics George and Yvonne’s church did to open make a space where the whole Marshall family could come and feel welcome.

Six tips for churches and other groups to create a good experience for families dealing with Autism.

  • Provide locking doors for kids who run [Windows should be provided, or half-doors, so the classroom can be observed while the door is locked for accountability where there is a locked door.] How to make a DIY interior Dutch Door
  • Create environments which don’t overstimulate. Bright lights, flashing lights, and lowlights can cause problems for some people who are on the autism spectrum. The key here is keeping the lights natural and non-stimulating. If you’re unsure about whether the lights are a problem in the environment, you can ask the person or the parent for their insight.
  • Consider whether to have a special needs class or integrated class. At Yvonne’s church, they have a special needs class on Sunday morning. If you choose to have an integrated class, make sure that everyone understands each other’s needs and that appropriate expectations are in place for behavior. Make sure there isn’t any bad attitude toward behavior that is natural. Assume the best about each other and be patient (Definitely, some training should be taught for teachers and a trained assistant should be present to help the child if needed).
  • Bring an attitude of flexibility. For example on Wednesday night,  the elderly women meet in the room that is especially fitted out for George’s need. The women invited George to be in there with them, accompanied by a helper so that Yvonne could attend a study with another group of ladies. One of the elderly ladies told Yvonne that her brother had special needs and it warmed her heart to see George being made welcome in the church.
  • Ask, “What can I do for you?” If you can’t figure out what to do. Ask.

 

[Tweet “This is the essence of inclusion and it impacts George’s whole family.”]

Five tips from Yvonne, for parents seeking an inclusive environment for their family.

  1. In regards to worship services at church: You might have better experiences in one with a simple worship service where the volume is tolerable for your child and there are no moving spotlights or strobe lights (Yes, some churches use strobe lights…). If the church has a pipe organ it might not work for you as well because of the fullness of sound.
  2. Lay the groundwork by visiting with the person in charge before going to a new church, playgroup or other organization. See whether it will be a good fit for your family. Don’t get discouraged if the person seems overwhelmed at first. What is a part of your daily life may be very new to them. On the other-hand, by being proactive, you might be able to head off some misunderstandings.
  3. Even if you decide that group isn’t for you, by coming and talking with the pastor, or person in charge of the group, you are planting a seed. Another family in the future, who is dealing with autism, may reap the fruit of your inquiry. Don’t feel like your efforts are wasted.
  4. Let the person who has autism have input on what will help them if he or she is able to express that. Otherwise, as the parents, have confidence in your judgment. 
  5. Be flexible. Yvonne said, even as she advises that churches and other groups be flexible when reaching out to families, she advises families that are dealing with autism to also be flexible as well. What may just barely work out now can be improved upon with time and understanding.

     

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Creating better spaces for George at home.

 

Even as things are getting better for George and his family in terms of church support. There is room for improvement his home environment. Not in the home as much as right outside of his home, in the backyard!

 

George loves to be outside. Everyone who knows him knows that. Sunshine and fresh air are great environments for every child.

 

However, George also likes to start going and keep going once he gets outside. This is called “running” [Running away common with autism.] It is a challenge for parents caring for children with autism.

 

Yvonne can’t just send George to play outside with his brothers and say, “Stay in the backyard.” That ain’t happening! When George goes outside, he has to be accompanied by someone who can ensure that he won’t run off. As much fun as that would be for him, it could have dangerous results by they time he was found. I don’t need to elaborate.

 

As long as I’ve known Yvonne she has desired to have a safety fence for George so that he would be free to go outside and explore and enjoy the outdoors. I have been in charge of George in the past when he has climbed and re-climbed the outdoor play equipment outside and seen the utter joy on his face.

 

Wouldn’t it be great if Yvonne could have a safe climbing space and other things for George to explore and do in their backyard, without having to worry about him running off if she goes inside to put the laundry in the dryer or answer the phone?

 

Yvonne’s family recently moved and spent a good bit of money on special locks throughout their house (expensive) in a desire to keep George safe. I was really disappointed to hear that she still hadn’t been able to afford a fence (it has to be really tall and strong).

 

 

Right now Yvonne’s working on applying, again, for a grant to help with the expenses. She has done this several times and been turned down. I’m praying that she won’t be turned down again.

 

Taking good care of a child who has autism can be very expensive and that’s why I’m glad to announce that, once again, Bear Paw Creek is donating to Hope4George again for Autism Awareness Month this April. Let’s come alongside Yvonne as her family seeks to do the very best she can for George!

 

Yes, awareness does help. There is still so much that many people don’t understand about autism. But also, doing something helps. This month, when you buy from Bear Paw Creek you will be doing something to help the Marshall family. Additionally, you can donate directly to their family by contacting Yvonne using the link for George’s Natural Play Therapy below. For regular updates on how George is doing, you can like his page Hope4George linked to below.

 

Useful Links:

 

 

I am praying for this to be the year that George gets a great fence in his backyard to help him enjoy it safely!

