Neurological Rest Periods For Stimulus Sensitive and Socially Anxious Kids
Thinking Behind This Technique
Children who are sensitive to lights, sounds or crowded conditions (stimulus sensitive) or children who for any reasons find large groups of peers difficult to deal with (socially anxious) will become more quickly exhausted in school environments than will other children who do not have these problems. When exhausted, these children will become less focussed in their work, more irritable, less cooperative and more resistant to participating in class room activities. If teachers misinterpret this fatigue for uncooperativeness and put pressure on the child to do as the others are doing, the effects of the fatigue can be compounded.
Neurological Rest Periods are structured times in the day that are intended to literally allow the child to disengage from his school routine and rest his/her nervous system. Once rested, the child will have a much better chance of functioning in the classroom and of avoiding bouts of irritability, excessive emotions or fearful withdrawals.
Neurological Rest Periods
If a child is deemed to need neurological rest periods, the best times would be the following:
Immediately on entering the school in the morning.
Right after morning recess.
Right after noon lunch and recess.
The breaks become part of the child’s program and breaks must be taken as scheduled every day. The program is not offered only “if the child is tired or upset”. This is a preventative program and so the child must take his breaks every day. In some circumstances where a child is very severely affected by stimulus sensitivity, breaks at the mid point of the afternoon or at the half way point between the start of classes and the morning recess can be added.
How Long ?
Typically, neurological rest periods last from 10 to 15 minutes. The clinician most involved with the child should be consulted to help determine exactly how long the breaks should last. Once started, if the child continues to be tired, irritable or dysfunctional because of fatigue, the breaks, the breaks should be lengthened by 5 minute increments to a maximum of 20 minutes. If more than 20 minutes are required, consideration should be given to reducing the overall length of the school day.
A quiet and unused works best for these rest period. Small activity rooms, quiet sections of the library or other similar quiet areas should be used. In a busy school, finding a quiet area can be a challenge but the school team should try and find that area that affords the most quiet and least crowded space possible.
Rest periods should be done with a teacher, a teacher assistant or a behavioural consultant. The person accompanying the child should keep her input low key and relaxing.
What Do You Do During the Break ?
We stress that the activities done during these breaks should be first and foremost relaxing. They should also be age appropriate and playful. Homework can be done only if the child insists. In addition to whatever drawing, turn taking game or reading activity a child may prefer during these breaks, he/she should also be shown how to do what we call “tummy breaths”. These are diaphragmatic breaths which is one of the better methods of inducing relaxation. The person accompanying the child should accompany the child in this breathing exercise while explaining its usefulness. If social stories are being used with a child, the stories can be reviewed during this period. Only a minute or two should be given to reviewing the stories.
How Long do you Keep These Rest Periods ?
Generally, neurological rest periods are kept for one semester at a time. So if they are started at the start of the year, they should be kept until Christmas. If they are started in the new year, they should be kept until the end of the year.
What If The Child Resists Being Away From The Class?
If the child resists being away from the class and asks to be treated like everyone else, the school team should tell the child that the breaks are important and that they will be looked at again at the end of the term. Socially anxious children will often not want to be different but these same children will loose far more social capital if they have emotional melt downs in class. What If The Child Does Not Want To Return To Class This happens only rarely. But if it does happen, the person accompanying the child should assume that the child is giving you the signal that they are really not ready. The person should then add 5 minutes to the time and check in after that time for a maximum of 25 minutes total.
Children that are stimulus sensitive or that are socially anxious are particularly disadvantaged by their difficulties in the school setting. Continued failures in the class or on the play ground can cause important problems at the level of self esteem, commitment to school achievement and ability to secure and peer relationships. It is important, therefore, for the school team to give these children every possible chance to succeed by approaching these challenges in a calm and rested state.