Sensory Integration Activities are the lifeline to providing and achieving the necessary challenges for your child so they maximize:
intellectual, social, and emotional development
the development of a positive self-esteem
a mind and body which is ready for learning
positive interactions in the world around him
the achievement of normal developmental milestones
bubble tubes, rope lights, lava lamps etc.
heavy work activities prior to bed
And, check out my article, Helping Babies Sleep for tips and resources for you and your little ones.
Playing in the sand or water provides essential yet fun
ways to experience necessary tactile input. Use your creativity,
get plenty of towels, and have fun filling these tables with sand, rice,
shaving cream, water, or any textured substance you can think of. Of
course, put little toys in as well to encourage exploration.
Check out the sand and water tables article and products, beach/sandbox toys, and wooden covered sandboxes.
Children NEED to move! For some it is difficult due to
fears, for others they just can't seem to get enough. Check out the
Sensory Processing Disorder Symptom Checklist to find out if your
child shows signs of vestibular and/or proprioceptive disorders.
Vestibular movement (and proprioceptive input) can rev you up or calm you
down. Either way, this input is necessary and will be a critical component
Here are some suggestions for movement experiences...
seesaws and teeter totters
therapy balls (bouncing or lying on them with someone helping you)
Aromatherapy is a wonderfully therapeutic way to address
sensory processing disorders (or even without) who seek out certain smells or are hypersensitive to smells.
Through aromatherapy products, including aromatherapy machines, oils, candles, diffusers etc., you can help your child tolerate or drown out smells, or use them to relax and calm.
They are a great relaxing OR stimulating tool, depending how, where, and when they are used and which smells you choose (for example; while
cinnamon might be stimulating, lavender may be soothing).
Hint: For children who are highly sensitive to smells have them carry a bottle of aromatherapy oil in their pocket to smell when intolerance hits (peppermint often works well).
Check out aromatherapy machines for more information and products to use.
Vibration is an essential tool when doing sensory integration activities and therapy. You will rarely find an Occupational Therapist working with children who have sensory processing disorders without vibration products and toys. They can be used in many ways to calm or stimulate. Vibration is a critical sensation which, for some, may take months or years to tolerate.
Here are some suggestions/products/ideas...
handheld fun animal massagers to use on whole body (except stomach!)
vibrating baby seats
massaging chairs and recliners
Trust me, I KNOW how frustrating a "picky eater" can be... I have one! See my
There Page to see what me and my child have been through!
But, there ARE things we can do to help treat these children and get them tolerating more foods and textures. Nothing pleasant about the old gag reflex is there!
There are treatments available for desensitization and decreasing anxiety. For more on this check out my Oral Sensitivities Article and/or Picky Eater Articles. Or, click here for a GREAT resource to get you started... The Picky Eating Solution: Work with Your Child's Unique Eating Type to Beat Mealtime Struggles Forever
use the tunnels as an active gross motor and bilateral motor
coordination activity just by having the child crawl through them.
create a tactile experience by placing different textured objects or
carpet squares inside the tunnel.
shake the tunnel up (as in an earthquake) while the children are in
it for increased proprioceptive input and vestibular reactions.
use play tents as a safe haven for children who are overwhelmed by sensory stimuli or as a sensory controlled environment for napping,
resting or reading. (You can place soft pillows, blankets, headphones with
relaxing music, relax/stress balls, lava lamps,
lights etc. inside for a relaxing environment)
Click here for more information on, and a selection of, play tunnels and tents.
These activities are almost endless in choices. Proprioception refers to
input to the muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue.
It refers to motor control and planning, body awareness, grading of movement
(knowing how "hard" or "soft" to perform a task), and postural stability.
If the proprioceptive sense is not working well, it will be difficult to move in smooth, coordinated, and properly graded movements.
These children will have difficulty with both gross and fine motor tasks such as riding a bike, writing, walking, crawling, or playing sports. Some children also require additional proprioceptive input just to keep their bodies calm, organized, and arousal levels regulated.
The proprioceptive sense is a HUGE area to evaluate and treat in children with sensory processing difficulties. It is an extremely common area for children to show signs of dysfunction in, and is often one of the earliest warning signs of a problem. Don't ignore it please!
Click here for the Sensory Processing Disorder Symptom Checklist to see if your child has a disorder of the proprioceptive sense. And/or check out my article on Proprioceptive Dysfunction.
AAAAH, this is my favorite one!
Whether you have a sensory processing disorder or not, I firmly believe every house, clinic, school, rehab facility, nursing home etc. should have a sensory room!
Couldn't we all use a little more help and time to relax and unwind every day??? Once you learn about these rooms and the AWESOME products you could surround yourself with, you might just be longing for one too!
I must admit, one of my "dreams" is to have my bedroom (or a special room in the house) be a sensory room of pure delight and relaxation!
Now for the fun... what can you put in a sensory room? It definitely will depend for what and whom you are using it. It will also depend how much money and space you have available (bummer, I know).
Here are a few ideas...
For Pure Relaxation:
Truthfully I could write for hours on this, help you develop a personalized room, and give you hundreds of ideas and suggestions... now THAT is fun! If I could be your private consultant I would, but for now, I can lead you to some general information, ideas and products...
No, it's not Atkins, South Beach or Slim Fast... Despite what you may have thought, this actually has nothing to do with food, fat, sugar, carbs or counting calories!
A sensory diet is, rather, a "diet" of activities and sensory input for your body and neurological system.
You may already have heard of it, had it recommended for your child, or be saying, HUH? For the latter group, let me briefly explain...
