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Tackling Haircuts with Sensory Sensitivities

Performing everyday tasks can be especially challenging for children with sensory sensitivities. Going to the grocery store, running errands, getting dressed, and using the restroom are just a short list of activities that may be particularly daunting for your child.BlogTacklingHaircuts-Main-Landscape

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I hear about the most challenging everyday tasks for children with sensory sensitivities and am asked to give suggestions on how to make these tasks achievable for children. One of the most common concerns I get from parents of a child with sensory sensitivities is a child’s inability to tolerate haircuts. This is often accompanied with words like: screaming, having a fit, and inability to remain seated. The good news is that there are things you can do to make this experience more tolerable for your child.

Here is a list of some suggestions I have given to families and that I recommend for others to try. Select items to use depending on your child’s level of sensitivity, age, and ability to follow directions.

6 Tips to Help Sensory Sensitivities with Haircuts

  1. Have your child engage in a lot of heavy work and deep pressure input the weeks leading up to his/her haircut. Heavy work includes: pushing and pulling items, jumping, performing animal walks, etc. If you aren’t familiar with heavy work, read this NSPT blog that includes some ideas for activities at home. You could also search “heavy work for sensory processing” on Google and you will find many ideas. This should be done for approximately 10-30 minutes a day, 1-2 times per day depending on your child’s age and level of sensory sensitivity. This will help “wake up” the tactile system in order to process sensation better.
  2. Write a social story with images of what the child should expect when getting his/her hair cut. This will be a step by step guide to getting a haircut. Go through each step such as arriving to the hair saloon, sitting in a chair, putting a cloth around the child’s neck, etc. Read this to your child often, going through each step of the process.
  3. Play pretend barber shop. Take turns with your child sitting in a chair, wrapping a cloth around each others neck, and pretending to cut each others hair with safety scissors. Do this saying that we are practicing for your hair cut on X day. Do this at least a few times before the child gets a haircut. When doing this, take special note of things your child may have difficulty with. For instance, if he or she has a difficult time remaining seated, experiment with some fidget toys such as a stress ball or having the child hold his/her favorite stuffed animal. Does your child respond well to use of a weighted blanket or weighted vest? If your child has a difficult time sitting still you may want to experiment with these items during play to see if it helps. Provide these same tools during the time your child gets a haircut. Time the child while he/she is seated during play and applaud them for any amount of time they are able to sit still (a visual timer is best). Build up to having the child remain seated for the approximate time the hair cut will take. Again, applaud them for any amount of time achieved!
  4. Make a sensory tool kit with your child that includes items that calm him/her. Bring this tool kit with you on the day of the haircut and practice using it while playing barber shop.
  5. Start playing with your child’s hair a few weeks before the hair cut. If your child can tolerate hair brushing, engage in play with his/her hair a few times per week. Spike it up and do another hair style that the child enjoys or comes up with. Have the child do this independently (after providing them with the tools) the first time (if possible) and see if they will let you do it the next time. This may be a slow process with you only being able to help slightly. Build up to you doing it without the child’s assistance. If the child cannot tolerate hair brushing, start with one brush with the hair brush, and move up to 2 the next day, 3 the following day, and so on.
  6. Go to the barber shop one time before the child gets his/her hair cut. Have the child meet the person who will be cutting their hair and ask if the child can look around the barber shop.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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Surviving Halloween With Sensory Issues

 When I think of Halloween, my mind races back to colorful memories of bright and lively costumes, overly sweet and delicious fun-sized bars of chocolate, and children of all ages screaming “trick or treat”! As most parents know, children who are especially oversensitive to auditory, visual, and tactile stimuli may experience a spark in meltdowns or increase in negative behaviors as a response to this incoming sensory input. Below are some helpful strategies to circumvent these challenges before the day and ensure a safe, fun, and successful Halloween for all.

