My kiddo and I have a living room that basically looks like a gym. We’ve got our mini trampoline in one corner, an inflatable punching toy in another, and a huge crash pad for jumping from the couch to the ground and back again.
While it might look a little surprising to guests when they first walk on, this sensory space is crucial for both of us. My son just can’t be cooped up inside; he’s far too active for it. He has to jump around, get his jiggles out, and feel the impact of his body against firm surfaces.
To this end, we have several rituals we go through (on a daily basis when I’m really good) to keep him integrated and regulated in his own body.
1. The Inside Obstacle Course
Creating an obstacle course inside the house is a lot of fun for both of us. I get to be creative and play coach while my son gets to “win” races with himself–he loves winning.
I’ll set up something like the following;
jump from couch to cushion on floor
jump from cushion onto soft chair
jump from chair and roll-land on crash pad
10 jumps on crash pad
grab full laundry basket, carry it down the hall
army crawl back down the hall and repeat
A couple of rounds of this and my kiddo is beat. It helps him to get not only the exercise he needs, but to do the heavy work that helps him regulate his senses.
2. Making A Burrito
My kiddo really enjoys pressure, so I often roll him up into a “burrito” with our blanket and do a bit of joint compression and massage. He insists on keeping his arms out, because while he enjoys pressure he hates being restrained.
I start by rolling him up, then “tenderizing the meat” with gentle, firm fists. Next, I “chop the lettuce” with a karate chop massage up and down his body. Next comes “mixing in the lettuce”, in which I use my whole hand to grab and squeeze as if I’m kneading dough. Finally, I “sprinkle on the cheese” with little fingertip tickles.
We usually have a blast doing this, plus he is getting a lot of different types of pressure and stimulation. We also add variations, like shrimp tacos or extra sour cream and salsa; whatever the moment calls for.
I add in the joint compression at the end by gently pressing in his wrists and ankles.
3. Suit Monster
My son and I love to play a game called “suit monster”. This game involves us taking turns chasing each other around using our sensory sock.
We run back and forth playing tag or hide and seek, and usually we end up in the sock together and rolling around on the floor. The resistance of the sock gives him some proprioceptive input. By the end of it, we’re usually both sweaty.
4. Acro Yoga
This one is getting harder as my kiddo gets older, but it’s still lots of fun to whip out our acro moves. It builds a sense of trust between us, gets me a legit workout, and helps my son understand how to use his core and balance his body better.
We typically learn our moves from videos on YouTube, and you can also make up your own.
These activities go a long way toward getting my little guy the action and stimulation he needs to self-regulate. He’s often calmer, less reactive, and more cooperative after one of these sessions.
Try them out and share how it goes, or share your favorite sensory diet activities in the comments.
Many of us have fond memories from our childhood of Saturday morning cartoons and wholesome TV shows like Mr. Rogers. It was a simpler time in the days of TV programming when shows weren’t available on demand, and there wasn’t such a sheer and overwhelming volume of choices.
As a parent, there is virtually no way to monitor all the selections a child might make, and shows tend to be far more entertainment-focused than education. Not only that, but a lot of kids shows these days are just downright intolerable for a self-respecting adult to watch (the new Care Bears rehash comes to mind).
It’s not only an issue of kids’ shows being boring or hokey for adults; it’s that they essentially ignore the basics of child development.
Firstly, young children imitate; they do not learn lessons from complex storylines. As heart-warming as a story might be, your child is not learning and growing along with the main character; they are copying the behaviors they see, the good and the bad.
Take a show like Thomas the Tank Engine, which has been wildly popularly ever since its inception, with members of The Beatles providing voiceovers.
This show was created by Reverend A.W. Awdry, who likely had very good intentions to teach children lessons about pride, poor work ethic, selfishness, and what have you.
The problem is he uses characters who are fairly awful to get his moral truisms across. These are characters you don’t want your kid imitating, even the beloved protagonist, Thomas.
Luckily, more and more great shows are coming out to actually model the behavior we’d like to see in our kids.
Below are my favorites:
1. Puffin Rock
This sweet, beautifully animated series features a young Puffin and his family. They go through what a typical day might be like for a family of puffins, which is both wholesome and adorable. There are a lot of nature themes present, as well as simple lessons that kids can relate to, like how to include the younger sibling.
The characters speak calmly and respectfully to each other, show care and concern, and demonstrate selflessness at time. All good things for kids to pick up on. Incidentally, this show is illustrated by the same artists who did one of my all-time favorite children’s movies, Song of the Sea. Oh, and everyone has an Irish accent!
Another benefit is that these are relaxed storylines; they aren’t the drama and flashing lights of a lot of kids programming. You feel calmer at the end of watching this show, and the soft music throughout helps, too.
