By: Laura Petix, MS OTR/LEPISODE 106


The Nervous System Budget is an analogy I came up with to give folks a new way to understand how to think about our kids’ nervous system regulation regarding demands, accommodations, regulation, dysregulation and burn out.

I hope this resonates because as parents of neurodivergent kids, we need as many tools as we can get to 1) understand our kids and 2) advocate for our kids at school and other settings where we want them to thrive and succeed.

What you’ll hear in this episode:

The Nervous System Budget

This is a way to visualize how different tasks and environments affect our nervous systems.

Think about a person’s daily budget as how much available resources you have in your nervous system abilities to be able to contribute towards everyday tasks.

When you have plenty in your budget, that signifies regulation, or access to skills. When you’re out of nervous system cash, that signifies dysregulation and burn out.

You want to try to end each day somewhat in the positive, or at least not below zero.

Consider “tax” to be added to every environment or task when there are things that are likely to happen that are out of your control (traffic, weather changes, busy crowds/ sounds/ babies crying, unexpected changes).

Expenditures of the nervous system

Every nervous system is different, but here are some examples of demands in a child’s daily life that can cost a neurodivergent individual some nervous system cash.

Some of these demands on the nervous system can “cost” more or less to different people, and even within an individual, it can vary day-to-day, depending on what else is going on.

Accommodations for nervous system regulation

Enter accommodations. We’ve talked before about how we cannot spoil our kids with accommodations. And I am not budging from this truth.

The role of accommodations in the nervous system budget is crucial. Here’s a realistic example of what a child’s morning routine looks like with and without accommodations.

Let’s say we have a sensory sensitive child whose nervous system budget is $30 per day. They wake up in the morning with $30. The goal is to get the child to school with as much in their account as possible so they can handle even more demands at school.

Without accommodations

-$3 Get dressed
-$2 Brush teeth
-$1 Use the potty
-$2 Wash hands
-$3 Sit at the table and eat breakfast
-$3 Put on socks and shoes

Already we see this child has spent $14.

With accommodations

-$1 Get dressed (parent helps with putting shirt and pants on)
-$1 Brush teeth (parent does a silly dance)
-$0.50 Use the potty (parent helps to wipe)
-$1 Wash hands (parent turns it into a game)
-$2 Eat breakfast (child may leave the table sporadically)
-$2 Put on socks and shoes (with help from parent)

This child has spent $7.50.

Providing accommodations for your child can help them reserve that nervous system capital for an environment like school.

Furthermore, when schools provide accommodations for your child as well, then maybe they won’t get bankrupt by the time they get home. (After-school restraint collapse, anyone?)


The good news is that this analogy extends to deposits, too! We can add to their nervous system cash flow by offering sensory and calming strategies preemptively.

Different strategies work for different kids (this is what my Sensory Detectives Bootcamp is all about – wink wink) but here is a short list of tools for your toolbox to try:

The list goes on! This episode of the podcast is short and sweet – give it a listen and let me know what you think!

Bonus: This is a great way to explain your child’s nervous system to extended family members and teachers!

Episode Links

The Nervous System Budget: a new way to think about accommodations for neurodivergent individuals
Laura Petix 0:00 So then we can think about it like, can we save them some nervous system cash flow by accommodating them, we could maybe put on their shoes for them, we could allow them to eat breakfast in the car, maybe we help them brush their teeth and even have their backpack ready...

