My son is always holding something; a toy car, a ball, his blanket, a puzzle piece. We thought it was so adorable that wherever we went, he would find a “treasure” as we called it. The first time we went to a park, he found a tiny piece of tree bark and carried it around all day and then into the car and on the way home.
After telling the charming story to my OT (Occupational Therapist), she told me that he was actually using these objects to help ground himself. It’s a technique taught to those with PTSD to assist keeping the individual in the present. For my son, it was helping with his sensory needs.
Imagine you’re floating on a raft in a pool by yourself. The sun is shining bright, the birds are singing softly, and you are just relaxing in the moment. Now imagine the pool just got way bigger, and tons of people joined in for a party. Suddenly there’s splashing and rocky waves, someone’s blasting music, you can smell the BBQ cooking, cigarette smoke…are you uncomfortable yet?
For a child with ASD, any combination of those things could just be too much to handle, too much to process. They need a life line, a steady object to help them find their place in their environment. It could be as simple as a toy car, or a weighted vest to help keep them grounded and comfortable.
I started carrying a “sensory bag” with me whenever we go out; to the park, to the store, out to eat, and the pediatrician’s office (especially if it’s a vaccine visit). It’s filled with a variety of things I’ve seen my son carry around for long periods of time so that he can choose an object before he gets overwhelmed. And I usually keep back ups in my pocket.
Most of these items I got from Amazon Prime for a great price. I’ve also added a few vibrating baby toys, like the ones from Carter’s. And it’s always a good idea to have a variety so the novelty of one object doesn’t wear off too soon.
Just like we find ourselves fidgeting with a pen or a lock of hair when we’re feeling anxious or nervous, our kids need that type of comfort even more. So have fun experimenting helping your child find his feet.