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sensory strategies for school

Sensory Strategies for School

Preparing your child to go back to school can be both exciting and challenging. Research suggests that approximately 1 in 6 children experience sensory symptoms that are significant enough to interfere with everyday life functions occurring at home and in the school.[1] Targeting the body’s sensory systems of oral, vestibular (movement), proprioceptive (body position), tactile (touch), visual, and auditory will help them to stay motivated and engaged in the classroom. Check out these 5 tips that describe various sensory strategies for school.

Sensory Strategies for School:

  1. Send your child to school with a healthy, crunchy snack in their lunch such as carrots,Sensory Strategies for School celery, granola bars, licorice, or gummy worms. Research suggests children with sensory processing difficulties, specifically those who are underresponsive to sensory input, benefit from crunchy snacks to improve their attention and arousal levels.
  2. Offer a move-n-sit cushion, wiggle seat, or theraband seat modification– Children who seek out movement often have difficulty sitting still in class. These children may benefit from some added movement opportunities to assist their body in focusing and attending to tasks. Often, move-n-sit cushions, wiggle seats, or tying a theraband around the two front legs of the chair offers the child just enough opportunity to stay aroused and attended without becoming too distracting.
  3. Assign classroom chores– for those children who are underresponsive to proprioceptive input, activities such as watering flowers, carrying books to and from the library, sweeping or mopping the floors, and cleaning the chalkboard are all effective ways to target the body’s proprioceptive system, which gives the body’s muscles and joints the resistant heavy work they crave. Often, these children require an adult to help them identify when their body needs to take a break and move around[2]. They may not register that their body is in an awkward, uncomfortable position when seated at their desk. Heavy work activities are often helpful in allowing their body to become more regulated and aware of their surroundings.
  4. Reduce visual clutter and auditory noise– For those children who are overresponsive to visual and/or auditory input, try and use natural light versus fluorescent lighting and reduce classroom background chatter whenever possible. Reducing visual and auditory external stimuli may help with overall attention and focus.  For grade school children, decreasing the amount of math problems on a page, and leaving plenty space between each problem may assist with better performance when working.
  5. Give children their own space– For children who are overresponsive to tactile stimuli or who have difficulties with tactile discrimination, it is important to decrease instances of accidental touch from classroom peers. For younger children, having separate carpet squares for them to sit on will reduce the amount of unexpected distracting touch from other classmates. For grade school children, it may be helpful to place their desk at the front of the class to avoid any unnecessary touch from others, or let the student walk at the end of the line to avoid anyone bumping into them[3].

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!

Resources:

[1] Sensory Over-Responsivity in Elementary School: Prevalence and Social-Emotional Correlates By: Ben-Sasson, A., A. S. Carter, and M. J. Briggs-Gowan. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology J Abnorm Child Psychology 2009-01-20

[2] Kranowitz, C. (2005). How to Tell if Your Child Has a Problem with the Proprioceptive Sense. In The out-of-sync child: Recognizing and coping with sensory processing disorder (Rev. and updated ed.). New York: A Skylight Press Book/A Perigee Book.

[3] Kranowitz, C. (2005). How to Tell if Your Child Has a Problem with the Tactile Sense. In The out-of-sync child: Recognizing and coping with sensory processing disorder (Rev. and updated ed.). New York: A Skylight Press Book/A Perigee Book.

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!

Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: Tactile System

The tactile system, or sense of touch, refers to the information we receive though the receptors in our skin. It alerts us to pain and temperature and helps us discriminate the properties of things we come in contact with, i.e. texture, shape, size, and weight. From very early on in development this sense plays a crucial role in helping us gain awareness of our own bodies and understand everything we come in contact with. Touch is considered one of our most basic senses since body awareness, motor planning, visual perception, and social/emotional development are so dependent on it.

 The Tactile System:

There are general patterns to how different types of touch affect us. Short, light touch, like the tickle of a feather or anSPD Tactile ant crawling on your skin can cause alertness such as a quickened heart rate and an immediate need for response. On the other hand a prolonged, deep pressure, such as a hug, is generally calming and can provide a sense of security. But what happens when a person’s tactile system is over or under responsive to touch? What would happen if an affectionate caress caused irritation or panic, or if objects always seemed to drop from your hands as soon as your attention moved elsewhere? Just imagine how stressful it would be to live in a constant fight or flight state because so many day to day events caused physical discomfort. And how frustrating it must be to learn new skills when you can’t adequately feel the objects you’re using!

Red flags that your child may be experiencing difficulties with tactile processing include:

  • Becoming overly upset about having his hair washed, brushed or cut
  • Having his nails cut, or teeth brushed
  • Avoiding or overreacting to touch from others, particularly when it’s unexpected
  • Showing irritation over tags or particular types of clothing such as jerseys or jeans
  • Isolating themselves from groups or preferring to play alone
  • Over sensitivity to temperature or decreased awareness of extreme temperatures
  • Over or under reactive to pain
  • Frequently dropping objects out of his hands or using inappropriate force on objects such as squeezing his pencil too hard or crumpling his papers
  • Having difficulty with, or being frustrated by, fine motor tasks such as drawing/writing, cutting, zipping, buttoning, tying laces, etc.
  • Being a picky eater or showing a strong preference for specific textures/types of food
  • Anxiety over standing in line or being in crowds
  • Disliking socks and shoes or alternatively, avoiding walking barefoot, especially on textures such as grass or sand
  • Seeking out deep pressure rather than light touch
  • Preferring tight clothing rather than loose-fitting garments that may rub on skin
  • Insisting on pants and long sleeves even in hot weather, or very little clothing even in cold weather
  • Avoiding or overreacting to wet or messy textures
  • Not noticing a messy face or hands

A general rule of thumb for these kids is to engage in deep pressure or heavy work activities often, as this is the most organizing and grounding form of touch. If these sound like things your child is struggling with, consult with an occupational therapist to get a clearer profile of his sensory needs. Your OT can help you gain a better understanding of why your child exhibits certain behaviors and create an individualized plan to make him more comfortable in his own skin!

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!