It can be extremely difficult and frustrating for parents and caregivers when children are having difficulty with negative behaviors. Let’s say that you receive a call from your child’s school reporting that they often seem distracted and don’t pay attention in class, bump into kids in the lunch line, can’t hold a pencil correctly, become upset when asked to switch from one activity to another, or melt down during circle time. Although these seem like behaviors that are caused by the child seeking attention or not getting their way, sometimes it can root from difficulty with sensory input. It is important for parents to work with a pediatric occupational therapist to determine the root of the problem. Sensory integration therapy or a sensory diet may be the key to diminishing these behaviors. Sometimes simple routine changes can allow the child to regulate themselves and feel calmer, safer and more in control of themselves throughout the day. It is important to have an occupational therapist on your team to help make appropriate recommendations.
Sensory Integration, also sometimes called Sensory Processing, refers to how your body recognizes, processes, and responds to information received by our sensory systems on an individual and combined level. This includes our traditional 5 senses of sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing; however, we also have proprioceptive (the awareness of our muscles and joints and body in space), vestibular sensory systems (the awareness of our body position as we move through space) and interoception (our awareness of deep body sensations such as hunger and the need to use the restroom). Occupational therapists use sensory integration therapy by exposing a child to sensory stimulation in a structured and organized way. The goal of sensory integration therapy is to mature the child’s brain and nervous system to process sensory information more efficiently. The OT may use a sensory gym to engage the child in these repetitive and stimulating/calming activities.
Sensory Integration Strategies
- Messy play – mud, dirt, water, food play, finger paints, shaving cream, bath bubbles, etc.
- Noise cancelling headphones or ear plugs
- Window shades or adjustable lights
- Include your child in the meal preparation process – encourage them to help with their hands or by using cooking utensils to interact with the many food textures and smells.
- Food play – Encourage your child to interact with new foods in the most basic manner; the SOS Feeding Approach, used commonly by Occupational Therapists, encourages the following progression with new foods: See –> Touch –> Kiss –> Lick –> Taste –> Chew & Swallow. It is important to allow your child to move at their own pace and allow them to clean off their hands or spit out food at any point along the continuum.
- Sensory toys – check out Ark Therapeutic, a leading manufacturer of innovative therapy tools and special needs products! They have great sensory toys, chews and fidgets that can help your child deal with sensory overload.
- Finger painting – also try bathtub paint or shaving cream/foam soap play to reduce the mess and give your child control over cleaning off his/her hands.
- Listening to music
- Having a clear visual schedule posted with plenty of preparation for transitions.
- Providing sensory breaks such as walking in circles, jumping on a mini-trampoline, completing animal walks around the house or chewing on chewy foods/water bottle tops.
- For the child who needs to move a bit, you might try an inflated seated cushion or a pillow to sit on so they can both wiggle and stay in their seat at the same time.
How to get help:
At Pediatric Potentials, Inc., we specialize in Sensory Integration, Sensory Processing Therapy and play-based treatment interventions that are specifically designed to regulate all of the senses. Sensory Integration involves specific sensory activities (swinging, bouncing, brushing, and lots of physical activity) 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, greater coordination, and even lowered anxiety and a 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. Kelli also has presented on various topics at conferences, public and private schools and physician practices.