Fun and Games

After several million, okay, that’s a bit dramatic, but after quite a lot of toing and froing, trying to find an occupational therapist (OT) for Rollo, we finally landed on a lady who had space for us on a Tuesday morning.

Rollo hit it off with Stefanie, from Simply Senseable, immediately.

But let’s not get carried away.

I see you imagine that Rollo strolled into her room—with all the fabulous stuff racked, stacked and hanging all over the place—whooped with joy and immediately started playing.

Erm… no. It didn’t quite work out like that.

Em and I gazed around the room, shared an eye nudge and knew that we were both dying to have a go on the divine-looking hammock or leap from the bouncy ball onto the trampoline and grab hold of one of the swings that dangled invitingly from the ceiling. Tarzan style, you know.

Probably all the colours and cool stuff overwhelmed Rollo a bit, and he headed for the only thing he recognized – a ladder stashed in the space next to the cupboard.

We have one exactly like it at home.

But he rallied, and Stefanie was ultra-patient and kind. He had a swing in the multilayer spandex hammock that he seemed to rather enjoy. This is great for proprioceptive feedback combined with movement.

multilayer spandex hammock

The technique that Stefanie uses is called Ayres sensory integration (ASI), which is child-directed and play-based sensory-motor activities. The children enjoy it because they are intrinsically motivated to actively participate in activities that are graded to suit the set of skills and interests of each child and then facilitate success and a feeling of mastery over their environment. (Thanks for the marvelous explanation, Stefanie – I’d be bumbling on about what exactly OT is supposed to do for pages and pages, and you’d all be none the wiser.)

Rollo also went on the bolster swing and enjoyed feeling the vibrating pillow. I might add that his activities were often punctuated with howls of anguish, the odd giggle or fearful yelps. The poor kid is used to hurting himself when he falls. Not an uncommon occurrence because he likes to challenge heights and fondly imagines he’s related to superman.

Each time he felt himself falling, he’d start howling loudly. But he’d fall onto a nice soft surface, and his crying would abate almost immediately as he realized, hey, wait a minute, that wasn’t so bad.

Quite nice, in fact.

To get to OT on time and to limit Rollo’s hooching in the car, Em had not given him his regular morning bottle after our walk. She figured he could have it when he got home. Eventually, halfway through the session, when his crying was inconsolable, Stefanie suggested that he might be hungry. She brought out some snacks, which he snarfed down with alacrity. Rollo is a fan of anything salty and doesn’t actually have to be hungry to cram pretzels into his mouth. His howling quietened to sniffs and snorts as he swigged on his water and chomped pretzels. Until one got stuck in the roof of his mouth.

Bolster swing, weighted blanket and vibrating pillow

Stefanie brought out the weighted blanket – something I’d read about but had never seen. It’s a little quilt with sections that are filled with stuff that’s heavy. I’m still trying to find the right ingredients (for want of a better word) to make one for Rollo. Polly pellets are the chosen filling and seem plentiful overseas, but when I ask for them here, I’m met with blank stares.

You can’t use beans, lentils or anything like that because you need to be able to fling the blankie into the washing machine. When I mentioned glass beads (an alternative offered in the blog I’d read) to Emma, she gasped with horror. They might explode, and then glass shards could stick into her precious child. So, I ended up buying plastic beads, but apparently, they make the children too hot and sweaty. So I’ll keep looking.

Rollo quite liked the blanket. But honestly, I’m not sure if it was the weight or the fact that it felt nice and soft with wiggly things underneath. He loves different textures and spends a lot of time rubbing his little hands on various surfaces or items.

The best was that although he was overwhelmed and not overly cheerful for some of the time, he sat happily with Stefanie and didn’t push her away like he had done with the speech therapist.

Stefanie gave us the name of another speech therapist, Brenda,  who also did audio tests and urged us to call her.  

“You’ll love Brenda,” she said.

I confess, though, when the next session rolled around, and she asked if we’d contacted Brenda, I had to admit I hadn’t. Her reproachful look made me grab my phone and hastily send off a message.

