#279 - New Sensory Strategies for a Mom Who's Tried it All [A Mentoring Session]

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC October 25, 2023 1 Comment

#279 - New Sensory Strategies for a Mom Who's Tried it All [A Mentoring Session]

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New Sensory Strategies for a Mom Who's Tried it All [A Mentoring Session]

Today’s episode is a LIVE call with a 2-1 mentoring client! The family provided us with details ahead of time, scheduled the session, and we jumped right into a brainstorming session!

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New Sensory Strategies For A Mom Who Has Tried It All, A Mentoring Session

Nicole is an incredibly dedicated mother, tirelessly caring for her son, who has been diagnosed with multiple medical conditions and continues to face challenges with anxiety and sensory processing. After years of trying various techniques and interventions, Nicole has reached out for a mentoring session to learn about new sensory strategies that can help support her son both at home and after school. In this blog post, we will discuss the child's background, tips for managing medical-related anxiety, and new sensory strategies that can support Nicole's son on his journey.

Background Information

Ever since Nicole's son was born, he has faced numerous medical challenges that have potentially caused medical trauma. This has led him to associate going anywhere with the possibility of experiencing stomach discomfort, a result of his gastrointestinal (GI) rumination.

Although Nicole's son no longer experiences reflux, the reflex of regurgitating and re-swallowing food has become deeply ingrained after a lifetime of dealing with it. Nicole also believes that her son's anxiety has manifested as a tic.

The complexity intensifies when the tic becomes painful, leading to a recurring daily cycle and exacerbating the severity of the skin-picking behavior. Consequently, this heightens his anxiety levels, as skin picking serves as a coping mechanism for Nicole's son.

Nicole's Son's Talents

Nicole's son has developed a strong passion for the social aspect of gaming. He finds immense joy in interacting with his friends and immersing himself in games like Roblox, where he can unleash his creativity and engage in building and creating.

Additionally, he enjoys indulging in activities such as creating intricate sand art and experimenting with magnetic sand. Regarding sports, he genuinely delights in playing tennis, while pickleball comes in as a close second.

Although he participates in social activities, his motivation is not rooted in a competitive nature or a desire to outdo others. Rather, the focus is on self-improvement, consistently surpassing one's own prior achievements.

Supporting Medical Anxiety

As a mom, Nicole understands the importance of managing her child's anxiety and how it can impact his overall well-being. She is aware that medical anxiety is common among children with complex medical needs, especially those who have been exposed to frequent hospital stays and procedures.

To provide effective support for her son's medical anxiety, Nicole has implemented various strategies at home. Some of these include:

  • Teaching her son valuable coping skills, like deep breathing, and equipping him with tools to express his emotions.
  • Establishing a secure and peaceful home environment that caters to sensory needs, incorporating elements like swings, weighted blankets, and other recommended equipment suggested by their occupational therapist.
  • Medical desensitization to address and manage all of his significant medical conditions and procedures effectively.
  • Adheres to a strict daily medication routine.
  • Addressing anxieties through open communication instead of avoiding them.

Current Challenges That Need Support

Nicole's son excels academically, effortlessly navigating through school without any challenges. However, when the final bell rings, his skin picking intensifies, accompanied by a profound sense of fatigue.

Throughout the day, he becomes aware of a growing inclination to pick at his skin, dwell on his thoughts, dwell on past events, and become easily annoyed. Nicole is seeking a post-school plan that can be gradually cultivated for the long term and should address:

  • Trunk work and stability.
  • Proprioceptive input, such as squishing, squeezing, pulling, and pushing.
  • Low muscle tone, which may be influenced by the muscle relaxer taken for his stomach lining.
  • Retained primitive reflexes due to extensive hospital stays.
  • Meltdowns related to sensory issues often occur after school and during transitions between activities.

Sensory Diet Recommendations

To start off, it is advisable to focus on one activity at a time. After school, you might want to:

  • Engage in a ten-minute listening program, utilizing either over-the-ear headphones or bone-conduction headphones.
  • Encourage practicing the brushing protocol, empowering him to eventually perform it independently.
  • Incorporate vibration therapy as a means to address rumination and potentially redirect the impulse to pick at the skin.
  • Use a vibrating HoMedics ball to provide a gentle massage to his skin.

When picking him up, maintain a quiet and calm atmosphere in the car, refraining from conversation. If the drive is around 15 minutes, we can use that time to listen to something on the way home from school.

Upon his arrival home, it would be beneficial to allocate a dedicated timeframe for him to unwind and relax. Following this designated period, he can engage with his siblings in the collaborative creation of an obstacle course.

In the evening, after dinner but before bed, you can consider:

  • Have him do 5 minutes of jumping into a crash pad.
  • Roll around on the floor with a large exercise ball and incorporate various movements like rolling over the ball, planking his arms as he rolls back and forth, or trying to fit himself into the small space between two exercise balls.
  • Wind down with 10 minutes of listening to music or a story while wearing noise-canceling headphones.
  • Massage his back for a few minutes with a handheld massager.

Final Thoughts

Finding effective strategies to support a child with complex medical needs can be challenging, but with the right approach, it is manageable. As a mom who has done it all, Nicole's dedication to providing her son with the best possible support is commendable.

Through implementing sensory strategies and consistently working towards addressing his medical anxiety, she can help her son thrive in all aspects of his life. Remember that each child is unique, and it may take time to find the right combination of strategies that work for your child.

With patience, persistence, and the support of medical professionals, you can make a positive impact on your child's well-being and overall growth. So keep exploring and trying new things until you find what works best for your child. Remember to take care of yourself in the process, too, as supporting a child with complex needs can be emotionally taxing






While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/l, AC, CPRCS, and Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS are Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialists. They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. They specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica and Rachel are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica and Rachel, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.

1 Response

Nicole Melin
Nicole Melin

February 08, 2024

Wow. I love the thought and care that is put into all of your suggestions. Thank you for walking us through your brain storming session!

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