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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Kitchen gates, Refrigerator Locks, and Sensory Bins

As you've been reading in the past few posts, last winter I took many steps to ease the burden of caring for Dovi. We had res hab counselors, monthly weekend respite, ambulette transportation to school, volunteers on Shabbos... things were definitely calmer. But there is one major remaining issue that makes life around Dovi extremely difficult - unbearable even, at times. This past Shabbos was so bad in this respect, that my husband and I had a rare argument on Saturday night.

Dovi's high sensory needs and my inability to set and enforce limits in the wake of his soulful eyes and begging hands wreak havoc on the house. He has a constant need to throw things, pulverize things, smear things... a combination proprioceptive/tactile need. It's endless, constant, and superfire rapid. 

This past Shabbos, in the span of 1 1/2 hours he destroyed 2 bags of confectioners' sugar, a package of pancake mix, a bag of rice, several rumballs, and ground nuts. It takes him sixty seconds to rip into it, spread it all over the kitchen and dining room, and then head back for more. When he was done with the  powdered stuff, he took to the solids: multicolored straws, baking paper, rubber gloves, plastic spoons. By the time my husband came home from shul, it looked like an earthquake had hit in a grocery store.

Dovi isn't completely to blame - to a point, I actually allow him to play with kitchen powders. I know that Dovi has very high sensory needs and he just needs to squeeze and spread and pulverize things. I tried to steer him away from the powders towards his toys, but he was disinterested. He finally took half a stab at some playdough, but that lasted about as long as the package of sugar did.

During the weekdays this issue isn't as pronounced. Dovi loves bubbles; all we need to do is blow some bubbles and he is content. But on Shabbos we have a big problem as bubbles are muktzeh. (Actually if there is anyone learned here who can tell me whether it's really a prohibition to blow bubbles on Shabbos please let me know; if it's somehow allowed it would be  lifesaver). He also loves videos - Dudu's Kindergarten, Mitzvah Boulevard, Uncle Moishy, Boruch Makes a Simcha - anything musical and colorful. Which of course, is also off limits on Shabbos. So he resorts to throwing things around, making a huge mess. And he moves so fast, he can destroy a kitchen in half an hour.

Dovi's destructive phase has been going on for a long, long time. It started still in our old apartment. Nothing  could be left out for a second; if I served Chaim cereal and milk, within two minutes the cereal would be upended on the floor and Dovi would proceed to crush it with his feet and fling it about with his hands. The milk bottle didn't fare much better, he would spill it in no time and proceed to splash around in it. If I turned my back for a minute, the entire kitchen was covered in whatever was on the counters or table.

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The fridge and freezer were too easily accessible. The freezer was Dovi's favorite rooting place; he would stand up on a chair and proceed to fling anything from the freezer to the floor. He loves frozen food; anything from ice cream, ices, to frozen peas and even ice packs. Nothing was safe. We tried every single safety lock on the market, but they always came undone pretty soon, either because the adhesive disintegrated or because Dovi with his superhuman strength managed to break it somehow.

Then we moved to the new place. At first the house was pretty clean and peaceful, until Dovi figured out where the snacks were kept and how to climb onto the counter to open the freezer. Disaster descended upon my household again.

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My online friends had a million suggestions. Put a chain around the fridge and close it with a combination lock. Build a door at the kitchen. But I knew that all of these suggestions were useless; they were all either costly or difficult to implement, but on top of that the "border guard" was corrupt; I sadly often resorted to letting Dovi do whatever he wanted in the kitchen or freezer simply because I couldn't take his nagging anymore; and I couldn't say no to that charming face.

Eventually, though, after kitchen disaster number million, I stumbled on the only fridge/freezer lock that actually works in this house, that Dovi has not managed to thwart, whose adhesive has never come undone. And since then, if I remember to close the lock, the contents of the fridge and freezer remain thankfully untouched.

As for closing off the kitchen, I spent hours researching different safety gates. The trouble was, Dovi is very tall, and very smart. I needed a tall kitchen gate, customizable with extensions so it would close off the width of my rather wide kitchen doorway. Eventually I got a smaller, cheaper one for the kitchen and a few extensions for the one below so I could close off the opening between the kitchen and dining room as well.


