Sensory Integration…..what is it and how do you handle it?
Have you had a client, student or your own child that may have difficulty with things like touching squishy things, eating new foods, or loud environments? If so, the child may not be having behavior problems, but rather exhibiting sensory integration issues. It may be a challenge to work with that child in therapy situations at times, or take your own child to a restaurant or birthday party without a possible meltdown. Below are some quick bits of information, tips and tricks to help you help the child that you are working or living with that is dealing with sensory integration issues daily. Read on for more sensory tips and tricks…..
S– Seeking: Many children with sensory integration disorder having seeking behaviors. They are “seeking” ways to fulfill their sensory needs. The child may be a climber, runner, stomper or slammer. They attempt to find external ways to meet their internal need for sensory input. Your child may look like he or she is overly active or misbehaving by climbing to the top of the couch, slamming himself into the pillows or stomping loudly on the hardwood floor. These may be the only ways that he knows how to get the feeling that his body needs to regulate his sensory system.
E-Environment: If your child has been identified as having sensory issues, it is helpful for both of you to set up an environment at school and home that can meet his or her sensory needs. That might be a quiet corner where the child can go when he is overloaded or a place where he can do activities such as jumping, spinning or swinging to help regulate his attention. If appropriate options are available in the child’s environment he will learn to make better choices to meet his sensory needs rather than choosing inappropriate behaviors that often get him in trouble.
N-NO: This is a word that a child with sensory integration issues may hear a lot, whether at home or school. Sometimes the child uses ways to meet their sensory needs that can look like behaviors to others. The child may hear “no standing up during circle time” or “no wiggling in your chair” at school. Or they may hear “no jumping on your bed” or “no jumping off the top of the monkey bars” at home. If you know your child has sensory integration issue, try to find ways to allow them to do the things that they need to regulate their sensory system like jumping into a bean bag or pile of pillows. At school, talk to the teacher and ask that the child be allowed to take “sensory breaks” and stand by her desk for a few minutes when she feels like wiggling in her chair or allow her to sit on a squishy cushion that provides some movement when she has to sit for long periods of time. When a child hears “no” all of the time, he or she may begin to think that their sensory issues are not in their control….a child needs to feel like he or she can make changes and choices to meet their sensory needs….so they hear “yes” more often!
S -Sensory Diet: Think of a sensory diet as the child’s “menu” for their day. It has nothing to do with what your child is or is not eating, but rather how their sensory system is being “fed” or in some cases “starved” of the sensory input the system needs to function properly. It is important that you seek the help of an Occupational Therapist that can evaluate your child’s specific sensory needs and develop a plan specifically for him or her. One of the goals of a sensory diet is to help prevent sensory or emotional overload by feeding the child’s nervous system and satisfying their sensory needs. A specific schedule of sensory activities is developed and can be carried out in the classroom, home or daycare by anyone that has been trained to do the activities with the child.
O– Overreacting: When a child has a sensory integration issue other people may overreact to their behaviors and try to overcompensate for them. If a child is sensitive to loud noises, you may tend to avoid all situations with the potential for loud sounds…movie theaters, playgrounds, or restaurants. But instead of overreacting, try to develop strategies to help your child handle these situations without becoming upset or overstimulated. Practice situations at home by increasing the volume of music that the child enjoys gradually and allow the child to use a signal (like motioning stop) when the volume begins to bother them. Little by little try to see if the child can go beyond that level and give them encouragement each step of the way. Just because a child has a sensory issue doesn’t mean that he or she has to miss out on new experiences, it just takes time and planning to prepare them.
R– Response: A child with sensory integration issues may exhibit unusual responses to information in their environment. He may under-register the information. This is the child that may not respond to his name being called numerous times or does not respond to the pain of falling down and skinning his knee. A child that over-responds may be hypersensitive to touch, sound or movement. This is the child that cannot tolerate certain fabrics such as jeans, loud environments like a movie theater or swinging back and forth in a swing. The important and tricky thing to remember is that one child may respond in different ways to different situations on different days. Knowing your child’s possible “stressors” may help avoid or lessen a sensory “shutdown”.
Y– YOU: If you are the speech therapist that is working with a child that is suspected of having sensory integration issues, there are things that you can do to help the family identify the issues and possibly seek treatment. The Sensory Profile is an easily administered caregiver questionnaire that you can provide the parent with to help identify the areas in which the child is having difficulty. It can help define the type of sensory issues as well as the level of severity. If you are the parent, you can ask your current speech therapist for a recommendation for an Occupational Therapist that is well trained in sensory integration dysfunction. There are many resources available online to find out more about treatment options and expected outcomes. You are the child’s source of help whether you are the professional or the parent!
A great resource for more information and great sensory activities is Building Bridges Through Sensory Integration by Ellen Yack, Paula Aquilla and Shirley Sutton.