At Milestone we follow an assessment and program setting process for regulation through movement. It is through SMILE programs accessing movements/activities from three areas of differing input: Alerting, Organising and Calming . This can obviously be quite difficult to do at home. Here we have provided some information to incorporate some aspects of what we put in place at school to calm or alert students that can be carried out at home. If your child already has a SMILE or Sensory Circuit program written by a specialist such as an occupational therapist or by your child’s class teacher carry on following that individually prescribed activity list.
Stress and anxiety can only be reduced when the trigger or the contributing factors to it are lowered. However exercise and certain activities lead to –
- Better health
- May reduce the likelihood of depression
- May reduce cognitive decline
- Improves the ability and/or quality of sleep
- Lower physical effects of stress and anxiety (not cognitive or emotionally) through the release of endorphins
- Improve focus
- Improve ability or allowing for self or to mutually (supported) regulated
Firstly please read the information given about structure, environment and other strategies to lower anxiety/stress on our website before putting in place anything from this document-
When and how long to do these activities
These sessions are always a good idea to plan into the structure of your day. However if you or your child feel the need to put it in place at a different point go for it as long as the change does not cause increased anxiety. We try to schedule once in the morning and once in the afternoon where needed, for some students it is just where needed. These sessions should last about 10-15 mins.
Alerting muscle work (Waking up/livening up/stimulating/exciting)
When it comes to providing alerting sensory input through movement, focus on faster, less predictable movement activities rather than rhythmic, linear movement. This is often provided to encourage more movement or alertness. When used alone with a child who tends to be hyperactive it can increase hyperactivity without implementing heavy muscle work and organising activities.
Organising activities (focus on more complex movement and more difficult activities, used with all students)
Organising activities are used to help people to focus. It may help focus the appropriate level of stimulation prior to calming activities to get educational activities completed. Organising activities followed by calming activities is needed to start accessing more difficult tasks that require more processing. The main aim is that the person doing the activity has to organise their thoughts for their body to complete a more difficult movement task such as balancing, large drawing/colouring or even cleaning a window. To regain focus.
Heavy muscle work (Calming/tiring muscles, main focus at Milestone)
Heavy muscle work is anything where the body slowly pushes or pulls or receives massage. Its name might give the impression of being hard to do, but that’s not the case at all. In fact, it can be therapeutic for children with autism, helping them feel calmer and prepared for the day ahead. These are calming activities.
Putting into practice-
We follow a slightly different process at school but this should apply well in the home/garden environment especially when combined with the structure/visual and motivator aspects from the link at the top of the page.
The basic process is:
- Alerting activity
- Organising activity
- Heavy muscle (Calming) activity
The aim is to use exercises/movements/activities in this order. At Milestone we tend to keep to three and then return to scheduled activities. We would have this carefully communicated with students using a visual approach. The three activities placed left to right, when one activity is completed remove the symbol or the activity to communicate that it is finished.
- Skipping or trampet (Alert)
- Wobble balance board (Organising)
- Rolling on side or pulling self along a bench (Heavy muscle)
Finish and move onto your daily schedule.
Examples of activities that can be done at home, arranged in the Alert, Organising and Heavy and groups for you to select from to create three stages of activities at home, remember students will find some activities Alerting or Calming. Every student is different, we sometimes offer our more active and more difficult to regulate children 1 organising activity and followed by 2 calming heavy muscle work activities (Point to note is that some heavy muscle work for some may require some organising processing, everyone is different)–
- Alert– (Please note, we do not often put these aspects in place in programs for our students due to these ‘livening up’ students, but a managed amount of alerting activities can be positive for all especially when used hand in hand with Heavy muscle work and Organising activities) Trampet, space hopper, hopscotch, parachute play, rolling on an exercise ball (could possibly sit on a football), jumping, skipping rope, ball games, target throwing, vigorous play (my child is having lightsaber battles with me for this, it makes him very excitable, I do not recommend that!), bike, bouncing of any kind such as on a ball or sofa cushion, Twister, blowing bubbles and popping them and dancing.
- Organising– Funny walks: animal walks, egg and spoon walk, throw and catch while on a balance board, balance board, walk along bench, pass bean bag round leg, behind back, infinity walk: walk round 2 chairs, in and out in a figure of eight, repeat with eyes closed, stand inside a hula hoop that is on the ground, spin, without going outside the hoop, stop, stand still. Press hands down on head, bend a rope into different shapes and walk along it, jump over rope from side to side, obstacle courses: go over and under a chair, climb over a chair, through a hoop, then roll on a mat or the floor, commando crawling, scrubbing floors, cleaning windows, Simon says game, wall drawing.
- Heavy muscle– Student lying on front and rolling a large ball across back slowly, shoulder massage, laying under a weighted blanket if you have one (please speak to an occupational therapist for prescription), wall press ups, press ups, squats, child placing hands on own head and pushing down gently, crawling on hands and feet slowly, crawling, row row the boat slowly with the emphasis on the slow pull, laying on stomach on stability ball letting their head hang downwards, pulling an exercise band, hand or foot massage, squeezing cornflour, laying under cushions and the cushions being gently pressed down on back and the hamstrings, sitting/laying in a quiet dark space.