As a fan of travel that really opens you up to new cultures and ways of living, I’m especially fond of Mouk. It follows two best friends as they bicycle their way around the world, meeting new characters in each destination they find. It includes authentic factoids about each place they visit and a window into other cultures.
Of course, being a kids show, it can be a bit simplistic, but it still gives a snapshot of what the rest of the world is like. I particularly like that the two main characters have opposite personalities; one is very cheerful and ready to take on new adventures, the other a bit curmudgeonly. It opens up a lot of opportunities for dialogues about being positive, open-minded, trying new things, and choosing to have a good experience even when things don’t go your way.
3. Peppa Pig
These days most everyone with a kiddo has heard of Peppa Pig. This show isn’t my absolute favorite, but for a popular option it gets a pretty good grade in my book. The storylines are simple and sweet, there are cute little ditties that the kids will enjoy singing, and it’s just quirky enough that it can elicit a laugh from an adult from time to time.
Peppa Pig’s multigenerational family is mostly cooperative and empathetic toward each other. They also spend a lot of time in the garden, in the country, at the seaside, and generally out of doors.
4. Odd Squad
A show for kids who are a bit older, the Odd Squad has a much more Hollywood feel to it. It’s a live action show that features a troupe of secret agent-esque kids who go around solving “oddities” that have to do with math concepts, like fractions, prime numbers, counting by tens, and more.
The kids of this show are really talented, and it has a bit of a slapstick quality script that isn’t snarky or rude. I actually really enjoy the punny writing, and I’m happy for my kiddo to imitate it. This show is great for kids who are into theater.
5. The Magic School Bus
I was thrilled when I saw the original show from my childhood come out on Netflix, and my little science-minded guy was immediately into it. I’m assuming that because of the popularity of the first, Netflix decided to do a reboot featuring Ms. Frizzle’s sister as the new teacher in town.
This show has all the charm and magic of the first, although the kids are a little more modern in their speech and don’t always behave exactly how you’d want your kids to. They also talk about technology and using phones a lot, which is a little too meta for my taste. Despite that, I still love the passion for science that it instills as well as the little bit of mystery and wonder you can always expect from the Friz.
When family TV time comes around, I hope you enjoy these shows as much as me and my little guy do. Let me know what you think about these and if there are any other favorites of yours I might’ve left out.
The birth of my son was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. It was an experience in which I was able to fully trust in the wisdom of my woman’s body and let nature take me over. Few things are more powerful.
My partner and I began planning for my birth when I was five months along; it was a bit of a scramble. I knew beyond all shadow of doubt that I wanted a midwife to deliver my child. I interviewed several and chose one that was 1) available at such short notice, and 2) gave me a safe, warm feeling when we spoke.
This lovely woman, a mother herself to an adopted child she was raising with her wife, and her two apprentice midwives would be attending my birth. It ended up that two friends were training to be doulas and would be present as well. It was a pretty full house.
Everything was progressing normally and I was in the peak of physical health; 22 and a bonafide health nut since my teens. We had our birthing tub ready to go, we had an arsenal of diapers, both cloth and disposable, and a meal train set up to help us feed ourselves while we were preoccupied with the new life we were bringing into the world.
The First Signs of Labor
I woke in the middle of the night to the feeling of dampness between my legs. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I had started my period. I got out of bed and stood on our wood floor. My partner asked me what was wrong.
There was soon a puddle under my feet, and I was grinning from ear to ear.
We called the midwives and they advised me to go back to sleep; no other symptoms or contractions meant I could try and conserve my energy for the big stuff. So I did.
I slept until 8 in the morning when the contractions started to feel like earthquakes riddling my body. It was almost as if my body had the wisdom to let me rest for the remainder of the night.
My partner’s mother stopped by for a visit and I remember going in and out. It was difficult to make small talk at that point, the contractions were becoming so all-consuming.
My partner was there alongside me for every moment of it. The midwives were knitting booties out in the living room. I did a lot of pacing, a lot of bouncing, a lot of humming and moaning. I got a lot of massages from my partner and my friends, mostly on my lower back where the pressure was most intense.
The more labor progressed, the more I felt like I was merging with my experience; very little thought, very little sense of time.
By the afternoon, things hadn’t changed much. Being the impatient type, I asked my midwives over and over whether I could start pushing. They sat patiently and stated simply that no, I wasn’t dilated enough yet. Always kind and always calm.
I tried different positions and found that none were as comfortable as squatting, letting my son’s weight push down on my expanding cervix. As the pain intensified, the midwives brought me a birthing stool so I could stay in this squatting positions but create space for my son’s head to eventually crown.
