Thursday, June 26, 2014

Vibrotactile Activities: Mason's Key to the World? :)

We recently invited our state's deafblind technical assistance project from the Missouri School for the Blind to our home for a consult with Mason. The representative gave some great ideas and left some DVDs and other materials on helping Mason get over his fear of touching so he can get to know his world. Some of the ideas we had heard and tried to some degree in early intervention, with lots of progress in the area of tracking/looking, but not a lot in the area of touch/exploration. This time, one of the activities during our visit really seemed to strike a chord with Mason and we are going with it as the basis of his learning!

Mason has been in OT since about six months old, but still doesn't "hold" or play with toys on his own, due to his aversion to touching much of anything (he can hold a toy weakly when placed in his hand if he chooses to but he usually won't close his hand, or if he does, he throws it down). The rep could see what I mean as she tried to introduce various interesting objects to him. HOWEVER...when I told her that Mason seems to really love interesting sounds (they make him laugh--punctuated or vibratory words, claps, low-pitched songs/music or crinkly things), she tried an experiment. She got out her laptop briefcase (a very rough material) and started scratching on it. The sound really interested him! It wasn't a texture we've had much success with in the past; due to the rough way it feels, touching it has never been too appealing to him. BUT when he realized that scratching it (not just touching with fingertips) CAUSED the silly sound, his interest was very piqued!

Because Mason loved the scratching noise and it kept his interest, I adapted one of the ideas on a Lilli Nielsen active learning video. I made a "scratch board" for him. Vibration has always interested Mason but sometimes direct touch by vibrating toys is too much for him. The rep told us that there are ways to achieve that same effect without intense vibration. That is, objects made of textures with a pattern can be scratched and appeal to his senses in a "vibro-tactile" way. So, I tried to find anything that fit this description (corrugated cardboard, comb, bubble wrap, bumps on plastic, a hollow object to knock, etc)...anything that naturally makes a fun sound when scratched. I then Velcro-ed or taped these objects to a bright board (his baby mirror) and after some "safe" exploration sitting in my lap, he sat at his tray to play.
vibrotactile sound activies on a homemade DIY scratchboard
At first he didn't know what to think....he always starts with "tentative hands" touching on back of arms or hands only.
overcoming sensory issues using a scratch board
Tentative at first with the scratchboard...
sensory defensiveness deafblind child exploring sounds on a scratchboard

But after I showed him the scratching noises he could make, and let him feel me do it (hand under hand) and allowed him to see that opening his hands didn't hurt but made a funny sound, he started checking it himself!! To see those open hands checking out the new textures and realizing the sounds are from him is very exciting!!

So, after he was comfortable with the scratch board activity, I tried another: a plastic container with colorful rubber bands wrapped around it. The bands create a pleasant a resonance effect and nice sound also, and the brightness makes it easier for him to see.

DIY therapy for tactile aversion in deablindness
This one he took to even faster!
 The rep is going to come back next month to let us borrow another "Active Learning" tool ( to help Mason, called "The Little Room." In the meantime we rigged up something similar under a desk in living room. I hung objects like plastic measuring cups, metal spoons, pom poms (which his fingers can get stuck in to help him hold), colorful wiffle balls, poofy leis, clanky goblets, slinky type toy, soft scrub brush, stretchy plastic noisemaker hose, etc. I also put a playpen mat under him which creates sensory feedback as he moves on it. I secured glittery boards to the inside edges for a visually interesting background. The idea is to let Mason explore the "room" silently on his own to discover that he creates fun sounds and new objects as he moves. The location of these objects stays the same and he is watched constantly (so he doesn't become tangled in the toys and so we can note his progress). Mason already understands cause and effect, and object permanence, but he has always been fearful of touching anything unfamiliar, especially things close to his face. So this "safe" and fun exploration are making a difference in conquering that fear and reinforcing important concepts for him.

child with low vision and hearing impairment in a homemade active-learning-style "little room"
Another idea that seems to offer a lot of potential is a bib or apron with toys attached that he can explore at his leisure. :)

We are so happy that these ideas are holding his attention so well and wanted to pass them along! Thank you so much to the MO Deafblind Technical Assistance Project for pointing us in the right direction :)

"Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; 
let this be known to all the world." Isa. 12:5

Mason's Mix

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