Movement breaks and exercise
Movement breaks are brief intervals that enable all students to move their bodies and help teachers and tutors to engage learners in physical ways. Activities include-
- Yoga such as Cosmic Yoga https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pn65ltyntp4
- Physical games such as Tag, hide and seek etc.
- Youtube PE lessons such as PE with Joe. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uy1yab7jAcU
- Some students will enjoy sweeping, digging, planting, washing up, hanging washing…… repetitive movements.
Some individuals find some activities over stimulating and then increase hyperactiveness. For example running fast can cause students to become restless and unable to return to classroom work. When this occurs there is a plan put in place such as a relaxing time blowing bubbles, massage and squeezing objects like cuddly toys. This gives the muscles movement or pressure while the heart rate can decrease allowing opportunity to calm. If an activity becomes too over stimulating we reduce participation in that activity.
Stress relieving tension and relaxation-
This is quite a common form of short term reduction of the physical effects of stress and anxiety in your muscular system.
Using Isometrics, tensing muscles without movement:
- In a seated position, place your palms together with a person opposite you. Push your palms against each other for a few seconds. (Parent or teacher says, “Push”). Then relax for a few seconds. (Parent or teacher says, “Relax”). Repeat 3 to 5 times. Remember the aim is to achieve lots of heavy work input to the joints and muscles, so decide on the number of repetitions accordingly.
- Next, curl the fingers on each hand to form a semi-circle. Rotate one hand toward your body and one hand away from your body. Interlock your fingers, imitating a position of an opera singer. Pull your elbows in the opposite directions whilst keeping your fingers interlocked for a few seconds. Relax for a few seconds and repeat at least 3 to 5 times. In the opera singer position, switch hands so the hand that was on top is now on the bottom. (Parent or teacher continues throughout the steps of the isometrics to say, “Push” and “relax”).
- Place hands on seat of chair by thighs and lift bottom off seat of chair by straightening arms. (Parent or teacher says, “Push”). Then relax for a few seconds. (Parent or teacher says, “Relax”). Repeat 3 to 5 times.
- Extra Calming Stage: Parent / teacher stands behind the student and presses firmly down through shoulders using palms of hand. Maintain the pressure for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
Breathing activities to try yourself or with those that are able to-
My personal favourite to try with students- The technique of the ‘one-armed seagull’ a brilliant visual exercise using the steady rise and fall of your arm to help calm the breathing rate of a person suffering with a panic attack.
Lengthen your exhale
Inhaling deeply may not always calm you down. Taking a deep breath in is actually linked to the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the fight-or-flight response. But exhaling is linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, which influences our body’s ability to relax and calm down.
Taking too many deep breaths too quickly can actually cause you to hyperventilate. Hyperventilation decreases the amount of oxygen-rich blood that flows to your brain.
When we feel anxious or under stress, it’s easier to breathe too much and end up hyperventilating — even if we’re trying to do the opposite.
- Before you take a big, deep breath, try a thorough exhale instead. Push all the air out of your lungs, then simply let your lungs do their work inhaling air.
- Next, try spending a little bit longer exhaling than you do inhaling. For example, try inhaling for four seconds, then exhale for six.
- Try doing this for two to five minutes.
This technique can be done in any position that’s comfortable for you, including standing, sitting, or lying down.
Practice belly breathing
- Sit or lie down as described above.
- Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach somewhere above your belly button.
- Breathe in through your nose, noticing your stomach rise. Your chest should remain relatively still.
- Purse your lips and exhale through your mouth. Try engaging your stomach muscles to push air out at the end of the breath.
For this type of breathing to become automatic, you’ll need to practice it daily. Try doing the exercise three or four times a day for up to 10 minutes.
If you haven’t been using your diaphragm to breathe, you may feel tired at first. It’ll get easier with practice though.
When deep breathing is focused and slow, it can help reduce anxiety. You can do this technique by sitting or lying down in a quiet, comfortable location. Then:
- Notice how it feels when you inhale and exhale normally. Mentally scan your body. You might feel tension in your body that you never noticed.
- Take a slow, deep breath through your nose.
- Notice your belly and upper body expanding.
- Exhale in whatever way is most comfortable for you, sighing if you wish.
- Do this for several minutes, paying attention to the rise and fall of your belly.
- Choose a word to focus on and vocalize during your exhale. Words like “safe” and “calm” can be effective.
- Imagine your inhale washing over you like a gentle wave.
- Imagine your exhale carrying negative and upsetting thoughts and energy away from you.
- When you get distracted, gently bring your attention back to your breath and your words.
Practice this technique for up to 20 minutes daily when you can.
Resonant breathing, also called coherent breathing, can help you calm anxiety and get into a relaxed state. To try it yourself:
- Lie down and close your eyes.
- Gently breathe in through your nose, mouth closed, for a count of six seconds.
- Don’t fill your lungs too full of air.
- Exhale for six seconds, allowing your breath to leave your body slowly and gently. Don’t force it.
- Continue for up to 10 minutes.
- Take a few additional minutes to be still and focus on how your body feels.
Some people use guided meditation to alleviate anxiety by interrupting patterns of thinking that perpetuate stress.
You can practice guided meditation by sitting or lying in a cool, dark, comfortable place and relaxing. Then, listen to calming recordings while relaxing your body and steadying your breathing.
Guided meditation recordings help take you through the steps of visualizing a calmer, less stressed reality. It can also help you gain control over intrusive thoughts that trigger anxiety.