Over the course of Little Lion’s life, I have often described him as “active” and “busy” and “full of energy.” This is not uncommon for toddlers, but as I start to see him more and more around his peers, I have noticed that he seems to be even more “active” and “busy” and “full of energy” than any of the kids we spend time with.
While I feel that most likely he is just on the more active end of “typical,” and we have not had him evaluated to determine whether or not this could be a larger problem, this has led to much internet research on my part. I found this article from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) about how different kids have different thresholds for sensory integration. Little Lion seems to fit the profile of “Sensation Seeker” pretty perfectly.
Kids who are “Sensation Seeking” tend to be fidgety, excitable, active, and seek out sensory input. They may take excessive risks, and require much closer supervision. They may also seem hyperactive or impulsive, and enjoy tackling, jumping, and other rough play.
I also found this article, which describes research done at Penn State University in 2000 that focused on identifying these characteristics in young children.
The researchers placed 90 children at 6 months, 12 months, 24 months and 25 months in situations that tested for kid-style sensation-seeking characteristics. For example, while seated in a high chair, the 6-month-olds and 12-month-olds were shown two sets of toys. One set was of low intensity, a block, plate and cup, and the other of high intensity, a flashing light, toy beeper and a wind-up dragon. The children who reached out quickly for the toys were considered more “approach-motivated” than the children who went more slowly to these same toys.
At two years of age, the same children who were tested at six and 12 months were given the opportunity to explore a black box with a hole in one side. The “low-approach” children generally refused to put their hand into the hole to explore the interior while some “high-approach” children actually tried to climb inside the box.
The same children were also asked to approach a staircase with three steps and to jump off the steps onto a little mattress. High-approach children ran right up and jumped off the top step while some low-approach kids refused to leave their parent to go near the stairs.
Little Lion, at least as far as I can tell, is definitely one of these children.
So, aside from padding all the walls in my house, what can we do to help LL in his Evel Knievel-like pursuits? For us, the solution has been heavy work.
In therapist lingo, “heavy work” refers to proprioceptive input. The definition of proprioceptive is “the awareness of posture, movement, and changes in equilibrium and the knowledge of position, weight, and resistance of objects as they relate to the body.” Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder sometimes seek out proprioceptive input when they are looking for a way to calm and organize their nervous system. They may seem disruptive, full of excessive energy, or even unsafe.
-“The Calming Effect of Heavy Work” for Sensory Processing Disorder
Heavy work is often used with children who have Sensory Processing Disorder, both in occupational therapy sessions, as well as in the regular classroom or home environments. While I don’t believe LL is exhibiting enough concerning behaviors to be evaluated for SPD at this time, I have found that these heavy work activities really do satisfy his sensory seeking needs, and by using these strategies he is much more able to be calm and focused during less active parts of our day.
There are LOTS of heavy work activities that kids can do. Some of the ideas I found would be more appropriate for a therapeutic session with an OT, and some are more appropriate for older children, but I compiled a list of the ones I found to be most appropriate for a young child/toddler and created this printable list to hang on my fridge.
Over the last few weeks we have been trying to incorporate some of this heavy work into our very early morning routine, usually right after breakfast. This is actually pretty easy to do, because some of Little Lion’s favorite activities actually fit into this list! When I start to notice some of his more frustrating sensory-seeking behaviors (like banging his toys on the furniture or climbing places he shouldn’t climb), I try to redirect him to one of these activities instead. We still have our struggles, but I have noticed that when I really make an effort to allow for these activities LL is much more calm when we are playing at home and much more able to focus on one activity at a time. Additionally, I have noticed that LL plays much better independently when there is some background noise, so I have started incorporating background music more into our day.
Do you have a “busy” toddler too? Have you ever tried any of these “heavy work” activities? I would love to hear about your experience!
References and Further Reading