A significant challenge for our sons is coping with overstimulation. To some extent, we can avoid places that cause overstimulation but that's not always an option. Church, for example, is especially difficult -- there are large groups of people, loud organ music and singing, bright fluorescent lights, a myriad of perfumes and colognes, microphones, and in the midst of all that, an expectation that children (and adults) will be calm and reverent. It's a recipe for disaster for kids who are prone to overstimulation and hyperactivity, but we feel it's important for our family to go so we've been working to find helpful coping strategies for a long time.
We've tried a lot of different things over the years, and not all of them have been successful. Getting them out of the overstimulating environment usually works well, so we've taken them on many walks outside around the building, but we were hoping to find a coping strategy that would allow all of us to still participate in church.
One thing that seems to be working pretty well lately for our older boys (now that they have the attention span for it - that's another challenge for another post) is drawing in a sketchpad. They've never been particularly fond of coloring books (they like to look at them but won't spend much time coloring in them), but the blank pages of a sketchpad allow their creativity free reign to draw or write whatever they choose. Sometimes they draw pictures or race tracks, sometimes they write short stories, sometimes they fill entire pages with random numbers or scoreboards (rankings with names and scores) for an imagined competitive event.
Whatever they choose to create, it helps them tune out the overstimulating sights and sounds around them and by doing so, helps them keep from escalating to the point of having to run from the room screaming (I'm not exaggerating). We've noticed a significant improvement in their ability to be reverent and stay with us and/or their class. They don't typically stay seated, because they prefer to use their chairs as a table, but that's a small price to pay IMO. Thankfully, their teachers at church are on board with this too.
You might be wondering, what about actually paying attention and learning in church? We've actually found that the sketchpad helps with that too. They appear to be completely ignoring what's going on around them, but actually being able to tune out all of the excess input helps them focus on what's being taught and they are indeed paying attention. Their teachers have commented to us about how surprised they were to find that they could ask them any question about the lesson and they know the answer. They couldn't tell they were even listening, but it's clear that they are.
The sketchpads can be helpful in other situations too, not just in church. I'm just sharing it in that context because that's where it has been particularly helpful for us.
Stay tuned - I have recently spent some time looking through their sketchpads and found some very interesting and intriguing things in there, so when I get some time I'll be posting some of their sketches here. :)
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