It Makes “Sense”
This updated Sensory Pyramid was developed by Pediatric Occupational Therapist and Sensory Expert Kelli Arnone. Her modern-day Sensory Pyramid is an easy-to-understand illustration that depicts a general idea of a child’s foundational skills, and what other skills build upon those.
Think about it: You can’t place stones on the top until the foundation stones are in place. Every block relies on the ones underneath to be strong and stable. This sensory pyramid explains why the sensory systems are so incredibly important to support academic learning. In other words, kids NEED routine sensory input for their bodies and their brain! Our central nervous system processes and organizes the sensory information we put into it each day. Adequate sensorimotor development for things like motor planning, postural security and body awareness are built on adequate modulation (sensory regulation) and processing of sensory information that we take in every day! Sensory input can be anything such as, smells, tastes, sounds, movements, pressure, and textures. Some children need a lot more or a lot less of these sensations to function optimally and to feel good throughout each day.
When a child is referred to occupational therapy, it is usually for things like attention to task, handwriting difficulties, picky eating, self-care tasks, tolerating routine changes, or school related performance. These functional difficulties are in the “Cognition and Intellect” categories which are integrated at the top of the learning pyramid. The role of an occupational therapist is to determine underlying causes of these issues and utilize specific interventions to address them. Often times, it is hard for parents to fully understand why their child is not performing at the level at which they would like them to be. Some parents may see their child become frustrated when they are trying their best to be compliant, listen and learn, but their sensory processing abilities are hindering them. These frustrations root from the child working throughout the day just to do the simple things, the things that should be automatic and effortless for their bodies. This may include things like listening to the teacher, keeping their balance on the stairs, standing close to their friends in line, trying a new snack, or engaging in messy play. It all begins at the bottom of the pyramid!
Understanding Our Sensory Systems
- Proprioception is our ability to sense the location, positioning, and movements of our body and its limbs. It allows us to navigate a crowded area without bumping into people and objects in our path.
- Vestibular sensation is housed in our inner ears and uses gravity to sense spatial orientation and movement. This system is responsible for maintaining balance, posture, attention and coordination during movement. This system has to work efficiently for children to function throughout the day.
- Tactile sensation comes from receptors in our skin found all over the body. Tactile sensation includes sensations of pain, temperature, pressure, and textures. Some children need a lot more touch stimulation to have good body awareness, control and motor skills. Other children need help balancing this system to not be over-reactive, which causes challenges with self-care skills, engaging with peers and focusing / feeling calmer when their nervous system is on high alert.
- Gustatory includes specific tastes (spicy, sweet, minty, bitter) and specific textures (crunchy, chewy, mushy). Taste also involves knowing the difference between food items and non-food items. Children need this system to work well in order to eat and manage a variety of foods.
- Olfactory or smells involve the ability to distinguish, detect and tolerate certain scents. This system is needed for safety in our environment.
- Visual includes noticing and tolerating visual patterns, colors, shapes, bright and dimmed lights and moving objects. This system may need help calming down or waking up for good focus and eye-hand coordination skills.
- Auditory involves the ability to distinguish and tolerate loud sounds (fire alarms, sirens or loud music) and soft sounds (finger snapping, repetitive tapping, hearing others breathing). This system may also need help to calm down or wake up, so a child can attend and follow directions without additional difficulty or support.
How can Pediatric Potentials, Inc. help?
At Pediatric Potentials, Inc., we specialize in Sensory Integration, Sensory Processing Therapy and play-based treatment interventions that are specifically designed to stimulate and challenge all of the senses. Sensory Integration involves specific sensory activities (swinging, bouncing, brushing, and more) that are intended to help your child regulate his or her response to incoming sensory input. The outcome of these activities may be better focus and attention, improved behavior, and even lowered anxiety and balanced activity level.
If you have questions regarding your child’s development or want to learn more about how sensory processing therapy and occupational therapy can help, call our office today at 407-322-3962. We provide services in Lake Mary, Longwood, Maitland, Winter Park, Winter Springs, Orlando and throughout Central Florida.
Author/Information provided by: Kelli Arnone MOT, OTR/L, SIPT
Kelli Arnone is the Co-owner and Director of Pediatric Potentials, Inc. a private sensory processing therapy clinic in Lake Mary, Florida. Kelli has over 25 years of experience working with children with sensory integration challenges as well as other developmental delays. She has worked in numerous hospitals, schools, community programs and private practices. She is trained and certified to administer the Sensory Integration Praxis Test (SIPT) and is also trained and certified in Therapeutic Listening, Handwriting Without Tears, The Wilbarger Deep Pressure Protocol and is an Advanced Trained Neurofeedback Practitioner.