Saturday, May 14, 2011

Johnny Cash and Brushing--or--Things You Don't Think Will Work but Do

This week we are trying two new things. Both seemed far-fetched when I heard them, but what the heck.

Sky has been learning to identify things which overstimulate him and things which help calm him down. The goal, of course, is to help him learn to self-regulate. Figuring out what does and doesn't excite him is half the battle. The other half--figuring out when he is excited and employing a calming activity--is much harder. We're not even close on that front yet.

Sky's OT guy had him listen to all different kinds of music and identify which ones made him hyper and which ones calmed him down. Amazingly, Sky immediately knew which ones would and wouldn't get him excited and could generally explain why. Irregular beats and wide pitch range, bad. Regular rhythm with limited voice range, good. "That's why kids on the spectrum really like Johnny Cash," the OT guy tells me. Johnny Cash? I grew up listening to Johnny Cash (not by choice) and even own a Johnny Cash CD, for those moments when I am feeling particularly nostalgic for I don't know what. But, really? Johnny Cash?

Saturdays can be hard for Sky. Lack of school-day structure equals more meltdowns. So, today, I decided to try Johnny Cash. And I realized the whole darn album follows essentially the same beat. "I Walk the Line," "Folsom Prison Blues," "Ring of Fire," all the same bass line. And Sky loved it. We had no meltdowns and not even raised voices (other than Pink P's protests: "I don't like this. This isn't princess music!") while Johnny Cash was playing in the background. The downside? These songs require a lot of explanation. Did he just say mud, blood, and beer? Why is he singing about whiskey? Is there really a boy named Sue? Etc... The upside? Now Sky's grandpa has someone to share his taste in music.

Our other new routine is "brushing." It seems so simple and so far-fetched, and yet, it also seems to work amazingly well. Essentially, we take a soft-bristle brush (like the one pictured here), and we use it to brush gently but firmly along the arms, legs, back, feet, and neck. After that Sky gets joint compression by jumping up and down, doing wall presses, and having someone push down on his head and shoulders. The idea is that brushing helps him with sensory integration--it helps him find and keep his "just right" sense of touch and proprioception, which has meant a huge decrease in impulsive movement and bouncing off of things. Picture a human pinball. This is what Sky is like when his senses of touch and proprioception are out of whack. Now, picture a kid walking into the house, changing into his play clothes and playing calmly. This is Sky after "brushing" for less than a minute. It's weird that it works, but it works.

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