Social Stories, Sequencing & The Supermarket

For the most part Neiva is such a laid back and quiet natured girl. However, when anxiety strikes, its strikes sudden and loud. Anxiety for Neiva is most common when we are at a supermarket. Most people assume it’s a sensory overload of noise but noise isn’t something that worries Neiva. Its busy crowds.

As she looks older than her tender age of five, random loud outbursts can be really embarrassing. To a random passerby, in that moment, she can look like a child with a bratty attitude. She certainly isnt that. Her true personality is anything but.

I don’t need parenting approval from strangers but I certainly don’t want someone going away talking about the “spoilt child in the supermarket today…” when it is something that she has no control over. I also needed to know the difference between a outburst due to stress and anxiety and a deliberate willful disobedient one.

We needed to make some adjustments and like everything else in life, its all about the preparation.

  • First we changed supermarkets from a big store to a smaller one. Neiva is very rarely overwhelmed in our smaller supermarket. It’s familiar, quiet and she knows where everything is.
  • I always try to have a list with me to make sure our shop is done quickly and efficiently.
  • We always try to do the same routine from going through the same door to the same path of aisles (as it’s a small store, it doesn’t take us long)
  • Neiva is in charge of the pull along basket and I get her to look for the things we need which distracts her for a little while and if I’m really organised that day (and because of her reading ability), there may be a written list.
  • We will always finish at the same bank of self service checkouts by the magazines so she can go look at them whilst I quickly run my shopping through at the side of her.

Social Stories & Sequencing

 Social Stories are great for preparing a child for any regular real life situation.

Using these stories and sequences she is able to know what’s coming next, eliminating any frustration and calming any anxiety. I made one especially for our supermarket trip and will add more destinations as and when I feel there’s a need.

You will see from the story that I haven’t written anything in the last box. This is for when we have time to go to the cafe afterwards. Neiva would be able to read anything I put in the last box and would then be expecting to go to the cafe every single time. By keeping it clear gives me the flexibility on days where I am pressed for time.

It is only a quickly made basic visual and because it’s made of card and paper it’s a bit scruffy and sorry looking. I will  update this shopping social story for a new one when my weeks of hinting to Paul for a laminator has finally paid off!

For more information on social stories click here. For help creating social stories specifically catered to children with hyperlexia click here

Happiness & Bergamot (and a beach play sand recipe)

Whenever the scent of Bergamot permeates the air I always think of warm sunshine on a spring day. It has a citrus note yes, but it’s got a lot more depth to it than just an sweet lemony almost floral scent. It has warmth and spice.

I imagine if you could smell happiness, that would be Bergamot.

Bergamot oil comes from the citrus fruit of a bergamot tree found mainly in Italy. It produces fruits that ripen from green to yellow but the fruit is inedible because it is intensely sour. The oil is extracted from the peel of the nearly ripe fruit.

Bergamot has amazing healing properties especially for children with anxiety issues and other sensory disorders. Its natures antidepressant so its fantastic for times of intense sadness, anger and frustration. It’s a mood uplifter, helps with tiredness and generally improves physical and mental strength.

As Neiva is flexischooled, I collect her just after lunch and we have some quiet time at home for an hour. After that, we generally start working on fun activities that will help her social skills. To get her motivated for an afternoon of one to one, I wanted to find an activity that would incorporate the healing and calming power of essential oils. We had so much success with the lavender play dough I wanted to keep the ball rolling with sensory play, so we made a bergamot beach.

I scoured Pinterest for some homemade sand play ideas and found a recipe here. The recipe couldn’t be simpler.

To Make:

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 2 cups wholewheat flour (we used brown rice flour)
  • 1/2 cup of baby oil
  • A few drops of bergamot oil

If you only have plain flour that’s fine but the wholewheat gives the mix a ‘sand-like’ texture and colour.

Mix together with a fork until the mixture takes on the consistency of slightly wet sand. It should still be crumbly (not sticky) but hold together when squeezed in your hand.

My mum brings Neiva shells back every year from her holidays so we have quite a collection now (Neiva loves shells) and we added these to the sand. 

Neiva absolutely loved this activity and a sand based theme has lots of playing potential. The shells make a great counting activity too.

For variation in play, instead of shells you could maybe add toy trucks and diggers and have a construction site theme. 

I hope you enjoy this as much as we did.