I bounced my body up and down on the stool and felt his head carve its way through my body. I realized that the pain was like a map for me; it showed me what muscles to contract and stretch in order to let him through. Just like a good stretch feels so satisfying after a hard workout that leaves you sore, the soreness of my muscles welcomed the pressure of my son’s tiny head. I was amazed at the wisdom of our bodies in that moment.
Eventually, after my persistent questioning, my midwives relented and gave me the sign to push. I wasn’t quite fully dilated, but close enough.
For the final stretch, I spent most of my time in the inflatable birth tub set up at the end of our bed. My doula friend literally hosed me with hot water to soothe my lower back, and pushed on my kidneys with every ounce of her muscles to relieve their aching. She pushed so hard and with such dedication that she was sore afterwards.
This was the point I remember hurting the most, as my son’s head emerged from my body. I could reach down and feel his soft scalp.
I was starting to reach exhaustion, it being almost five in the afternoon at this point. Feeling my mind starting to resist the experience, I recalled a meditation I had read about in a birthing book my sister had bought for me, Mindful Birthing.
In it, the author described an exercise to help birthing mothers be present with their experience, to not start wishing for the birth process to end or fearing for the future of what’s going to happen next.
Like the book instructed, I focused my attention on little details of the room, one at a time. I focused on the dusky sunlight playing on our flannel sheets. I breathed. I focused on a fluttering fabric hanging from the wall. I breathed. I focused on the flickering candle my partner had lit, watching the flame dance, indifferent to the human activity in the room.
Each of these tiny meditations and the breaths that went with them helped to bring me out of my head, out of the resistance to my pain and impatience, and brought me back into the room, back into my body, and back into my experience.
That small but powerful effort reinvigorated me for the final stretch of my labor. I was no longer focused on my tired aching body, how long it had been since my contractions kicked in, or how much I longed for my baby to finally be in the room with me. I simply focused my mind and pushed.
First Moments of New Life
When he finally shot from my body with my last push and into the water, everything happened so quickly compared to the hours of rhythmic throbbing, pulsing, and pushing.
My partner’s shaking hands cut the cord and there he was.
I was ready to collapse when my midwives reminded me I had to push out the afterbirth. After a fiery moment, I acquiesced. To my relief, it felt like nothing compared to my son’s solid, angular body.
I very literally crawled from the birthing tub onto my bed as the midwives toweled me off. I was shaking from head to toe, my nervous system completely shot from the hours of effort. I collapsed into my bed and held my baby for the first time.
My biggest fears were instantly erased as he immediately clamped onto my breast and started nursing within moments of being passed into my hands. I had been poised for a breast-feeding battle, having heard stories of clogged ducts and lactation consultants from almost every mother I knew.
My partner, my son, and I were like one solid mass of human in our cozy little bed, and there we stayed for virtually the next month. We were clumsy, awkward, and overwhelmed in our new roles, but we somehow managed beautifully despite it all. If I ever did it again, I would never do it any other way.
no babbling, pointing, or meaningful gestures by 12 months
poor eye contact
not showing items or sharing interests
unusual attachment to one particular toy or object
not responding to sounds, voices, or name
loss of skills at any time
The CDC has a great wealth of resources to get more in-depth information. If you suspect that your child is on the spectrum, don’t worry. There is so much help out there if you know where to look, and parenting autistic children–while certainly challenging–is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.
My son’s baby and toddler years were rough. He cried often and demanded attention. When he was still an infant, he would lie on his back, transfixed by the ceiling fan. Sometimes he would scream for no particular reason; it seemed as though just to hear something.
When my son was mobile, he literally never stopped. He crashed into things, grabbed everything, and often threw toys. He often bit and pinched when playing with other children.
When we went in the grocery store, it felt like a ticking time-bomb–usually about 20 minutes–until he had a total meltdown and I had to escape with what groceries I was able to snag.
The screaming continued into his toddler years. The erratic motion continued. He continue to handle objects and toys roughly and not in the way they were “meant” to be handled. He lined up his cars in perfect rows. He had meltdowns at every transition, and generally could not handle change.
Accepting Autism and Getting Help
It seems painfully obvious when I write this all out that something was up, but it wasn’t as clear in my day-to-day. For one, I had virtually no experience with other children. Secondly, there were plenty of moments when he exhibited very non-spectrum behaviors. He would make eye contact, he would snuggle, he would laugh at my silly faces or when I bounced him up and down.
And of course, these “typical” behaviors made it easier to rationalize the other ones away. Just because your child likes order doesn’t mean he or she is on the spectrum. But all the signs taken together began to add up.
