Friday, September 14, 2012

Recognizing Sensory Processing

We are thrilled to have a guest post today from Katharine Robinson (MOTR/L) and Crystal Emery (P.L.A.Y. Consultant) from Easter Seals-Goodwill Northern Rocky Mountain, a program that provides services and support for children and adults with disabilities and special needs. Check out their site HERE for more information. Today they'll be talking about sensory processing.

Easter Seals-Goodwill Northern Rocky Mountain Sensory Services

Our sensory systems help us make sense of and learn from our every day experiences.  Sometimes, a person’s sensory system doesn't register information at a typical intensity – it registers either too little or too much. 
Easter Seals-Goodwill Northern Rocky Mountain produced a simple and informative video explanation on of our senses and how they affect our everyday lives narrated by one of the exceptional children we serve. Check it out!

Another resource we offer is our Wiggly Worm Sensory Processing Class.  This is an 8-week parent/child class that covers a different type of sensory processing input each week.  Parents learn and children practice fun and helpful strategies each week and leave at the end of the class with a list of activities specifically chosen to meet their unique needs. For more information about this class, contact Janae at (801) 946-1860.
The following information is provided to help understand sensory processing a little better:

What is Sensory Processing?
Sensory processing involves the ability to take in information within our environment through our senses and utilizing that information to create a response. Once sensory information is received through nerve receptors in our body, that information is sent up to the brain. The brain then decides how to respond or react to that sensation.
The most familiar senses involve vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch/tactile. But we also have two other sensory systems –proprioception and vestibular.  Proprioception relates to deep pressure to our muscles and joints. It helps us know where our body is in space. You get this input through climbing, jumping, running, etc. The vestibular system involves the circular canals in your ears that detect movement. It is considered your “equilibrium” and helps with balance.

What happens when problems occur?
With our senses, there is a “normal” range of functioning. When the information received through our senses is interpreted outside that normal range, problems occur. A child can either be considered “hypersensitive” or “hyposensitive” to sensory stimuli. Hypersensitivity is when the sensation being received is too overwhelming and therefore the child becomes resistive to the input. For example, when a child is hypersensitive to tactile input, they may become defensive (more so than usual) when their parent applies sunblock to their skin, or when the child accidently touches a certain texture of food during mealtime (they most likely will refuse to touch it to begin with), or when they are hugged by a friend. Hyposensitivity is when the sensation being received is not enough and therefore, the child needs more input to register it. For example, when a child is hyposensitive to vestibular input and fails to register movement appropriately, the child will seek additional excessive movement such as rocking, spinning, swinging, etc. These children may also have difficulty with balance and bilateral coordination. It is important to note that one or more sensory systems can be impacted at the same time.
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“Sensory Diets”
The best thing one can do for a child who has sensory processing issues is to expose them to sensory stimuli in a gradual, consistent, and safe manner so that they can successfully experience these sensations in their natural environment. Once you determine what a child can tolerate, gradually provide more variety or intensity so that the child is eased into experiencing more of these sensations. It is important to be an active participant with the child during these activities so that they are able to progress in terms of what they are willing to try and experience.

Occupational therapists often create “sensory diets”, implemented as part of their daily routine, to allow the child to function at their best within their environment. Sensory diets are customized and specific to each child and family, having consistent activities to perform within the day according to the family and child’s schedule and needs. The chart below (adapted from Gilbert, Anderson, Kurtz, & Roche-Outen, 1995) provides general guidelines in choosing activities to either “calm” or “alert” a child, depending on whether they are hypersensitive or hyposensitive to stimuli. In some instances, a calming activity may be more alerting to a child; therefore, their reactions must be closely monitored to ensure a successful sensory diet.

To Calm
To Alert
Use soft light
Use no lights
Block distractions using a screen, room divider, or study carrel.

Use bright lights
Use a focused light on an object.
Sing softly
Play soft classical or nature music.
Speak in a monotone or whisper.
Provide music with varied pitch, sound, or an uneven or fast beat.
Speak with a high and low voice.

Pat or stroke rhythmically on child’s back.
Stroke a stuffed animal.
Hold or wear something warm.
Hug, if accepted.
Sit with a pillow on lap or surrounded by pillows.
Use a lap desk (pillow with hard top).
Roll up in a blanket.
Rest hands on child’s shoulders.
Fold arms against body.
Sit in a womblike place (tent of box).

Provide light touch to palm.
Hold something cold.
Hold a fidget item (something to hold in hand).
Dress in cool clothing.
Gently but quickly rub the skin.
Rock, roll, swing, or bounce, slowly and rhythmically.
Seat push-ups (raise bottom off chair using hands).
Wall push-ups (push against wall with hands)
Change positions often, exercise, jump, dance, jiggle.
Sit on a chair-sized ball.
Jump on a mat or bounce the child on lap.
Pass out papers, books, get water, erase the board, deliver messages.

Suck mild flavors.
Use a straw to blow a hanging balloon or streamers.
Blow tissue paper wads into a container during motor groups.
Drink from a straw. A narrow straw and thick liquid requires more effort.
Blow soap bubbles. Blow through a straw to the wand.
Crunch and lick food.
Eat salty, citrus, sour, or smoked flavors.
Suck lemonade ice pops.
Lick fingers after making batter.
Chew on a child’s tow designed for chewing.
Blow whistles with moving parts.
Allow the child to have a cup of ice water throughout the day.
Allow for frequent water fountain breaks.

Resources for Parents
Catching Kids Before They Fall:
How Sensory Processing Disorders Affect Young Children’s Learning and Behavior
Carol Kranowitz

Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation

The Sensory Processing Disorder Resource Center

Fun Sensory Integration Therapy Activities

OT Mom Learning Activities: Sensory Integration activities

Sensory Activities – Parents’ Discussion board

Sensory Processing for Parents and Professionals: Advice, Activities, and Games

The Toddler’s Busy Book: 365 Creative Games and Activities to Keep Your 1 ½ to 3-Year-Old Busy
Trish Kuffner

The Preschooler’s Busy Book: 365 Creative Games and Activities To Occupy 3-6 Year Olds
Trish Kuffner

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