Monday, July 25, 2011

Why is There 30 lbs of Rice in the Bathtub?

Sarah Oriel

This is a good question. Also one you might be asking me if you had been to my house recently.

You see, my son Josh (we call him Toadie) is autistic and loves all things sensory - movement, pressure, water, visual stim (like laser shows), and anything tactile. Bumpy, sticky, grainy, gooey, stretchy, rough, the list goes on, you get the idea. He adores his swing, but as we live in an area where it rains, a lot- it's not always an option. 

One of the things he loves most is sand. Under and on his feet and hands. The times we've been to the beach on vacation, all he wants to do is walk on the sand. So we did. Endlessly. And if I were Queen of the World and had limitless resources I'd build my Toad an entire sensory house complete with a beach so he could walk in the sand all he wants. But, sadly I'm not Queen of the World (but don't tell my kids!) so my dreams of a magic, indoor beach will have to remain in my imagination for the foreseeable future. 

I did have an idea though. 

Sensory tables can be expensive, and frankly, more hassle than they're worth since much of what you put in/on them ends up all over the place because the kids will bring it out with their hands. And Toad's feet are a huge focal point for him - he can't use his feet on a table. 

He can, however, put his feet in the bathtub. In fact, he can put his entire body in there. Because he would be in the tub, with whatever we put in it, there would be very little mess. The bathtub, it seems so simple now that I think about it. I may be late in figuring this out but to me it seemed like a brilliant plan - if you have a child like mine

First I thought for a while about what, exactly, we should put in there and ultimately decided on rice. Sand is not a great option for a lot of reasons even though you can buy it fairly easily. I thought about dried beans (pintos, reds), and I may end up getting some of those down the road to change up the sensation on occasion, but rice seemed like the best start. 
I bought 40 pounds of rice and a container to keep it in. Most grocery stores have giant bags of it, and the big warehouse stores have it in bulk as well. The amount was totally arbitrary, I had no idea how much would be "enough"; we are talking about a bathtub here. Plus, I figured if there was too much the rest could be used as replacement when we need to freshen it up.

The container I got is awesome! It's a pet food keeper (by Boots and Barkley). It has a lid that snaps closed tight, and the best part - wheels! You can't even see them because the bottom of the container is actually arched so that they are tucked in and it sits even with the floor. The wheels are important because 40 pounds is not so fun to lug around, even if you can keep it in the bathroom.

Kitchen utensils make great accessories for this. We used funnels, a big spoon, a spatula, and a measuring cup. 

I scooped what ended up being a bit more than half of the rice in to one end of the tub. It doesn't look like much at first, but once he gets in there, you can see there was plenty to bury himself with... 

(I bought Jasmine rice, by the way. It was what they had in bulk and I happen to like the way it smells, but if you don't want your bathroom and your child smelling like Thai food, then you might want to go with a different type!)

He was funny - when I first sat him on the edge of the tub so he could put his feet in, he almost froze, and was glancing around suspiciously like, "I know the fun police are here somewhere... " but once he understood that I was actually encouraging him to get in, he went for it.

He loved it! At one point he was sitting exactly the same way he does at the beach, with his legs stretched out in front of him.  He was running his hands back and forth over the rice like he does on the sand. He was also using the spoon to fill the cup - my child who normally shuns utensils or writing implements for practical purposes, got some fine motor work in without even realizing it.

When he was done, or rather, when I decided an hour in the Rice Tub was probably good for our first time out, I just brushed the stray grains from him and scooped it all back in to the container. Tossed the utensils on top, closed it up, ready to go the next time. (I also gave him a regular bath afterward so he wouldn't go to school the next day smelling like A Taste of Thai ™.)

So now we have a way to get some great sensory time, and all I had to get was the rice and the container. No mess since it all stays in the tub with him, he can actually get completely in there with it, and, we can do this any time - the tub's not going anywhere and it's inside so the weather doesn't matter. Toad is more interested in the sensory input he gets from it, so he doesn't throw it around. Clearly you have to use your judgement based on your child, but keep in mind, rice is pretty easy to clean up if you need to.  

Now that I've seen how much he loves the rice, I am definitely going to get beans for a change of pace down the line. They are also easy to find in bulk. 

And you know what else we're going to try in the tub?

Shaving cream. Or rather,  foam, since these days shaving cream is not actually what we're looking for for sensory time. Gillette and Barbasol still make the foam type, and Gillette has a sensitive skin version if you need it. Toad loves it when they let him play with shaving cream at the sensory table at his school, so I figure this will work well in the tub, and, make a fun lead-in to his regular bath time. 

I can't believe I didn't think of this sooner but I'm so glad I figured it out - it's such a great way to give him the sensory stimulation he craves, while keeping him busy and calm at the same time. With August coming up fast and with it, no school, it will be nice to have this option when we need it.