Questions:

I’m hoping you can shed some light on one of my ninth-grade, life skills students who has developed reoccurring sensory issues. Although he’s had a history of sensory issues, he learned to modulate himself over the past year and a half. His disruptive behaviors have all but faded away. Fast forward to this year when he has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. It seems as if he has activated his sensory needs again! Have you ever heard of that? Do you think it may strictly be a medical issue? Either way, I have told the staff they should try some sensory activities.

His sensory issues are most problematic when his blood sugar levels are off. For example, all day, he has had numerous outbursts and opens and shuts the door several times when anyone comes in. He likes deep touch and craves it, to the point of it being disruptive. He punches his hand and other objects into walls at home.

The other issue is that he is much larger now. It is difficult to find sensory equipment to fit him, for example, taco rolls. I suggested getting some gym mats. Previously, they used a squeeze device with the thera-tubing, but he is too large now. Do you have any other suggestions for deep touch, deep touch for the scalp, and proprioceptive activity for the adult-type figure?

I know how busy you are and appreciate your time in addressing this unusual situation.

Answer:

I haven’t heard of a specific connection between diabetes and sensory issues, but I’m not surprised there is one! I think this is due to the role of the interoceptive sensory system. It senses things aren’t right, and there is probably some ill feelings with fluctuating blood sugar level, which can max out a person’s threshold for other kinds of input. Also, I do frequently hear of kids whose sensory issues make a dramatic reappearance during puberty so that may be playing a role in his reoccurring sensory issues, too! But as you’ve determined, no matter the explanation, sensory strategies are needed.

Ideas

  • Body Sox: available from Autism-Products.com
  • Body weight exercises: planks, push-ups, burpees, crab-walking, army-crawling. These can all be modified based on coordination and motor planning ability. Since he is a large kid, I’m assuming he isn’t a fan of exercise; therefore, these may need to be worked in to his schedule right before highly preferred activities to motivate him to get them done. Or they could be transitional activities. For example: Between math and spelling, he needs to do a 15-second plank. Between spelling and computer time, he needs to do 3 burpees, and so on.
  • Halo weights: Some kids really like these for deep pressure to the head. A weighted baseball cap works well.
  • Floor time: Encourage him to do academic work on the floor. Floor time naturally provides a lot of deep pressure input, plus getting up and down from the floor is heavy-work as well. He could use a clipboard to complete work lying prone on his elbows or sitting against a wall.
  • Cocoon swings: These are great if he has access to a one. This is a pretty sedentary form of input so I would encourage you to require some body weight exercises before getting on the swing.
  • Rolling and crawling activities: These can be incorporated into any academic tasks that use manipulatives (unless he is in general education).
  • Chores: Maybe he could push a heavy cart to collect recycling or help set up the lunch tables and chairs.

I hope that helps lessen his reoccurring sensory issues! It can indeed be a challenge to meet the needs of teenagers for a variety of reasons! Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Best Wishes,
Gwen