 

15% of all sales to Hope for George April Autism Awareness

 

Do you have suggestions for creating an environment that is welcoming to those with autism? I would love to hear them in the comments below. If this post was encouraging or helpful to you, please share it so that we can keep this message going. We need more churches and groups like Yvonnes church!

 

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Jenette is a freelance writer of web content, blogs, and podcast show notes. She is also a wife and imperfect mother, whose family mean the world to her. She has dealt with sensory issues in her family and keeps up with autism news as some of it intersects with their experiences. You can find Jenette’s business website at www.mywordsforhire.com.

3 Christmas Song Lists for Memory Care

A List of Vintage Christmas Music Resources for Memory Care Activities

 

 

Elder care professionals: Are you looking for some music resources for your planned recreational activities? Whether for use in a senior activity day center, at home or in a nursing home, we have a few song lists and suggestions you can have at your fingertips. Use them to lift spirits and get toes tapping this season. 

These Christmas selections were made from music that was popular in the 1920’s through the 1950’s, perfect for you to use in your memory care activities this week and the next.

Becoming acquainted with memory care.

I’ve known Janet, co-founder of Bear Paw Creek for a very long time now and my relationship with her has caused me to be more aware of the role of music and movement in therapy for people of all ages.

One therapy I’ve been researching and would love to hear more about is the role of memory care in people with dementia. Memory Care facilities take into account both the physical safety of the resident and the continuing mental and emotional wellbeing of the person. It costs more to have a family member stay in a Memory Care facility, but the increase in cost comes with an increase in benefits to your loved one. 

Games, music, and other activities, take into account the memories, loves, and abilities, of elderly people being cared for. This is also done in most nursing homes, in portions of many hospitals, in senior activity centers, and can be intentionally planned with in-home care as well.

As I type this, I think of my grandmother who has passed away and the tender care she got from a nursing facility and two of my aunts. I also think of a dear friend whose mother is dealing with Alzheimer’s, and how much her family loves her and how well they care for her. The third person I think of is a dear friend who watched her husband go through Alzheimer’s the last few years of his life. The weight of all of that love and loss makes it impossible for me to contemplate it without tears in my eyes.

This, then, is why memory care professionals pique my interest. Memory care, calls to my mind respect for the memories still able to be accessed and enjoyed… The songs, the images, and events which are still vivid when other memories are hidden under the blanket a fog.

In memory care, you enter into the world of the person who has dementia and you meet them there, on their terms, rather than expecting them to meet you in a place they can no longer relate to. Memory care also involves creating opportunities to take part in activities which have a low frustration level for the people you are working with.

Someone who can’t recognize faces and names may well remember how to play the piano, paint with a paint brush, or cut up fruit for a salad. These activities both stimulate the neuropathways and increase levels of pleasure while reducing feelings of isolation and anger.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of popular Christmas songs and artists from the 40’s 50’s and 60’s to be used by those planning an enjoyable time of recreation for residents of nursing homes or senior activity centers. I’ll give you a list of Youtube links as well as some links to great album choices of CDs or downloads. If you have a record player… well, you just might want to start hunting on Craigslist and garage sales for some great oldies to play (I saw record players for sale in a store last month… They’re coming back?). 

Host a Christmas dance for an elder care activity, complete with records and a vintage record player.

You can find record players on Amazon, They’re called “turn tables”, and you can even get a Victrola Nostalgic Classic, which residents of your elder care facility may enjoy seeing and having around. For the guests who can’t get up and dance, provide Movement Scarves, Streamers or Jingle Bells for their wrists, so they can dance with their arms and hands, or simply let them soak in the scene and enjoy the music.

Here are a list of records you can purchase in time for a Christmas party (if you get right on it.)

If buying a record player and records isn’t in the budget this year, here are some other ways to bring Christmas music to your memory care activities.

 

[Tweet “In memory care, you enter into the world of the person who has dementia; you meet them on their terms,”]

1. Vintage Christmas music on Youtube to use with memory care activities.

You can set your laptop up and play these tunes to get toes tapping (either connected to a T.V or not). Have it as the main event or in the background while you all work on a Christmas craft and sip hot chocolate.

2. Online Christmas song playlists sites to use with your memory care activities.

Rather than using a record player, cd player, computer or tape recorder (what’s that?), you can use your phone plugged into a speaker to provide Christmas ambiance for your activities.

Here are some links to playlists of vintage Christmas songs which will spark memories for people who grew up before the 1960’s. To tell the truth, many of the best songs were written before the 50’s, so these songs will probably spark memories for anyone who’s grown up with the tradition of celebrating Christmas in the U.S.A.

3. Hymns playlist stirs up precious childhood memories and hope.

The power of hymns in the lives of many elderly is very significant. Some have heard the Christmas hymns since they were babies on their mother’s knee. Most wonderful is being able to have a few musicians play the piano, guitar or some other instrument and lead the singing of carols. However, if those resources aren’t available through paid staff or volunteers (many churches would be willing to send out a group to lead the carols one night during the Christmas Season), I have compiled a playlist and resources for Christmas hymns here.

Of all the memory-centered activities you can create for the elderly around Christmas, providing a time to remember Christ’s birth with Christmas hymns may be the most significant.