How to survive Halloween with sensory issues:

  • Recognizing the symptoms of auditory sensitivity is the first step in preventing any tantrums or negativeHow to Survive Halloween with Sensory Issues experiences resulting from auditory overload. If your child has auditory sensitivities, investing in some noise-canceling ear plugs or headphones may help to alleviate some of the meltdowns that arise with loud music or conversation at Halloween parties.
  • Trick or treating is one of the most fun and special parts about Halloween. Encouraging children to take part in this special tradition is important to allow them to be able to explore and grow their social skills and leisure opportunities. If your child is tactile or visually sensitive, or he becomes overly emotional or uncomfortable when having to meet and introduce themselves to people, it may be helpful to have an older sibling take on the responsibility of introducing selves to neighbors or family while trick-or-treating. Let your child choose if they want to partake in ringing the doorbell and asking for treats, and know that it is okay if they wish to hang back with caregiver while visiting unfamiliar houses. Role playing with your child to help them prepare for the day’s activities can also be a helpful way to improve their social emotional responses.
  • Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes time to wear a costume! Oftentimes, Halloween costumes can be hot, difficult to put on, or uncomfortable. To avoid this nightmare, prepare your child by having them wear their costume days before the festivities, so that they have an opportunity to break in their costume on their own time, which can highlight any potential issues beforehand. Hosting a fashion show with other siblings or friends could help to make the idea of wearing non-traditional clothing more fun and exciting in a non-threatening environment.
  • For Halloween parties, make sure to bring some familiar food for the child to enjoy. Safe food choices can be comforting in an unfamiliar setting like a family or friend gathering, especially when the parent is not there for support. If the party is at your house, take advantage of this by setting up a sensory corner away from the main area of entertainment and provide extensive individual and all age activities to try out. Some good suggestions may include coloring, painting pumpkins, or themed craft jewelry. Playing quiet music and decreasing the amount bright lighting can help alleviate some stress for children with sensory concerns.


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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

playdate and sensory needs

Play Date Tips for Children With Sensory Needs

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) recognizes play as one of the most fundamentally important occupations in a child’s life. Through play, children are able to make better sense of their world, learn how to adapt to new and unfamiliar situations, and interact and socialize with their peers appropriately. As adults, it is important to provide children the “just right challenge” when preparing for a playdate, especially when a child has sensory needs which could impact their participation. Check out these 3 strategies for ideas on how to prepare for an upcoming play date.

3 Strategies For Play Dates When A Child Has Sensory Challenges:

  1. Load up with heavy work activities before the play date, which are helpful in modulatingSensory Strategies for Playdates arousal, increasing attention, and improving self-regulation. These activities may include jumping on the trampoline, swinging on a swing, laying over an exercise ball, or bouncing on a hippity-hop ball. For children who are sensory seeking, it is especially important to give their body a safe and therapeutic way to release excess energy, especially before they are expected to socialize with peers in organized and cooperative play.
  2. Meet your child where he is by offering a play experience he does not feel stressed about engaging in. For many children with sensory needs, it can be stressful to have to worry about socializing with peers. Providing opportunities that can facilitate parallel play (independent play within proximity to other children), associative play (interacting socially, without adhering to structured rules or game play), or cooperative play (organized activity) may help to bridge the gap between the social demands of the day and their level of comfort.  Activities such as puzzles, water toys, Legos, blocks, and trains can all be used in transitioning between individual play and cooperative play, allowing your child the opportunity to explore without becoming too overwhelmed or overstimulated.
  3. Play dates can be a perfect opportunity to get your child interested in multi-sensory activities. Often, when they see a peer engage in an activity, they are more likely to want to try it themselves. Setting up the environment with various opportunities to engage in sensory play, such as rice bins, baby pools, Lite Brite’s, dried pasta, finger paint, or a make-your-own slime center may also appeal to the sensory seeking kids who love to explore and get their hands messy.

If your child has difficulty participating in structured play, occupational therapy can help. Both play and social participation are two main occupations that foster growth in children. Occupational therapists are trained in providing skilled intervention to encourage a child to explore and engage in play activities that result in successful interactions within the community[1].

Is it Bad Behavior or SPD?


NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process 2nd Edition. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, November/December 2008, Vol. 62, 625-683. doi:10.5014/ajot.62.6.625

Is It Bad Behavior or Sensory Processing Disorder?