Laura Petix 0:00 So then we can think about it like, can we save them some nervous system cash flow by accommodating them, we could maybe put on their shoes for them, we could allow them to eat breakfast in the car, maybe we help them brush their teeth and even have their backpack ready to go for them, then all they would have to spend their nervous system cash on in the morning. Are they expensive tasks that we can’t do for them, but we need them to do in order to take care of their nervous system. Welcome to the sensory wise solutions podcast for parents, where parents can get real actionable strategies to support kids with sensory processing disorder. I’m Laura, OT and mom to Lilyana, a sensory sensitive kid who inherited my anxiety and my love for all things Disney. Consider me your new ot mom, bestie. I know my stuff. But I also know what it’s really like in the trenches of parenting a child with sensory processing disorder. Speaker 1 0:58 Okay, mom, enough about me. Let’s try the podcast. Laura Petix 1:02 Hey, everyone, welcome back to the podcast. Today’s episode is going to be somewhat short and sweet. And it is coming to me after a few days of ruminating on this theory or this concept that I had the other day when I was coaching some parents through understanding how far accommodations and modifications can go when we want to support our neurodivergent kids. Because I know it’s easy for a lot of us to get stuck and think like, why should I accommodate them? I know they know how to do this, or if I accommodate them now what is that going to teach them, I really, really want to help parents understand that when you can accommodate them, by helping them out through a task, even if you know that they can do it, or maybe eliminating something even though you know it would be beneficial if they did it. But you know that it’s cognitively or emotionally or physically taxing for them to do when you’re able to remove those things for them. Their nervous system is able to maintain a sense of regulation, which then allows them to do really, really important things in their day, like take care of themselves, participate in conversations, feel safe in their home, and all these other things that contribute towards the behavior that a lot of us would ideally like to see more of in our neurodivergent kids. So this is a new concept, a new theory that I’ve been trying to flesh out throughout the past few days. So I’m still trying to talk through it. I apologize if it’s not coming out clear enough. But I wrote it down and wrote down some different vocabulary terms and key terms that I think would really flesh out this analogy that I’m thinking of, and it’s called the nervous system budget. So here’s how I’m thinking about, think of think that everybody’s nervous system has a particular budget, we’re just gonna go with the dollars, that’s the unit of measurement that we’re going to use. So the budget is basically how much available resources you have in your nervous system abilities to be able to contribute towards functioning in everyday life. So every task, every environment that you go in, deducts some dollars out of your overall budget for that day in your nervous system. And when you’re out of nervous system cache that signifies dysregulation, or burnout. And so if you think about it, like you want it to end each day, with a positive flow, cash flow, or at least not negative, so maybe you broke even that day. You can also think of it like when you do go over your nervous system spending budget, you’re overdrawn, so you’re in the negative, you have nervous system debt, and that’s when you can notice dysregulation for longer periods of time. Then you can also consider with every task, I’m going to give some examples in a little bit. But if you consider every task to you know, cost a certain amount for your nervous system to spend. You can also consider budgeting for tax of the environment. So there’s going to be things that are likely to happen that are outside of your control, like traffic, weather, busy crowds, sounds, babies crying, unexpected changes, all of things, all the things that also add a cost to your nervous system that you don’t know ahead of time, but you’re pretty aware that there are a fluctuation of these kinds of things in each environment. So you’re also budgeting for some tax. The other thing I was thinking of was that every person every brain every neuro type has a different budget for their nervous system. So someone who’s neurotypical may have a higher budget for their nervous system, someone who As neurodivergent may have a lower budget for their nervous system, or you could think of it like we all have the same budget towards our nervous system, but the tasks in the day cost different for different people. So you can kind of toy with that part of the analogy, whatever makes more sense for you. But I like thinking of it that every task is priced differently for different people. So for me, flying on a plane might cost my nervous system $15, which leaves me little to no room for other nervous system expenditure in my day, if I wanted to remain regulated. While for someone like my husband, maybe it only cost his nervous system $5 to get on a plane. Or if we’re talking about every day tasks, being going to your child’s birthday party and having to socialize with other parents that cost my nervous system, probably a good like $10. And I would need to isolate myself after that for a little bit. But for someone, like my husband, would also maybe cost him a little bit less. So a certain task can cost someone different things. I also like to think that more, quote, unquote, expensive tasks, the ones that cost more, take more out of our nervous system, are the ones that are maybe most impactful for the nervous system, and or maybe hardest or not trigger or most triggering. So for example, self care tasks, maybe using the potty eating a meal and sleeping, those are really expensive tasks only because they’re so important. So you need to make sure that there’s enough budget in your day to be able to properly use the bathroom to properly eat to proper to properly sleep. So those are ones you cannot skimp out on. You could also think of expensive tasks, like I said, like their most triggering ones. For everyone’s various neuro types sensory profile, you might have certain tasks that cost your nervous system more than others. You can also think of every time you use sensory strategies or calming strategies, especially when they are used proactively and consistently, that can be considered you depositing into the nervous system budget by providing that sense of regulation beforehand. You can also think of it like adding back into your deposit, maybe if it’s not proactive. But let’s say again, after I go attend a children’s birthday party and I come back home and I’m feeling overwhelmed, I might need to sit in my room for 15 minutes in the dark and silence, taking some deep breaths and just stick staying to myself to add some cash flow back into my nervous system. So that I can get up and make dinner and get through bedtime routine and all the things that I need to spend more nervous system cash on. So here’s a quick example that I thought of. So let’s think of a six year old child who’s anxious and has