Helping kids of all ages to live a more active life through FUNctional movement.
By Maria Alvarez, Occupational and Physiotherapy Assistant
Does your child move, spin, jump, push, or run more than usual? Or maybe your child doesn’t like to be touched and it bothers them to feel different textures on their body. Does your child get annoyed by having food, paint, soap on their hands? Does your child dislike having their nails or hair cut? Do they have frequent meltdowns?
This may interest you…
We have the five senses that most of us know about: sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch. But we also have three more senses that are very important:
The vestibular sense (movement and balance) tells us how to position our bodies and heads.
The proprioceptive sense (awareness of the body in space) helps us know what we do with our body parts and how they are positioned.
The interoceptive sense (feeling the internal state of the body) helps us to know what is happening inside of our bodies (eg: hunger, thirst, needing to urinate or defecate, etc).
Sensory integration describes processes in the brain that allow us to take information we receive from our senses, organize it, and respond appropriately.
Sensory integration is important because our ability to process, organize and respond to the information that comes from our senses affects how we perceive ourselves and others. It helps us to make sense of the world around us. It also affects all the things that we need to do in life, including daily activities such as getting dressed, eating, sleeping, moving around, playing, socializing, learning, and working. When our senses are not fully integrated, it can make it more challenging to successfully interact with the world around us.
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is the inability to use information received through the senses in order to function smoothly in daily life.
SPD is also called Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SI Dysfunction) and Dysfunction in Sensory Integration (DSI). SPD happens in the central nervous system; when processing is disorderly, the brain cannot do its most important job of organizing sensory messages. The child cannot respond to sensory information to behave in a meaningful, consistent way. They may also have difficulty using sensory information to plan and carry out actions that they need to do. Thus they may not learn easily.
Here are the more common signs of Sensory Processing Disorder:
-I don’t like to brush my teeth.
-I don’t like bright lights.
-I can be sensitive to loud sounds.
-Some smells really bother me.
-I don’t like to brush, wash or cut my hair.
-I like to smell people and objects sometimes.
-I don’t like tags on my clothes.
-I am a picky eater.
-I can be clumsy and fall over things sometimes.
-I have poor gross motor skills.
-Sometimes I don’t like to be touched.
-I only like wearing the same clothes.
-I lose my balance easily.
-I don’t like to wear clothes.
-I enjoy being squeezed; I like lots of pressure.
-I don’t want my hands dirty.
-I have poor fine motor skills.
-I get overstimulated and meltdown.
-I get fearful and anxious often.
-I overreact to minor scrapes and cuts.
-I crave fast spinning.
-I have poor body awareness.
-I sometimes walk on my toes.
The problem is when the above limits the child in carrying out daily activities or when their environment is overstimulating. For example: when they are not able to stay in a classroom because there are too many stimuli that disturb them and they cannot control their response. Also, when they are not able to sit and eat or do homework because they are always running, spinning, moving, etc. Another example is when this limits their social life because they can’t attend (for example) a birthday party because there is too much noise or too many visual stimuli resulting in inappropriate responses (running away, hiding, hitting, shouting, etc). They may also have a very limited diet because they are not able to tolerate certain textures or too much flavor when eating.
Sensory integration therapy is designed to help children with sensory processing problems (including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder) cope with the difficulties they have processing sensory input. It aims to help kids with sensory processing issues by exposing them to sensory stimulation in a structured, repetitive way. Over time, the brain will adapt and allow kids to process and react to sensations more efficiently.
Therapy sessions are play-oriented and may include using equipment such as swings, trampolines, slides, deep pressure, brushing, weighted vests, different textures, different sounds, and other sensory rich activities. Usually the sessions are done multiple times per week for the best benefit.
Once this therapy is completed, your child should have fewer difficulties doing certain tasks that were once difficult, and will respond better to typical stimuli. In addition, sensory integration therapy increases a child’s threshold for tolerating sensory-rich environments, makes transitions less disturbing, and reinforces positive behaviors. Your child will have more success interacting with the world around them in a meaningful way.
The following is a sample of goals that may be worked on during a therapy session:
To reduce tactile defensiveness.
To improve tactile discrimination.
To develop better body awareness and improve postural security.
To improve balance.
To improve bilateral coordination.
To improve motor planning.
To improve fine motor skills.
To improve flexion and/or extension against the pull of gravity.
To reduce gravitational insecurity.
To improve ocular control and visual discrimination (better visual integration)
A sensory diet is a planned and scheduled activity program that a therapist develops to meet the needs of a specific child’s nervous system. Its purpose is to help the child become better regulated and more focused, adaptable and skillful. A sensory diet fulfills the physical and emotional needs of the child and it includes a combination of alerting, organizing and calming activities.
This may be something that is worked on during therapy sessions, or may be suggested to work on at home or at your child’s school/daycare.
If you think your child may be having difficulties with sensory processing or if you have doubts about it and you need help, you can request an evaluation with an Occupational Therapist – our Play On Pediatric Therapy team here in Barrhaven, Ottawa will gladly help you and your child.