A behavior is an action that can be observed or measured. This can include eating, running, jumping, laughing, screaming, kicking or punching. With such a broad definition of a behavior it is hard to decide whether a behavior is adaptive or maladaptive. In order to determine this, you must decide what the function of a behavior is.

Functions of a Behavior:

Attention maintainedIs It Bad Behavior or Sensory Processing Disorder?

  • Receives positive and negative attention contingent on the behavior occurring
    • Ex: Mom on the phone/tantrum
  • This means that the child always gets attention immediately after the behavior – good OR bad attention.

Escape maintained

  • Escapes the instruction/task given contingent on the behavior occurring
    • Ex: Time to brush teeth/tantrum
  • This means that the child always gets out of a direction/task after the behavior occurs

Access to tangibles (items)

  • Receives item (toy, electronic, food, etc.) contingent on the behavior occurring
    • Ex: iPad
  • This means that the child always gets some object after the behavior occurs

Sensory maintained

  • Receives a good “feeling inside” contingent on the behavior occurring (A bit different than Sensory Processing Disorder-SPD) This means that the child is not getting much else out of the behavior other than the feeling itself.

If the behavior can be classified by one of the first three categories of behavior, then it can be modified by changing your response to the behavior.

Remember that Sensory Processing Disorder can result in behaviors that are a result of a difficulty or inability to process sensory information. These behaviors may also be unconscious and used as a form of “relief”. For children with sensory integration dysfunction, consider their behavior as defensive, rather than defiant.  They may be pushing themselves to the limit of their processing capabilities, rather than challenging authority.

If it is a “bad behavior”, create a proactive and reactive plan. A proactive plan is one that gives access to the maintaining function of the behavior through the use of an appropriate behavior. A reactive plan is one in which you do not allow the “bad behavior” to access the maintaining function. Here are examples to help identify a proactive plan and a reactive plan for the four categories of behavior.

Proactive and Reactive Plans for Encouraging Good Behavior:

Attention Maintained:

Proactive Plan Teach your child the appropriate way to get your attention, and highly reinforce each time he or she uses the appropriate behavior

Reactive Plan Do not give ANY attention (or at least as possible) after the behavior occurs.

Access to tangibles:

Proactive Plan- Teach your child the correct way gain access to items.  At first you may need to reinforce asking appropriately, but as your child is successful, fade bake reinforcing instances of appropriate requests for tangibles.

Other Ideas:

  • Give your child a 5 minute warning as to putting toys away
  • Let your child know the expectations when going to a store (no toys)
  • Use a timer to indicate a transition from preferred items

Reactive plan Do not allow the child to gain access to the item as a result of an inappropriate behavior.

Escape Maintained:

Proactive Plan create reinforcement system that the child can earn reinforcement for completing tasks.

Other tips:

  • Use first/then (first brush your teeth, then we will read a story)
  • Visual Schedule of tasks to do
  • Help with difficult tasks

Reactive Plan The child needs to follow through with the task given, regardless of the behavior occurring.

Sensory Maintained:

Proactive Plan – Allow the child to access the feeling in a more appropriate way. Reinforce the amount of time child goes without engaging in the behavior. As child is successful with not engaging in the behavior over a short amount of time, expand the amount of time slowly.

Reactive Plan The huge focus is on the proactive plan with sensory maintained behavior

Always give the least amount of attention to the behavior, make sure the child follows through on tasks given, and the behavior doesn’t inadvertently allow the child to gain access to items.

The behavior could turn into a “bad behavior.”

Other tips:  Time outs don’t typically help nor does yelling at the child.

Information for this blog was taken from the webinar: Is It Bad Behavior or Sensory Processing Disorder? Click here or below to watch the full recorded version.


Is it Bad Behavior or SPD?

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

sensory overload

A Child’s Response to Sensory Overload

Nails on a chalkboard. The teacups at a carnival. The feeling of a mosquito on your back that you just can’t quite reach. As adults, we are all familiar with different types of sensory stimuli which can negatively affect our attention, mood, or state of arousal. Children with sensory defensiveness experience similar reactions described above, which can often lead to sensory overload. The main difference is that sensory overload, which largely occurs in children with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder, is caused by an aversive reaction to everyday, non-threatening input which negatively affects performance in activities of daily living and social participation.

