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Chapter 18: Sensory Techniques (excerpts from Waves--Not Spoons)
In this chapter, we outline some of our best sensory techniques. These techniques can help reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, anger, and fear by redirecting the flow of sensory information.
The exact neurological effect created by these exercises is some form of bilateral hemispheric integration. That is, the two hemispheres of the brain working together in some coordinated fashion.
This is possible because each hemisphere of the brain controls (and receives feedback from one side of the body. So, when, for example, we touch the right hand to the left knee, the two hemispheres of the brain must coordinate (integrate) their respective activities.
These techniques are designed to evoke specific neurological responses and typically take just one or two minutes.
If these exercises are new to your, try the simpler exercises first and gradually work up to the more advanced exercises (like juggling).
Most of these exercises are easily incorporated into a person’s daily routine.
And many of these exercises can be completed quietly and discreetly--on the job or in public - without drawing any attention to one’s self.
If you find yourself stressing out at a meeting, try this inconspicuous stress reduction doodle.
Using a pencil, pen, or your finger, trace the figure-8 or infinity sign (sideways figure-8) on your paper, desk or even your leg under the table.
Trace the figure Ten times in one direction and then ten times in the opposite direction.
Again, the focus is on the diagonal lines. Why? Because it takes both hemispheres of the brain to draw a diagonal line.
This exercise is another bilateral hemispheric integration.
Imagine an infinity sign (or sideways 8), approximately shoulder width slightly above eye level.
Trace the infinity sign ten (10) times. Then, reverse direction and trace ten (10) more times.
Note: If you’re an adult working with a child, you can hold your index finger 18”-24” away from the child’s face, slightly above eye level and create the infinity sign motion for the child to follow.
Sensory Hook up
Standing straight and relaxed, cross one foot over the other so your left foot is on the right and your right foot in on the left, heels flat on the floor. With arms out in front of you, put the backs of your hands together.
Next, bring your clasped hands down under your chin (keep your balance).
Once your tangled up, look up and pick a spot on the ceiling. With just your eyes (keeping your head still), trace an infinity sign with the crossing point at that spot.
Draw the infinity sign (or sideways figure-8) 10 times one direction and then 10 times the opposite direction.
The first exercise is a simple bilateral hemispheric integration. We start by walking forwards then backwards. We’ll count out loud from 1 to 10 going forwards and then counting back down from 10 to 1 when walking backwards.
While walking, we're going to touch the palm of our hand to our opposite knee with each step.
(Note for young children and first timers: you might practice this exercise while marching in place and add in the forwards and back later.)
Next, we're going to add focus and attention.
Find a spot above eye level off to your left, maybe where the walls and the ceiling come together, and stay focused on that spot while you do your cross-walk exercise.
Our goal is 10 steps forward and 10 steps back. Repeat 4-5 times each.
Have good posture, but not stiff.
Keep your shoulders and neck relaxed.
You chin should be slightly raised above horizontal.
Breath slow and deep, pushing the belly out with each breath in.
One option for this exercise is to have the supervising adult walk in front of the child for the child to ‘mirror’. This allows the adult to set a slow, steady pace for the exercise.
More on Stimming
Stimming (or stims, as they are sometimes called) are frequently referenced in psychology as behaviors (or symptoms) commonly displayed by many autistic persons.
Beyond mere behaviors, stims can have a profound effect on a person’s physiological and neurological state.
Pacing, swinging, rocking and spinning, can help reduce stress and improve focus and attention by placing the person’s orientation in constant motion. This motion helps shift the Autonomic Nervous System from fight or flight to a more relaxed state.
Leg bouncing, finger drumming, foot jiggling, pencil tapping, hand flapping, can help release nervous energy.
Other stims, like singing, whistling or humming can help reduce stress and increase focus by replacing random (intrusive) thoughts with simple, familiar words, thoughts and rhythmic patterns.
Another benefit of making constant noise is it fills in the silent gaps between random, unexpected, and intrusive noises. They can also provide a context of familiarity, like whistling in the dark.
Repetitive blinking creates something akin to a strobe effects, breaking visual perception up into discrete images or frames. It also helps direct focus and attention away from the auditory and to the visual.
Other nervous habits that provide some sensory stimulation and mental distraction include fingernail biting, hair twirling, and knuckle cracking.