You’re probably wondering why I get to make the appointments when Rollo is not my kid.

Em has ADHD, and asking her to pick up the phone and make an appointment is like asking Folly to stop chewing the couch. Nigh impossible. It’s just easier and quicker if I do it.

Then we fill out all the forms together.

And there are forms, lots and lots of forms.

When my old school friend (her daughter is also on the spectrum) mentioned forms in passing in a conversation before we’d embarked on any therapy, I tucked that snippet of info away, thinking it was an odd thing to say.

Now I understand.

Every specialist you go to has their own set of unique forms that basically ask the same questions. One kind of feels that there should be a central data bank full of Rollo information that they could access as they needed

But back to the second session of OT…

Rollo walked into the room quite happily, sussed out the place, and his face crumbled. He started to cry in earnest.

Em and I immediately noticed that it looked completely different than before. Clearly, Rollo noticed too. The bolster swing that he’d so enjoyed was gone.


But Stefanie cleared some space on the floor and put up the ladder—the one familiar thing. Strangely enough, Rollo climbed a couple of rungs (assisted), then clearly, to our intense joy, said NO when asked if he wanted to go higher.

After that, he carried on with his session in his unique fashion.

He thoroughly enjoyed lounging in the pillow pit with Stefanie doing soothing deep pressure stuff on his fingers, hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders and head, toes, feet, legs and hips.

One, two, three, four, five – on each bit.

She showed us how to do it, and Em has a go after his bath every night.

I do it at random times, and Rollo usually gives me a disdainful look as if to say, that’s not how Aunty Stefanie does it, GG, and walks off.

Pillow pit

He likes the slides and the ball pit, but usually only if accompanied by Stefanie. The various swings are generally a hit, as are the trampoline and big bouncy balls.

Many kids with ASD are bendier than your typical children and aren’t always sure where they are in space. That sounds crazy to us, who automatically put our feet down, knowing that they will hit the ground in a certain way. Rollo hasn’t quite got the hang of things yet. He can go upstairs, but coming back down again is a bit of a challenge. Even if he’s holding on to the security gate, he sometimes swings around and lands up in a crumpled howling heap by the pot plant. Decorated with a new ding or dent. The poor kiddo has several bruises at any given time.

He doesn’t go down on his backside, either, like my girls used to.

We are slowly trying to accumulate stuff for Rollo to help get his vestibular system going, swings, trampoline, bouncy balls, and the latest is the wheelie board at the top of the blog that Stefanie showed us how to make.

Although we’ve noticed since his meds got upped from .2 ml to .3 ml, he’s more fearful and aware of what is happening to him. Doesn’t sound like much of an increase, but as his Oupa pointed out, he’d spent a few months getting up to .2 ml – and another .1 ml was 50% more. I hadn’t thought of it like that.

Big squishy inner tube swing

So, we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that he has great OT sessions some weeks, and he howls a lot in others. Although he’s generally more comfortable and even does a few things by himself sometimes.

He’s also rather “chatty” with Aunty Stefanie, which is great.

We haven’t figured out exactly why, although I suspect that sometimes he had fun on one piece of equipment (swings especially) and the next week, it’s simply not there.

Or he could be overwhelmed.

But, on the other hand, I also think that Aunty Stefanie is exceptionally gentle and kind, and he might be having her on sometimes. He gets back into the car, and there’s not a single tear to be seen.

Slide with ball pit at the top

He is, after all, also a crafty toddler.

But actually – we haven’t a clue. It could be anything.

The main thing is Rollo adores Stefanie. He never pushes her away and is always very happy to see her. He actively leans in and gives her hugs, too.

When our previous speech therapist said that neurodiverse kids like to choose their people, I truly thought she was talking a lot of bolly.

Turns out she was right.

Also turns out that Stefanie was right, too—we do love Brenda. But that’s another blog.

Em and Rollo in the hammock

Thanks very much to Stefanie for all the pics – she sends us visual summaries after each session. If anybody in Pretoria East is looking for an OT – we cannot recommend this lady highly enough.

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