Hyperlexia & Reading Comprehension

Neiva’s ability to read literally came out of nowhere. I think we really started to notice when she was almost 3. We were reading a lovely book called “Ten in the Bed” when she just spontaneously started to read, word for word!

At first we put it down to her knowing the familiar song. However, in this book, the words were slightly different to the song she knew and sang so well. We continued to try different books and the outcome was always the same. She read the words with total ease!
As time went on and the more she read, the more we realised that she in fact had an extraordinary visual and auditory memory and was using this to “read”. Despite this fluent decoding of the written word, we weren’t actually sure whether she was actually understanding what she was reading. Now we were facing another issue – comprehension.

Children with hyperlexia do find it hard to understand:

  • Pronouns (they will most likely use reverse pronouns. They may also refer to themselves in the third person).
  • Inferences (not being able to read between the lines and draw conclusions)
  • Echolalia (parroting long sentences and phrases without necessarily understand its meaning)
  • Emotion in the story (being able to interprete what the person might be feeling)

Now Neiva is older, she is successfully working her way through this list. It is still an ongoing process. She still struggles with inferences, and she will use echolalia when she is anxious but she will get there in her own time and is heading in the right direction. We are so proud of how far she has come in such a short space of time.

Strategies that can help reading comprehension…

A story preview… So before we begin reading a new book, instead of jumping right into the words, we would begin by looking at the cover, the title and the pictures inside. This is great for getting her to vocalise her own ideas as to where the story is going. By going over the story briefly also gives structure and sequence, something that Neiva particularly really thrives on.

Making Connections… An important part of reading comprehension is for a child to make the connection between the text and their own experiences. So, using the story of red riding hood as an example, when talking about the forest, Neiva can relate to the sights sounds and smells of her own experiences playing in the wood. That particular experience will help connect her to the story and in turn help her to comprehend the words she is reading.

Recap… As mentioned in a previous post children with hyperlexia struggle to answer “wh” questions (where, when, why, what and who) so to ascertain how much Neiva has understood when reading something new has to be done in a different way. Instead of asking for example “why did red riding hood walk through the forest?” I would have to say “red riding hood went through the forest because…” and she would then finish that sentence.

Neiva is learning to respond to “wh” questions. Usually, we will practice these when reading a story she knows well, as she already has the answers she just needs to know how to respond to the question.

Charlie & Lola: Ep. “I slightly want to go home”

“I went to the moon” game…  This game is played by Lola and Lotta in an episode of Charlie & Lola. The first person (usually Neiva) starts by saying “I went to the moon and I brought an apple” The next person would then say “I went to the moon and I brought an apple and a mermaid” and it continues until one person can’t remember the list (usually me). I love this game because not only does it encourages a continued conversation, it also teaches her the proper use of pronouns. “I (instead of mummy/neiva) went to the moon” Finally, it encourages turn taking which is great for Neiva who gravitates to solitary play.

You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book

– Dr Seuss



Sleep & Lavender (and a lavender play dough recipe)

Lavender is one of the best known and widely used essential oils. It’s not hard to see why. From a calm, soothing sleep inducing lullaby to a powerhouse punch of an anti inflammatory, it is a potent, versatile, hardworking little oil. Why is Lavender, this wonderful nostalgic heady scent that transports you back to a childhood spent in your granny’s garden, so popular?

As mentioned in a previous post, aromatherapy is one of the therapies we are pursuing with Neiva. Lavender has been particularly helpful when it comes to sleep issues.

One of our main concerns has been finding a way to help Neiva to have a full, quality, good nights sleep. Sleep issues are not uncommon in children, particularly under the age of 7 and especially in children on the spectrum.

Why is Lavender known best for its sleep inducing properties? Lavender oil is made up of compounds that are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. Scientific studies have shown that these have a sedative and pain relieving effect. Studies have also shown that Lavender also lowers the heart rate and reduces anxiety.

Lavender is also non-irritant and non-toxic which makes it perfectly safe to use with children. Here are some easy ways you can introduce lavender into a bedtime routine:

  • A few drops of oil into a warm bath
  • Diffusing into an oil burner and letting the scent infuse the air (the scent will also be a reminder that it’s winding down time, great for a child like Neiva who thrives on routine)
  • One or two drops directly on to a pillow (take care with this as too much will have the reverse effect).