Just the same way your body needs food evenly spaced throughout the day, so does your body need activities to keep it's arousal level optimal.
Sensory diets are usually developed for individuals who need a large amount of sensory input throughout the day, however, they can be used in other ways as well. Perhaps the lethargic, disengaged, or fearful individual needs to be "woken" up throughout the day and exposed to input they may not normally receive. Then a sensory diet may be appropriate for them too.
Doctors have to figure out one's metabolism, amount of food, calories, type of food, and frequency to eat based on an individual's needs and body to keep the body functioning at it's optimal level. Someone trying to keep blood sugar levels regulated and 100 lbs overweight will eat differently than someone weighing 90 lbs who is dealing with anorexia.
Similarly, Occupational Therapists also need to figure out the amount, type, and frequency of activities one needs to function at their optimal level. Same idea, just different "food".
Warning: Just as any diet should be prescribed and followed under the care and supervision of a doctor, so also the sensory diet needs to be "prescribed" and followed under the care and supervision of an Occupational Therapist. It requires skill, art, knowledge, and experience.The Alert Program: How Does Your Engine Run?
Occupational Therapists and Speech Therapists treat hundreds of children every day who have difficulties with oral motor control and difficulty regulating sensory input in the mouth (hypo- or hyper- sensitive).
These are the children who have difficulties with speech, eating, are constantly putting things in their mouth, drooling, or never eating anything besides applesauce and yogurt.
Click here for the Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist to see if your child has signs of sensory dysfunction regarding oral input.
It is rare you will find either therapist walking around without a bag full of oral motor toys.
Toys we love include...
Again, creativity is key!
There is an endless list of activities that children can do to improve their oral motor control and give their mouths more, or the right type of input.
This is often one of the parts of sensory integration activities and therapy children look forward to most... we put a lot of fun and sometimes bizarre creativity into it, but it works!
Well, you talk about a list of endless possibilities, this would be it! Sensory toys are everywhere. We can also find ways to turn any toy into a sensory toy, just by using it differently.
Just know this, the toys I will be showing you and discussing are going to be more "unique" toys you may not see everyday, or, toys you do but I will suggest a different way to use them.
This is the easiest way to perform sensory integration activities... using toys already made and targeted for sensory input. Luckily, many toy companies have recognized the need for multiple types of sensory input in infants and children. It is HUGELY important for proper development.
A taste of some of the MANY different sensory toys...
Just think of all your senses. Now think of all the
toys that could address any one or combination of these senses! Almost
overwhelming isn't it?
These are extremely therapeutic activities for children with sensory processing difficulties. They calm, they regulate, they relax! For kids who have difficulty regulating their arousal level and calming their bodies down, it is all about the "squishing"! These kids absolutely love to be flattened and steamrolled, sat on, laid on and pressed on.
Believe it or not, they need it, crave it and will beg for it once they have been introduced to some fun ways of achieving this deep pressure input.
The key is giving and showing them appropriate ways to get this input and helping them realize not everyone likes to be "flattened like a pancake". This, in turn, can improve social relationships significantly, as you could well imagine!
Here are some ideas...
We see SO MANY children with sensory processing difficulties who have significant handwriting problems. Their writing is messy, labored, they press to hard or too light, it is illegible, takes them too long, their hands are tired and sore, they write letters backwards etc. Messages are not being received or perceived correctly and handwriting becomes a dreaded task. This too is one of the earliest signs of problems and often picked up by parents or teachers. You may notice these children have awkward and inefficient grips on their writing utensils and difficulty cutting as well.
Fine motor coordination becomes difficult and labored. Consequently, the children avoid these tasks and become very frustrated. There are hundreds of fine motor activities we use with these children to improve their skills. And, of course, we always try to make them fun!
Here are a few ideas...
Handwriting and fine motor skills are absolutely essential skills which kids must develop to maximize potential at school and home.
It is a foundational skill which will negatively affect many aspects of functioning if not achieved... from dressing to handwriting, shoe tying to typing, strength and endurance, putting items together to manipulating small objects.
Children with sensory processing disorders face many challenges in developing appropriate and rewarding relationships with their peers. There can be so many obstacles which hinder this development and will become another contributing factor to low self-esteem and isolation.
We often treat children with such diagnoses as; Aspergers, ADD, ADHD, Autism, and PDD (among others of course). A major "symptom" of these disabilities is difficulty relating to and developing appropriate social relationships, as they tend to miss "social cues". Couple this with sensory processing difficulties which ALSO affect children's abilities to develop relationships. That's right, DOUBLE WHAMMY!
Consequently, these children become either too energetic, too rough, can't sit still, impulsive, fearful, withdrawn, aggressive, suffer learning difficulties, or are just plain old misunderstood and negatively labeled by their peers. Therefore, other children tend to avoid them because they are "difficult" to play with.
Some of these children are extremely challenging and they need our help as early in life as possible before a lack of appropriate social skills impedes their development to an extreme.
When working with children on sensory integration activities, we often work in groups which is one of the best ways to address and treat any social skill problem.
Part of treatment is helping them learn to read social cues, respond to their peers, wait, take turns, win or lose appropriately, and share similar experiences. Often, peer treatment is good too if one brings another out of their shell and gets them to try new things, or calms the other one down purely by watching, encouraging, or modeling behavior.
There are many social skills games and activities that can be played with monitoring and guidance from a therapist, teacher or parent. Social skills are incredibly important and developing these skills is an inherent part of sensory integration activities and therapy.
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