Functional examples leading to sensory overload include the following:

  • Background chatter or noises at restaurants or in school, loud and vibrant birthday parties, hairSensory Overload dryers or background noise from an air conditioning unit (auditory stimuli)
  • Fluorescent lighting, colorful or cluttered environments, flashing street lights, making eye contact (visual stimuli)
  • Application of hand cream, face wash, soap, or toothpaste. Clothing items with tags on the back, socks that are too tight, pants with buttons or tight waist bands (tactile stimuli),
  • Climbing up stairs or playground equipment, escalators in the grocery store, swings on the playground (vestibular stimuli)
  • Foods with different textures or temperatures, foods that are overly spicy, sweet, or salty (oral or olfactory stimuli).

The result of experiencing sensory overload can vary among children and can include both visceral and emotional responses. In children over responsiveness may manifest as physical illness, including vomiting, yelling, crying, running away, or general avoidance to events.

Sensory defensiveness is treatable! Existing literature indicates the nervous system is changeable due to neural plasticity. Occupational therapy is recognized as one of the leading professions capable of treating children with Sensory Processing Disorder.  The goal of OT treatment is to produce an adaptive and organized response to the aversive sensory input. During the evaluation, the OT will conduct an interview with the caregiver and may administer checklists to identify presenting problems. They may also inquire about the impact on the child’s occupational performance and daily functioning in an attempt to discern which specific sensory systems are inhibiting functional performance at home, in school, and in the community[1]. Through intervention and treatment, these aversive responses will evolve to become more mature and integrated so that the child is better able to participate in their chosen occupations.

If you notice your child exhibiting any of the symptoms above, it is important to immediately remove the stimulus that is causing the sensory overload. This may include decreasing their exposure to vibrant lights or overpowering smells, helping them avoid light touch, and providing deep proprioceptive input to their muscles and joints through bear hugs or pillow squishes which can often assist their sensory system in returning back to homeostasis. Continue to monitor your child to ensure they don’t become drowsy or ill from being too overstimulated.

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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

[1] Case-Smith, J., & O’Brien, J. (2010). Sensory Integration. In Occupational Therapy for Children (6th ed., pp. 346-356). Maryland Heights, MO: Mosby Elsevier.

sensory strategies for road trips

Sensory Strategies for Road Trips

It would take five pairs of hands and feet for me to count the number of family road trips I embarked on as a child. My family and I would load up our van and drive everywhere; we explored everywhere from Florida to New York City!

Road trips, whether they be taken with family or friends, have been a staple of American culture for decades. There isSensory Strategies for Road Trips an undeniable appeal for many to take the adventure and see the beautiful country sides, mountain towns, and valleys that the United States have to offer. While many families can plan a road trip with no second thought, many other families have become mindful of the sensory demands that a road trip has on their child.

Road trips come with sensory demands in many forms: visual, tactile, auditory, proprioceptive and vestibular. Road trips also bring the possibility of car sickness. Nausea can be precipitated by head motion. Car sickness, specifically, is caused by the discord within the brain’s ability to process movement with visual input. For example, your visual system says you are moving as the landscape passes by; however, your body and the proprioceptive receptors of the brain say you are sitting still. As your sensory receptors cannot find a way to process both sides of the sensory input, your body begins to have a visceral reaction, leading to nausea.  Another example occurs as you are trying to read a book in the car; your eyes are stationary on the book while the fluid in your ear canals are moving as the car goes over bumps and the car accelerates/decelerates; your brain has difficulty in processing if you are moving or if you are stationary as the input it is receiving does not match up.