Another fun idea (and great way to get children away from electronics near to bedtime) is to make Lavender Play Dough. The recipe we used was from The Imagination Tree which is a great resource generally for play ideas and a website Ive used regularly since Neiva was a toddler. I also love the no cook method for making this play dough. It makes the whole process easier. The only change I made was to not use purple food colouring as certain E numbers do affect Neiva, but feel free to add it to your version if you would like more pop of colour.

You will need:

  • 2 cups of plain flour
  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • 2 tbsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1-1.5 cups of boiling water
  • A few drops of glycerine (for smoothness and shine)
  • Dried lavender/fresh lavender heads (or a mix of both for texture)


  • Add the flour, salt and cream of tartar into a mixing bowl and stir well
  • Stir in the oil and glycerine
  • Add the boiling water stirring vigorously until a dough forms
  • Knead until it stops being sticky
  • Add 2 drops of lavender essential oil (optional) or purple colouring at this kneading stage
  • Leave to cool completely
  • Finally, add dried/fresh lavender

We have quite a few varieties of Lavender growing in our garden. It’s a real hardy beautiful little plant and makes a wonderful addition to any garden. It’s a great sensory aid too, Neiva loves rubbing the flowers in her fingers and smelling the beautiful scent. I hope, when she is older, that smell will transport her right back to her childhood, full of memories of where she spent many wonderful hours in the garden with Enid – her happy place.

Children & Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is the practice of using the natural oils extracted from flowers, bark, stems, leaves, roots or other parts of a plant and using aroma to enhance psychological and physical well-being.

Yorkshire Lavender, May 2016

Aromatherapy is extremely beneficial to children of all ages and personality types. I qualified as an aromatherapist in 2009 and am using that knowledge and training to help Neiva in her journey.

Please bear in mind that although they are natural extracts, essential oils are extremely potent and should always be kept sealed tight and away from little hands at all times.

Another point to consider is that children, compared to us, have a heightened sense of smell (and children with sensory processing issues even more so) and can have sensitive skin. In this situation less is more. So the rule of thumb is to halve the stated standard dose.

If you are new to aromatherapy and want to have a taster of what the benefits of using essential oils are for you and your family, just remember “TLC”:

  • Tea Tree
  • Lavender
  • Chamomile (Roman)

These three essential oils are safe to use and the benefits are extremely effective on children. There are other oils that work and treat many things but I would recommend these are the three to start with.

Nature is the one place where miracles not only happen, they happen all the time – Thomas Wolfe

Yorkshire Lavender, May 2016

How to Apply Essential Oils to Children
There are a number of different ways all with important roles you can incorporate into daily life.

  • baths; Neiva absolutely loves water. Whenever she is ill or out of sorts, the first thing we do to assess how poorly she may be is by putting her in the tub. All you need to do is add a few drops of essential oil straight into the bath water.
  • massage; this is a truly lovely way to connect with your child. I attended a baby massage course with Neiva when she was 3 months old and it was such a lovely experience for both of us. Dilute drops of essential oil into a carrier oil.
  • diffusion; probably the method I use daily. Using a tea light oil burner, add a few drops of chosen essential oil to a little water and let the scent infuse the room.If you would rather not play around with tea lights an ultrasonic diffuser has the same effect but is safe enough to leave in a child’s room
  • inhalations; particularly good for coughs and cold’s however in children (young children in particular), the safest method is to add the essential oil to a wet muslin cloth and place over a warm radiator in your child’s room.

Yorkshire Lavender, May 2016

Before you begin to use essential oils its important to remember;

  • Always buy essential oils from a reputable source. If the oil is not pure, it will not have the effect you need. I buy my oils from Neals Yard
  • Aromatherapy oils should never be taken orally;
  • If the oils come into direct contact with the eyes, wash thoroughly with cold water or milk and seek medical advice if needed;
  • If you are concerned about skin sensitivity, try a patch test first. Apply the diluted oil (which means the oils have been added to a carrier oil) to a small patch of skin on the inner wrist. Wait an hour and if there is no redness or irritation, the continue to apply the oil as normal.

Following this, there will be a series of posts highlighting essential oils and oil blends that have been most beneficial to Neiva from calming temper tantrums to improving concentration. You can read the next post on lavender here.

Finally, aromatherapy will open you up to a whole new experience of the healing power of nature. Unlike man made methods, everything that has been grown on this earth is here to benefit our bodies in one way or another.

The photos in this post were taken during a trip to Yorkshire Lavender last year. We look forward to visiting this beautiful place again soon.