sensory sensitivities. Let’s say their morning tasks. Breakdown are like this. So getting dressed cost them $2. Brushing teeth is $2. Using the potty is a $5 task washing hands is a $5 task sitting at the table to eat breakfast is $2. Putting socks and shoes on is $5. That’s already $21 spent before even going to school. For the sake of this example, let’s just say this child has a $30 budget for their nervous system. So while they’re at school, I’m not going to break down every task but let’s at least factor in some tax for the environment that they’re going to be in at school, there’s going to be extra sound sights, smells, extra cognitive demands at school, that are placed on your child things that are beyond your control things that are beyond most of your child’s control, unless you offer accommodations in the school day, which then could take away some of the costs that they’re spending from their nervous system or maybe could deposit into their nervous system. And then let’s say the after school tasks, like let’s say homework cost their nervous system $3 gymnastic costs. $2 sitting down at dinner is $2 bath time is $5 cutting their nails that night is $5. So without accommodations or sensory strategies, that totals $37 of nervous system cash that your child has spent all day and I didn’t even include every single task there. But again, let’s say they only had $30 of nervous system budget, which means probably towards the end of the night, they’re literally spent and they might be showing signs of dysregulation and guess what if you continue that way towards the week, and you never redeposit anything into their nervous system. By the end of the week, they might be working with nervous system debt. So maybe you have a an extremely dysregulated child by Thursday night by Friday, maybe Friday. They have a really hard day at school and it just spirals and spirals. So that can already show you the importance of just being more attuned to your child’s nervous system triggers and what their body may need to stay in the, quote positive cash flow. So let’s go back in the morning and see what that would look like if we were going to add to their nervous system cash flow by offering sensory and calming strategies. The morning routine totaled about $21 of nervous system cash, like I said, but what if between using the potty and going to eat breakfast, they did a crab walk, or maybe they blew bubbles while waiting at the table, which helps them take some deep calming breaths, maybe that would deposit $1 back into their nervous system. What if, after putting socks and shoes on, they did some elephant stumps, and they could deposit $1 back, or you could be accommodating that day and say, you don’t have PE today, you don’t have to wear socks and choose, you could just wear close toed sandals without socks. And maybe that would cut down on their spending altogether. What if after school, when they’re doing homework, you let them take some breaks during homework or gave them gum to chew instead of costing $3, then that would only cost them $1. So hopefully, you’re getting the idea of what I mean by this. Of course, I’m just using arbitrary numbers here. But I just want you to think of this as the parent, because I think it really helps you understand how you can plan ahead for your days, your weeks, even your month, as you plan for their budget and you you are intentional about how your child is spending their nervous system budget, especially when you know the events and their common triggers that your child has has. This process, I think works especially well for PDA kids, for parents of PDA kids, again, because we’re thinking of how many demands we’re placing on them all day long. And how much that takes out of their nervous system. Because we know for PDA kids, it’s a nervous system disability. And anytime they perceive a loss of autonomy, or they don’t feel equal to people in their environment and in their world, then that can be expensive, so to speak, on their nervous system. So if we’re just thinking about the morning, and we tell them to put on their shoes to come to the table for breakfast, to tell them to go brush their teeth, tell them to pack up their backpack and tell them to go to the potty. All of those things are placing demands on them. And maybe for that child, each of those demands are expensive demands for them. And it costs them more than what it would cost a child who does not have a PDA profile. And so then we can think about it like can we save them some nervous system cashflow by accommodating them, we could maybe put on their shoes for them, we could allow them to eat breakfast in the car, maybe we help them brush their teeth and even have their backpack ready to go for them, then all they would have to spend their nervous system cash on in the morning, are they expensive tasks that we can’t do for them, but we need them to do in order to take care of their nervous system like eating and going to the potty, which would have a more of a significant impact on our nervous system if they weren’t able to eat properly or weren’t able to use the toilet because those are huge, huge factors in our sympathetic nervous system activation. So I hope that this concept resonates for you I hope I don’t just sound like this is like the weirdest thing ever. I’m hoping it’s like making sense for all of you and clicking because I got really excited when I thought about it. I had to run it by a few people in my close circle to say does this make sense? And they seemed to like it as well. So I’m hoping that you all like it. And if it works for you, maybe you could just start listing things out in your child’s day list. Think list of lists all the things that you ask your child to do or that’s part of their morning routine, their afternoon routine, their bedtime routine, list as many things that you can think about. And then out of that think how can I help them spend less on these tasks? Where can I accommodate them? Where can I make this easier so that they have more nervous system cashflow to spend on things like paying attention at school on quote unquote using their words and being able to say please, thank you and all of the behaviors that really need to depend on having a regulated nervous system. Okay, please let me know if you liked this, send me a DM on Instagram or leave me a review or anywhere you could get in contact with me my website comment. I would love to know if this concept resonates for you as well as it does for me. And I will see you talk to you all next week. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider rating it and leaving a review which helps other parents find me as well. Want to learn more from me. I share tons more over on Instagram at the OTB Butterfly See you next time Transcribed by




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Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

I’m an enneagram 6, so my brain is constantly moving. My OT lenses never turn off and I can’t “un-see” the sensory and other developmental skills that go in to literally every activity. I love taking what I see and breaking it down into simple terms so parents can understand what goes into their child’s behavior and skills.

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