Worry not, though! Here are some sensory strategies to incorporate into this summer’s road trip agenda:

  1. If your child requires movement breaks, do not wait until you need a bathroom break to stop. Allow scheduled stops at rest areas or parks to stretch, jump and run. Though it may add time to your trip, it will be beneficial for your child as a means to regulate.
  2. If your child is visually sensitive, provide him with sunglasses or even an eye mask.
  3. Keep in mind that seatbelts can be difficult for children with tactile difficulties. Place a soft piece of cloth or invest in a seat belt cover to ease the tactile input.
  4. If your child is of age or weight, allow them to sit in the front seat to help ease motion sickness. Sitting in front helps to alleviate the vestibular input of bumps and hills in the road.
  5. Provide your child with calming or preferred music. Auditory input can be used to help “ground” your child and assist with self-regulation and even sleep.
  6. Set your child up for success with comfortable and preferred clothing. Be mindful of removing their outerwear, as well.
  7. Proprioceptive input via a weighted blanket will help to provide body awareness and grounding abilities to your child, serving as calming input.
  8. Provide your child with snacks and drinks as preferred. Nutrition and appetite have a great influence on your body’s ability to regulate and calm.


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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

olfactory system

Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: Olfactory System

Although our olfactory system, or sense of smell, is working all day, we generally only notice scents that produce some sort of emotional response or connection. Whether it is a foul smell that tells us to plug our nose or the pleasant aroma of baked goods that draws us in, odors have a distinctly strong effect on our state of mind. Our sense of smell is known for its link to memories and ability to impact our mood. While many scents have a similar effect on most people, sense of smell is also a highly individualized phenomenon based on past experiences and the strength with which we detect various odors.

How Does Our Sense of Smell Work?

Odor molecules are detected through nerve fibers in our nose and sent to the olfactory bulb, where they are interpretedUnderstanding SPD: The Olfactory System as various smells. This information is then processed in different brain regions, both as conscious thought and as instinctual reactions. The olfactory system supports our ability to discriminate between odors as well as filter out those we should ignore and enhance those we should give attention to. As mentioned in the previous gustatory system blog, our sense of smell is also tied closely to our sense of taste, providing us with the sensation of flavor. The olfactory system has a direct connection to our limbic system, explaining why scent has such a strong relationship to our emotions, memory, and behavior. For those with an over responsive olfactory system, smell may be a constant source of anxiety. Not only are odors more intense, the associations between scent and emotion are often much broader and more extreme. Alternatively, those with an under responsive system must work much harder to get the input their body needs, often to the point of interference with routines or social norms.

Red Flags for the Olfactory System:

  • Strong reactions to smells that others may not notice -refusal to try foods or be in the same room as others eating them based on their smell
  • Aversions to scented materials such as cologne/perfume or flowers
  • Strong need to smell objects (may or may not be known for having a strong odor) such as soaps, markers, clothing, other people, flowers, trash, or gasoline
  • Doesn’t seem to notice unpleasant odors or changes in smells
  • Decides whether or not they like people based on scent

Suggested Activities:

  • Guess the scent: soak cotton balls with various essential oils, use scented candles, scratch and sniff stickers, foods/drinks, or flowers to conduct a “blind scent test”
  • Discuss scents throughout the day; put labels to them and discuss emotions or memories tied to them
  • Acknowledge hypersensitivities and emotions linked to them. For example, if your child becomes upset or angry about someone eating a type of food near them, acknowledge that as a valid emotional reaction and help identify appropriate responses, whether that is calmly leaving the room temporarily, moving away from the stimulus, or taking a moment to remind themselves that the smell will not harm them
  • Work on desensitization to smells in increments. Start with small doses in brief amounts of time and always read your child’s cues and respect his boundaries

More on the Subtypes of SPD:

  1. Sensory Processing Disorder: The Subtypes
  2. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Tactile System
  3. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Auditory System
  4. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Vestibular System
  5. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Visual System
  6. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Gustatory System


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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

sensory strategies for swimming

Sensory Strategies for Swimmers

The water is cold! My swimsuit is too tight! It is too loud! The water hurts!

For many adults, summers spent lounging by the pool are some of the fondest memories. Swimming,sensory strategies for swimming whether it be at a pool, lake or ocean, and learning to swim, is considered a right of passage. The activity provides an array of learning experiences, including gross motor skills, balance, core strength, endurance, sensory processing opportunities and social interactions. However, with the many sensory demands that are involved in swimming, the task can become overwhelming for some children. Below is information regarding the many sensory systems that require integration within the brain while participating in a swim lesson.