I will never forget the day I truly saw it. My son was two and a half. It was fall, and my son, his father, my sister, and I went to a local farm that was hosting a pumpkin patch. There were animals, rows and rows of pumpkins, a corn maze, and trains–my son’s absolute favorite thing.
He was immediately overstimulated with everything going on. I prodded him to pet the animals–he refused. I encouraged him to pick a pumpkin–he resisted. And finally, I was practically begging him to ride the train.
I was so attached to having a “normal, good time” that I was missing all of his communication with me–he was utterly overwhelmed by the throngs of people, the noisy band, the chugging and somewhat intimidating large metal train. He finally had a meltdown right there on top of a bale of hay.
After he calmed down, he simply sat and watched the train go around and around and around. I don’t know how many times. He refused to do anything else.
Life on the Spectrum
My sister, who had worked with autistic children quite a bit as an ABA therapist, pointed out what we all knew; my son was on the spectrum.
I felt a surge of anxiety at acknowledging this fact. My sister assured me that we could get support, and the earlier the better.
That’s when we started our journey toward diagnosis, though he wouldn’t officially receive one until he was five. There are still times when it hurts to think that I waited so long to get help, that I thought maybe we could fly under the radar because he was so “borderline”, and that maybe living without the labels would be better for him.
The thing is, depending on where you live, there are typically more free resources available for younger children than older, and early intervention is key. Again, not to change them–but to support them, and you.
In retrospect, I’d encourage anyone who thinks that their child may be on the spectrum to seek help immediately, not because there is something to “fix” but because learning how to best to relate to a child on the spectrum can enrich a relationship that is undoubtedly challenging at times.
I’m still learning how to love and live with my son the best possible way I can, but starting the journey earlier would have set me up with many more tools and given us more time in those precious early years.
That said, I still believe we are making progress every day, and my goal is to help my little guy find his place in the world. I know that, with the right support, he can thrive and share the amazing, sweet, sensitive, quirky, and brilliant child he is.
Seaweed is chock-full of great stuff, like magnesium, calcium, iron, folate, and fiber, and according to Chinese medicine is a yin-nourishing food. Seaweed is also a great option when you’re short on time but still want to get some veggies in.
I’ve been in love with seaweed ever since I first tried sushi as a kid, and I’ve always looked for ways to incorporate this extremely beneficial and delicious food into my diet. I’m thrilled that my kiddo loves sushi as much as I do, because it’s an easy way to sneak a great veggie into his meals without too much fuss.
Seaweed also makes a great flavor enhancer for a simple soup or rice-based dish, and can work well as a garnish in a salad.
My Top 6 Seaweed Picks and How to Use Them
Dulse – I love to sprinkle dulse on just about everything I eat. Dulse makes a great garnish seaweed, as its tiny flakes can easily enhance almost any dish, from a salad to a stew.
Wakame – When I make my weekly Instant Pot meal to take to work, I almost always include some wakame. I simply crumble up the dried wakame, place it in a bowl of water until it rehydrates, and then add it to my stew, rice porridge, or soup after cooking it. It creates a salty flavor that makes it unnecessary to add extra salt. Wakame is also a key ingredient for seaweed salad.
Kombu – This thick, flavorful seaweed is best added to stock. It’s a little too chewy even when cooked (trust me, I’ve tried it), but it adds a unique taste to whatever you put it in. Think of it as the bay leaf of the sea.
Kelp – Kelp noodles, anyone? These are a great alternative to pasta when you’re doing full paleo or just trying to lighten up a meal.
Agar – Agar is a lot of fun and you can make a variety of tasty deserts and unique dishes with it. You can also find agar boba (also known as crystal boba) at milk tea shops these days. I’ve used agar in lieu of gelatin to make a vegan flan, to make vitamin C gummies for my little guy, and to make jello.
Nori – Probably the most familiar of seaweeds, nori is best for making sushi. It’s also nice to simply snack on, and is the type of seaweed you’ll find in most seaweed snack packs. I often add these to my little guy’s lunch as a healthy non-perishable veggie option. Nori also makes a quick and easy addition to a salad. Just tear it into bite-sized pieces and mix it in.
Making Healthy Meals Simple
Not only do I love the health benefits and the unique salty taste, I love that my kiddo enjoys it. I make sure he eats a vegetable serving at every meal, which isn’t always easy.
When we go out for sushi, the veggie is built right into the meal. This is a major win for both of us, as I don’t have to do any bribing, and he knows that he’ll get his end-of-meal treat with what seems like no extra effort.
If you can, I suggest getting your kiddo into sushi when they’re young. That way, it won’t be a struggle to incorporate this awesome vegetable into their diet on the regs.
I hope you’re inspired to try adding this super simple food into your diet. Let me know how you do so in the comments below, and good luck getting your sea greens!