(Here is another wonderful guest post: This time by an occupational therapist about Sensory Processing Disorder.)
By- Cara Koscinki MOT, OTR/L
Author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist-A Handbook for Caregivers of Children with Special Needs. Questions and answers most frequently asked to OTs with easy to understand answers and fun activities you can do with your child. www.pocketot.com
Sensory processing disorders affect up to one in every twenty children and the numbers keep rising. More research is being done to look at the causes and frequency of sensory processing disorders (SPD). In fact, the name has even been changed from Sensory Integration Dysfunction as our understanding and knowledge base has increased. SPD is a complex disorder of the brain, which results in difficulty with processing information that comes from our senses. It is important to realize that there are more than just the five senses we have learned about. Information is taken in from touch, smell, vision, hearing, taste, vestibular, and proprioceptive receptors. Vestibular receptors are responsible for detecting changes in position in space, balance, and movement. Proprioceptive receptors provide information about body awareness, position, and posture. Throughout our lives, we are constantly bombarded with information we receive through the eight senses and we must successfully integrate this information to make sense of it and form an appropriate response. There are times when the response we form do not match the information we have received. For example, a student may have a panic type response when another child simply brushes against him in line. Another example is when a student feels pain when wearing clothing with tags or seams.
Children and adults who have SPD can have successful lives. Knowing how to adapt the environment and keep a regular "diet" of activities that provide a balance of the sensory system is important. Seeking help from an occupational therapist is key to determining what sensory areas are hyper (more), hypo (low), or mixed. For example, someone may be hyper-sensitive to sound and light, but not feel pain or deep touch as strongly as the person next to them. Everyone is different and determining which specific areas are heightened or low is the key to making a successful treatment plan.
Many hours every day are spent at school and work. Knowing how to make accommodations and adaptations to the environment around your child can help greatly!
- Offer different sized grippers for children who have difficulty holding onto pencils correctly
- Use mechanical pencils for children who do not apply enough pressure to their pencil.
- Break crayons or pencils in half to help children to develop grasp. Often, kids will hold onto the pencil with all of their fingers if the pencil is too large for little hands.
- Add a Popsicle stick or stamp between words to work on spacing.
- Use a highlighter for top, middle, and/or base lines to help children to realize where lines are on the paper. Use a different color for each line
- Use a sticker on the top right side of the paper as a reminder of the way the paper should be positioned.
- Use colored pencils instead of crayons for children who do not like the smell or texture of crayons.
Sensory Activities for School
- Allow children frequent breaks at school for movement. Ideas include: doing push-ups against the wall, doing jumping jacks, or running in place.
- Give students who fidget a strip of carpet or Velcro taped to the bottom of the desk.
- Allow students to use a manual pencil sharpener
- Place heavy exercise bands around the front legs of the chair to press shins up against for resistance.
- Use chewable jewelry such as Chewlery or place heavy clear aquarium tubing onto the ends of pencils. Giving kids input to oral muscles can be especially calming when they are concentrating.
- Pack lunches that include crunchy snacks to work mouth muscles.
- Use the smallest straws possible to drink liquids from. Drink boxes have nice, small straws that cause the mouth muscles to work harder.
- Carry a backpack with books between classes.
- Allow students who need it to use weighted lap pads during class. You can easily make them out of rice, beans, sand, or pellets.
- Allow students to look at a schedule for the day. If possible, post the schedule on the student's desk or within sight. Knowing what to expect is important.
- Ask schools to give students an extra set of books for home use. This will cause less stress in trying to determine which books need to come home at the end of the day and will alleviate the stress/anxiety of forgetting books.
- Provide organizers or planners for students with enough space for both the parent and teacher to make notes. This will also help with daily communication between school and home.
- Color code folders and binders by subject.
- Provide all of the necessary supplies in a pocket or box on the desk. Fumbling around for supplies is extremely distracting.
- Step by step directions and use of pictures when possible will help with difficulty when following instructions. Make sure students can repeat the directions back to you.
It is important that the student is supported by a team approach. The parent, school psychologist, counselor, and teachers must all be aware of a child's sensory needs and must know how to correctly accommodate the school for success. No one wants to see a student fail and most importantly, children have a desire to be successful. Every child can succeed if given the chance and it is up to us to modify their environment for success!
For more information, contact Cara Koscinski at www.pocketot.com
Her book, The Pocket Occupational Therapist can be purchased wherever books are sold.
© Cara Koscinski