Sensory Systems and Strategies for Swimming:

Sensory System How the Sensory System is Affected by Swimming Suggestions to Promote Processing of this Sensation
Motor Planning Motor planning is the groundwork for sensory integration. Swimming is an opportunity for your child to learn motor planning for symmetrical and asymmetrical movements, bilateral movements, crossing midline, learning to invert the head, and separation of upper body and lower body movements. ·         Practice riding a bicycle·         Practice reciprocal arm movements while lying prone on a scooter board.·         Jumping Jacks

·         Somersaults

 

Proprioception The ability to sense your body in space and movement of the body and its parts. Proprioceptive difficulty for swimming can present with little motor control, difficulty in motor planning, difficulty in modulating the sense of pressure and postural instability. ·         Water play in the bathtub.·         Heavy work and deep pressure input to the legs, arms and torso: log rolls, burrito rolls, nig bear hugs
Vestibular The vestibular system is controlled by the inner ear, mainly the movement of fluid within the three ear canals, and is the information gathering and feedback source for movements. All other sensations are processed in relationship to basic vestibular information. Swimming can be difficult in terms of vestibular processing due to head inversion, head turning and buoyancy. ·         Somersaults·         Swinging·         Jumping

·         Scooter board activities in different planes of movements: prone, supine, kneeling, criss-cross apple sauce,

·         Spinning

·         Log rolls

 

Tactile Water provides 600-700 times more resistance to the body than air. Movement through the water is a full body experience, thus providing tactile stimulation to every inch of the body. Water can also provide information regarding temperature. In addition, the act of swimming provides tactile input through the wearing of swimsuits, which can feel tight and restrictive in some cases. ·         Water play with warm water and with cold water·         Wearing tight clothing, similar to spandex or Under Armour·         Wearing swim suits and swim trunks as play clothing to get accustomed to the fabric; wear during dry and wet activities

·         Slip and slide activity

·

Auditory The amplitude of sounds underwater are affected by the pressure, which can cause a higher sensitivity to these amplitudes. This means, as sounds across air can be managed and integrated into your sensory system, the same sound under water can feel louder, causing discomfort in the ear drum. ·         Try wearing ear plugs while under water·         Play a sound game prior to swimming; place one ear in a small bucket of water and have one ear exposed to the air, listen to the same sound both above and below the water

Swimming can be both challenging and fun, but know your child’s limits as well. Continued exposure in a controlled and safe environment can help to establish safe and error-free learning along with confidence!


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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: Proprioceptive System

Proprioception, sometimes referred to as the sixth sense, informs us of our body position in space. Receptors for this system are located primarily in our muscles and relay information on muscle length and tension. This allows us to know where our joints are positioned as well as the amount of force against our body and the effort our muscles need to apply at any given time. To get an idea of how the proprioceptive system works, imagine closing your eyes and having someone move your arms to anSPD Proprioceptive system extended position in front of you. Even though you can’t see them, you can feel that your arms are outstretched. Now if someone were to place 10 pound weights in each hand, your proprioceptive system would signal for you to make one of two decisions. Either let your arms fall to your sides due to the increased force or contract your muscles with greater effort to match it. We rely heavily on this sense throughout the day to keep track of what our bodies are doing. Much like the vestibular system, proprioception is necessary for building body awareness and security in how we fit in with our environment.

Short term impairments in proprioceptive processing can happen, for example, following a growth spurt or when a person is tired. However, for a child whose proprioceptive system is not functioning as it should, the messages that tell him where he is, how to move, and how much effort to exert just aren’t as strong. These difficulties may manifest in a number of ways.