Like everything in Dovi's world, the efficacy of this gate didn't survive forever. Dovi is very strong, and he often pushed the gate with all his might so that it fell over. Tightening and loosening the screws constantly became tiresome and time consuming. We have used the gate off an on; I must say that when it is being used, I'm much more at ease and I know that Dovi can't get into the kitchen unless he uses brute force to throw the gate over.

Unfortunately, at the moment the safety gate has taken up residence behind the couch. The gate has many parts, and when one part disappears, the entire thing is useless. One piece fell off a few weeks ago and I haven't found it yet; in the meantime, many other parts disappeared. Hopefully now that I'm Pesach cleaning, I'll find all the parts and put the gate back together again in time for the Pesach cooking season.

After the burn incident this winter (that some of you know about - I won't detail it here,) my incredible Medicaid Services Coordinator tried to get a grant from one of the agencies that deal with home remodeling for the disabled, but it's still stuck in red tape. If and when it goes through, there will be a 5' high wall between the dining room and kitchen, and a 4 1/2' dutch door between the kitchen and the rest of the house. That will hopefully provide us with peace of mind and make the kitchen totally inaccessible to Dovi.

In the meantime, we try different methods to minimize the mess. One of the most successful solutions - which had been suggested by one of my online friends - was buying a large Rubbermaid container with a lid and confining the sensory grinding to the box. It's pretty funny how Dovi knows that he's only allowed to play with his edible sand in the bin. He'll find a box of granulated sugar, or corn starch, or granola, or cornflakes crumbs (have you ever noticed how your pantry is a tactile sensory paradise? I bet you haven't) and take it nicely over to the sensory bin, sit inside, and have a blast in his edible sandbox. The trouble is though that he has a penchant for jumping out of the box with the powder and throwing it as far as he can, thus rendering the dining room a big old mess.

In a stroke of amazing Divine Providence, the cleaning lady of my next door neighbor recently asked her if she knows of anyone looking for help on Sundays. I couldn't believe my good fortune. Eva is amazing; she waves her magic wand every Sunday and turns the unimaginable mess into an orderly, clean house. I'm not so stressed out on Shabbos anymore, knowing that order will be restored on Sundays. Thus I allow Dovi free reign in his sensory bin, although my husband isn't necessarily thrilled.

Another great sensory toy is those accordion pleated hollow tubes that make a ripping sound when they are opened and closed. They are known as Pop Toobs. Dovi has learned to put one end in his mouth and make sounds into it - quite funny. I buy a couple of them from time to time, though they get chewed up or stepped on too soon .

And finally, here is a link to the Bubble Machine. It's not so expensive and performs pretty well. I had to buy a few over the past few months as eventually they do stop working, but it's well worth it. I place it in the middle of the floor and Dovi can't get enough of the bubbles. Watching him dance around the machine, catching bubbles with his face, of all things, is a joy.

I wish there were some magic wand to make Dovi's insatiable appetite for making messes go away. Other than that, Dovi is pretty manageable. Sure, he's super energetic and a whirlwind. But when he's playing nicely with toys, sitting nicely in his chair and watching a video, playing nicely with a caregiver, he is just a pleasure. But when a sensory mood hits - you'd better watch out. Anything spreadable is fair game. When he's done in the kitchen, he'll head for the bathroom and spread toothpaste everywhere. Or get into my body lotion collection and smear that all over the bedroom. Behavior modification sometimes works, but I'm not always in the frame of mind for that. Short of Dovi-proofing my entire house and never leaving anything out - none of which jives with my ADHD - I'll just have to continue living with Mr. Messy Hurricane. Which reminds me; tomorrow is President's Day. No school. And no holiday respite program for Dovi. Wish me luck!


  1. Why don't you ask your dayan about blowing bubbles on Shabbos?

  2. Rivkah Magnus EidexMay 14, 2019 at 4:27 PM

    who wrote this?


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