Christmas Hymns for celebrating the birth of Christ.







Many thanks and appreciation are owed to the professionals who care for the elderly.

This is true whether they are providing for the physical needs or creating meaningful recreation and activities for the elderly in nursing homes work. I hope to see more writing and speaking about the role of memory care in the lives of elderly people struggling with dementia. I hope to see movement therapy and music play an integral part in that care as well. 

I want to leave you with these links to excellent websites with resources for memory care activities you can use in the coming year. May the year be filled with blessings for you as you bless other people through your work with the elderly, whether it be your own precious family member or someone else’s beloved family member.

Please share tips and ideas you put into practice in your recreation and/or memory care for elderly residents. 

Jenette is a freelance writer of web content, blogs, and podcast show notes. She is also a wife and imperfect mother, whose family mean the world to her. She has a high respect for business owners and entrepreneurs of all kinds. She enjoys helping them tell the story of their company, products, and services, connecting them online with those who would like to find them by the written word. You can find Jenette’s business website at www.mywordsforhire.com.

Autism and Natural Play Therapy: Child-led fun activities for kids

 Did you know that April is Autism Awareness Month?

In this post, we are discussing Natural Play Therapy for autism. Why does Yvonne Marshall love Natural Play Therapy, and what wisdom does it offer for all parents?

Also, how can you do more than be aware of autism this month? We’ll tell you!

 

Why Natural Play Therapy for Autism?

Autism can be isolating.

Sometimes a child with autism seeks isolation when their environment is over-stimulating. Even when the child would like to be in the company of others, coping mechanisms (called stimming) may startle others and cause them to be stand-offish.

Often people try to break that isolation by creating a fun activity and inviting the child to play. Sometimes this is successful, but often a person with autism does not respond the way we would expect.

Natural Play Therapy offers an alternative approach.

With Natural Play Therapy, you first observe the natural play (or stimming) that the child is involved in. After a while, you may play with or beside him. You enter his world, rather than expecting that he enter yours. This creates a connection between the you and him. It breaches that isolation.

This therapy results in less stress and more understanding for everyone.

Yvonne Marshall’s 8 year old son, George, has autism. Finding Natural Play Therapy was a turning point for her and George. It helped her understand a different of way of looking at autistic behavior. Using play to enter George’s world, she has found a great way to connect with him.

 

You can read more about it in the FAQ section of her blog, George’s Natural Play Therapy. You can also connect with Yvonne through Hope4George, on Facebook.

 

 

[Tweet “I love NPT because it’s a non-judgmental approach, that lets us accept George where he is at, believing that he is doing the best he can. It’s about building emotional trust and strengthening relationships.”]

 

Use the Wisdom of Natural Play Therapy.


 

 

How can you use the wisdom of Natural Play Therapy with your children? 

Observe your children. What delights them? What do they enjoy doing? Can you join in some of their play? Are there ways to let them lead in fun activities that you do together?

  • In the classroom, pull out a stretchy band for circle-time activities. When you are done, instead of putting them away, ask the kids what they would like to try next. If you have the Connect-a-Stretchy-Band, then you can take them apart and let the kids have time to explore using them in self-directed activity. 
  • At home make sure there is time in your child’s day to play and unwind. My girls delight in putting on music and dancing. Provide movement scarves to add magic to their motions. Dance with them, it will lift your mood (dancing, giggles and bonding, what could be better?).

Many of the activities in a child’s life are adult-driven. By giving your child adequate time to play and explore, you can reduce their stress. Watch them play sometime, and ask if you can join. When you enter into their world through play, you communicate respect for them. You say, “I am interested in you.”

 

 

 

Earlier, I wrote about the isolation that a child with autism may feel.

It won’t surprise you that parents of children with autism often feel isolated as well.

As parents wade through all of the emotional and physical issues of autism, they find themselves in a world that many don’t understand. Well-meaning advice may be discouraging. Quite often they spend hours a week on research, trying to find the cause and a cure. They navigate therapy sessions, insurance paperwork, and sometimes medication.

Just as a child with autism needs his parents to come alongside him as his companion,  those parents also need companions to come alongside them in this journey of care. Yvonne has this support through family and friends, including Janet Stephens, of Bear Paw Creek.

That’s why Bear Paw Creek is celebrating Autism Awareness by giving fifteen percent of sales in April to fund Yvonne’s play therapy goals:

  • Putting a Murphy bed in George’s room so that he has more room to play during the day with Yvonne or one of his care-givers.
  • Constructing a climbing area for George because he loves to climb and it is so good for him.
  • Fencing in the outdoor area so that George can play outside securely.
  • Adding some play equipment outside after the fence is built.

I have seen George’s infectious smile when he is doing something he loves. I’m picturing his smile as he enjoys climbing around with his brothers on the equipment Yvonne wants to build for him.

George with Rachel in play room

What can you do? Build up your kid’s resource of “playing tools”.

By buying movement props for your kids to play with, you’ll be doing more than being aware of autism this month. You will be coming alongside Yvonne as she improves the environment to connect with George through play.

Fifteen percent, of every dollar spent this April, goes to that goal.

Let’s do this!

 

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