Signs of difficulty with proprioceptive processing:

  • Easily frustrated or lacking confidence
  • Frequent crashing, bumping, climbing, falling, or jumping
  • Frequent kicking while sitting or stomping feet while walking
  • Enjoys deep pressure from bear hugs, being “squished,” being wrapped in tight blankets, or lying under something heavy
  • Uses too much force for writing or coloring. They may break the tip of the writing utensil, rip the paper while erasing, or complain about hand fatigue
  • Often plays too rough with peers, siblings, or pets
  • Wants to wear clothes and accessories too tight
  • Misjudges the amount of force needed to pick up objects (may often spill, break or drop things, or complain that objects are too heavy to carry)
  • Difficulty isolating body movements or locating body parts, such as touching the tip of their noise with a finger, particularly when eyes are closed

Activities for proprioceptive input:

  • Heavy work! This is a phrase you will often hear occupational therapists use as a go-to strategy in almost any sensory diet. This can mean much more than just carrying something heavy; it is simply resistive input. This could be squeezing something in your hands, chewing something particularly hard, or pushing, pulling, lifting, climbing, or crawling with the entire body
  • Provide deep pressure by squeezing them in a “burrito” or “sandwich” using a blanket, pillows, or cushions. You can also deliver deep pressure through shoulder squeezes or massage
  • Spend time at the playground and allow movement as often as possible! Kids often don’t have opportunities to run, jump, and play nearly as often as their bodies crave
  • Have them help with chores such as carrying laundry, pushing a vacuum, cleaning off windows or tables, rake/shovel, carry groceries, etc.
  • Build body awareness with activities that require locating body parts (Simon says, Hokey Pokey) or imitating a body position or movement sequence

Adequate proprioceptive processing is fundamental in building a child’s sense of self and in achieving important developmental milestones. If you suspect that your son or daughter is experiencing difficulties in this area, working with an occupational therapist can provide further insight and help develop a plan for your child.

More on the Subtypes of SPD:

  1. Sensory Processing Disorder: The Subtypes
  2. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Tactile System
  3. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Auditory System
  4. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Vestibular System

NSPT offers occupational therapy services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: Vestibular System

The vestibular system might not be one of the five basic senses we were taught as children, but it is arguably the most fundamental sense. It is the first sensation a fetus experiences prior to birth and as our other senses develop, they in many ways depend on the vestibular system to integrate properly. Along with the cochlea of the auditory system, it comprises the labyrinth of the inner ear. Movement of the fluids in these semicircular canals inform us of changes in our head position, gravitational pull, and direction and speed of movement. The vestibular system signals to our other senses when it’s necessary to make adjustments so that we can maintain balance, clear vision, adequate muscle tone, and coordination.

Difficulties with vestibular processing can make many aspects of everyday life challenging. These children may appear lazy, hyperactive, clumsy, inattentive, impulsive, or anxious. Dysfunction can present as hypo or hyper responsive and, much like the other sensory systems, a child may exhibit behaviors of both.

Signs of difficulty with vestibular processing include:

  • Dislike/fear or craving/seeking out activities requiring feet to leave the ground such as swings, slides, riding aSensory Processing Disorder the vestibular system bike, jumping or climbing.
  • Clumsiness or frequent falling
  • Often moving slowly/cautiously
  • Frequent motion sickness/dizziness
  • Appearing to never become dizzy with excessive spinning
  • Seemingly unaware of danger/risks or impulsively jumping, running, and/or climbing
  • Appearing frequently “lost” in their environment or having difficulty locating objects
  • Dislike of being moved to stomach or back as a baby or having their head tilted back
  • Rocking, spinning, twirling, or frequent head tilting. May also intently watch moving objects
  • Often prefers sedentary activities
  • Difficulty sitting still or unable to sustain attention without moving
  • Difficulty with reading, writing, and/or math
  • Often slouches, holds head up with hands, or prefers lying down

If you notice these red flags in your child, it is important to provide as many child-directed movement opportunities as possible. Be careful not to swing or spin your child excessively, as this can cause adverse reactions such as nausea or changes in breathing and heart rate. Consultation with an occupational therapist can help you identify activities that incorporate additional sensory systems while keeping in mind your child’s current level of security.

Below are just a few suggestions for important movement experiences to incorporate throughout your child’s weekly schedule:

  • Somersaults and cartwheels
  • Log rolling
  • Jumping rope
  • Bike riding
  • Swimming
  • Gymnastics
  • Lying on the stomach to complete activities
  • Climbing across or hanging upside down from monkey bars

More on the Subtypes of SPD:

  1. Sensory Processing Disorder: The Subtypes
  2. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Tactile System
  3. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Auditory System

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!