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My 3-year-old daughter is identified as having Sensory Processing Disorder, and she just LOVES her blanket. She sleeps with it every night and rubs her hands on it as she falls asleep. Throughout the day, she will even take “breaks” from playing with her sister, go to her room and fidget with her blanket for a few minutes before coming back into the playroom to rejoin her sister. My husband is concerned that we are encouraging an abnormal behavior. What should we do about this?
To be honest, this is not the type of thing that really has much research behind it. So, I will give my opinion as an OT who has worked for years with kiddos on the Sensory Spectrum.
In my opinion, all kids (and adults!) do their own quirky, sensory, self-soothing activities. When these activities are repetitive and frequent in nature, it is referred to as “stimming.” In general, as long as the stimming behavior does not interfere with daily living and does not break social norms, I say “leave well enough alone.” The stimming serves a very important function to calm the body down. If you suddenly take away the calming activity, it can often lead to meltdowns. These are no fun for anyone!
Again, people regularly have all types of self-stimming behaviors. Many people twirl their hair, pace while talking on the phone, chew gum, twirl their pencil, jingle coins in their pocket, etc. These are all self-calming behaviors which society has deemed to be acceptable. Once again, as long as they do not interfere with daily living or social norms, they are not problematic.
However, what do you do if you decide that the stimming behavior is interfering with daily living or social norms? For example, it could be problematic for the child to take the blanket everywhere, such as to the park where it would get torn and dirty. Or one might be concerned if a child wants to hold her blanket all the time and never plays with her sister.
Addressing a stimming behavior needs to be done very carefully. If you simply take it away, 1) it can lead to extreme sensory meltdowns, and 2) the child will replace it with another self-stimming behavior, possibly one that is even less desirable! Therefore, when trying to stop a self-stim, make sure you replace it with a similar activity, but one that will not disrupt daily living activities or break social norms.
For a child who is carrying a blanket everywhere she goes, you might start with limiting blanket usage to her room or in the car. You can set a timer to ensure that she does not use it for extended periods of time. You might also try to find a similar fabric to the blanket that could be tied to a belt loop or a bracelet so that the child could fidget with it throughout the day.
This is the perfect time to work with your child’s Occupational Therapist or Child Psychologist. They will know your child and her likes/dislikes. Together, you can create even more ideas to help replace the stimming behaviors with more appropriate activities .
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