A day of messy play


We have had a really good weekend. Maddy is continuing to amaze us with her progress. She is more expressive than ever – smiling and giggling more than I knew could be possible. She has a new expression: a surprised/impressed mouth wide open look. As non-therapists, we believe her social language is improving by leaps and bounds. She is imitating vocal sounds here and there, which is really exciting. We are eagerly awaiting a couple of reports to see if the therapists have the same view of her progress that we do.

We are still struggling with daily tasks – eating, sleeping, behavioural issues – but we are awed and amazed by the growth we see in Maddy. From week to week, our therapists notice changes as well.

Both Eric and myself expressed that today was the best day we have ever had as a family. It was incredible. Maddy was happy, engaged, and didn’t struggle with some of those daily tasks we often find challenging. She ate real food (after being on a cracker/rice cake diet for days). She was having such a good day that we were able to get out and enjoy it together.

We had a really fun time at the park. Maddy would stand and watch the other kids use the playground equipment then she would turn to us mouth wide open, looking all impressed, and then she would smile and start clapping for them.

We followed playing at the park by eating lunch out. It was the second time in history that Maddy did well in a restaurant setting. It was interesting to us, because the last time she did well in the same setting had two similarities to today: it was preceded by a bike ride with Uncle Scotty (lots of sensory input, which she also received at the park), and the restaurant was basically empty (meaning it was quiet). We have noticed that sometimes in noisy settings Maddy really struggles. We don’t think she’s sensitive to volume of sound, but we and her therapists wonder if the chaos of different sounds coming from all around her makes it hard for her to focus and concentrate.

After a trip to the grocery store, where Maddy did exceptionally well, we went home for some messy play. Messy play is a great way for kids to explore textures, particularly textures they find difficult. Our original aim for doing this was to focus on the tactile defensiveness Maddy experiences with her feet (having things touch her feet can often lead to meltdowns – we have previously focused on her hands, mouth, legs, and waistband area). We decided that at the same time we might as well let her explore food in an environment that doesn’t make her feel pressure to try it (because it’s in a play environment, different from her eating environment). We had a lot of fun.

Our rules for messy play:

  1. The dog must not be in the same area of the house.
  2. Before exploring the textures, we must provide deep pressure touch for Maddy to help her handle the upcoming stress caused by the texture play.
  3. A wet cloth must be close by to allow Maddy a chance to “clean up” if she finds a texture too stressful. This helps her to learn that she can reduce the stress herself, and doesn’t need to rely on us to wipe it up.
  4. Maddy is in complete control of experiencing textures, but we can gently guide her play by showing her new ways to touch the items (for example, that an orange slice can be squished in your hands, or that baby corn can be rubbed on your arm or belly).
  5. And most importantly: The messier the area, the more successful the play.

Textures explored today:

  1. Uncooked rice
  2. Uncooked oatmeal
  3. White sugar
  4. Brown sugar
  5. Sunflower butter
  6. Clementine slices
  7. Cooked baby corn
  8. Cooked yellow and orange carrots
  9. Cooked soy beans
  10. Cooked snap peas
  11. Cooked garlic sprouts

Maddy started her play by throwing the rice and oatmeal all over the kitchen floor.

She then started mixing the rice with the SunButter. Maddy really struggles with the texture of SunButter, often having a meltdown if you place it in the vicinity of her eating area. I encouraged her to play with the SunButter with a spoon, knowing that she would find it very stressful to use her hands. She became very agitated when the SunButter fell off of her spoon and onto the floor. Rather than clean it up, I distracted her with the other textures in an attempt to allow her to experience that the world will not end if it is near her. Surprisingly, it worked!

With some encouragement, Maddy touched her lips to both the carrots and the baby corn (she did not eat either, but touching them to her lips is a huge step for her – she still refuses to eat any vegetable).

She put some SunButter in her mouth, but immediately became distressed and spit it out.

She squished a clementine slice, and rubbed it on her belly (the first time she’s even attempted to touch an orange-like slice).

She tentatively touched the brown sugar – the granule texture often difficult for her. She touched it to her lips… and then looked at me with a big smile and said, “Mmmmm.” For the next five minutes or so she licked her fingers clean, only pausing once to offer me a lick.

We are very much looking forward to our next messy play adventure: painting with tomato sauce, salsa, and other sauce-like substances.

All in all, it was a wonderful day. Most days, each of these tasks is challenging enough that we only attempt one in a day. We are awestruck that we accomplished all of them with relatively few bumps in a single day. I am so happy that even for a brief moment we were able to forget that Maddy has special needs. Instead, we were focused completely on having fun. It felt so good to be able to focus on fun again.


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  1. Pingback: Eating hierarchy « sewrite

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