My Days With James

The Arboretum and James’ Sensory Signals

James and the tulipsWe decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather Tuesday, and took a trip to the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden. RSV season is not officially over yet in Dallas County, but we’re slowly getting back into the real world among other people, and it feels good. The Arboretum is one of those magical places you can visit any time of year, that will surely lift your spirits and let you breath a little deeper. We all need that about now. It’s been a long winter, even in Texas.

James gets super excited just to go for a ride in the car these days, so you can imagine his excitement to be somewhere he could run, be outside, and see other children. His three most favorite things in the world! It was a jackpot day for sure.

We visited their new Children’s Adventure Garden for the first time. James is a huge fan already! He’s big into colors, numbers, and matching activities right now, so when we came upon the picture matching poles I think it was better than Christmas morning for him. He spent a lot of time turning the cubes and matching the photos. When we tried to move on to other parts of the garden he whimpered and looked so sad…so we went back. Trying hard to pick our battles, and find that fine line between an activity he’s excited about and enjoys vs. something he’s perseverating on. There’s this constant little struggle in our minds as we try to find the right balance for him. He eventually became bored with the picture poles and we were able to explore further, this time with a happy boy.

James picture poleWhen we came to the ‘First Adventures’ garden he didn’t know what to do first! It was a sensory wonderland. There were puzzle plants, a giant ant to climb on, a playhouse, a huge sand area, water play (which we avoided today), and video games – which James loved, but in this amazing outdoor play area do we really need video games? Anyway, he was so excited to run around and check things out with the other children. I love it when James gets to spend time with other children. There are a few friends and family that probably think otherwise, but I really do. It’s a little trickier for James than it is for some kids, but nothing lights up his face more than seeing another child. This was a good morning around other kids – no slapping at them, no pushing them down, nothing to draw unwanted attention from other parents. Nothing other than James being James.

James with the puzzle plant

James in the sand

James hands

I think it’s interesting that today of all days, right after this trip to the arboretum, I receive a Sensory Tip of the Day from Understanding Your Child’s Sensory Signals that has to do with hand flapping. We’re used to his hand flapping, so it isn’t until we’re out around others that we really see it, and see the attention it can draw from other children and adults.

***Sensory Signal of the Day!***
Page 38 “Understanding Your Child’s Sensory Signals”
Sensory Explanation: This sensory signal is often misunderstood. Flapping of the hands is often a sensory anchor, which is calming and regulating to the brain. Doing this provides proprioception to the arms and hands, which is typically organizing and soothing for the nervous system. Take note if your child does this more often in new and unfamiliar settings or in challenging multi-sensory situations.
Ideas to Help!
• It’s okay to let ’em do it…and be sure to educate those around you about this sensory need. Also provide an explanation so that the child is respected for this.
• Hand flapping is really no different than someone who bites their nails, although for some reason our society accepts that as okay vs. hand flapping.
• Encourage regular doses of joint compression and joint traction via activities such as wheelbarrow walking, hanging from a bar, etc.
• Provide Thera-Putty™, Playdoh®, clay, and/or fidget toys.
• Provide regular doses of deep pressure touch to the arms and hands.
• Try Theraband® activities.
• Compression clothing for the upper body may help.
~Angie Voss, OTR

Hand flapping is one of James’ sensory signals. He tends to do it most often when he’s excited. It could be excitement about a song he hears, something he sees on television, a particular activity, and what we saw at the arboretum – excitement over seeing other people. When it started, it happened pretty infrequently, but it has definitely increased in the last few months. My first instinct was to not draw attention to it, and try to make it stop. Wrong. It doesn’t just stop. It was very reassuring for me to read that it’s ok. James body needs different activities than others do to help it feel calm and organized. If hand flapping is one of the things he does to feel ok, we’re not going to fight it. So often James shows us what he needs, we just need to watch and listen to what his body is saying.

It was a truly beautiful day at the arboretum, and we’ll definitely be back for more very soon.

James wall

6 thoughts on “The Arboretum and James’ Sensory Signals

  1. Sounds and looks like a great place. James looks so healthy and happy. You are doing a wonderful job. Love seeing your updates.

  2. Loved reading this, so happy to be getting out too! Those days where are kids can really enjoy being with other children are golden! My boy is a hand flapper to and I especially enjoyed that same tip about why! I know what I am about to say sounds a little crazy, but I remember getting my feelings hurt when I was a pre-teen and my daddy breaking out a backstretch song “what makes you different makes you beautiful”. My son has been made fun of for some of his odd ways and sometimes even family just don’t get it! Thankful m y son doesn’t really realize when he is being made fun of, but we sing that song together, and I remind other children of that important message. We are all different and special, And I don’t think if I had a choice I would change my son, yes there are things we work on so he can better cope and live, but his heart, his personality, and yes even those happy hands flapping are beautiful to me!!

    • Thank you so much for your comment Larah! I just pulled that song up on youtube, and have tears in my eyes as I type this. One of the things I worry most about when James is around other children is him being made fun of, especially now, as he’s getting older and the differences are more apparent. It hurts my heart. And the looks from other adults – they cut right through me sometimes. But I agree with you, I wouldn’t change who James is. His spirit is beautiful and he’s the happiest little guy I know. We could not love him any more than we already do. He’s just perfect to us, flapping hands and all. Thank you so much for this Larah!!

  3. Hooray for spring and for this post! I love the pictures of James – he looks so incredible happy! I’m planning to take Jax to our Arboretum this weekend! 🙂

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