Sensory processing (sometimes called “sensory integration” or SI) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Whether you are biting into a hamburger, riding a bicycle, or reading a book, your successful completion of the activity requires processing sensation or “sensory integration.”
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD, formerly known as “sensory integration dysfunction”) is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses.
Scarlett was assessed using the Sensory Profile Dunn (1999). I myself completed the questionnaire, its a standardised questionnaire designed to measure an individual’s sensory processing abilities. A profile is then compiled of the effect that a sensory processing disorder, has on an individuals functional performance in daily life activities. Sensory processing is the individuals ability to register, modulate (regulate) and discriminate different sensory information arising from the body such as: touch, proprioception and movement sensations and those received from the environment including vision, hearing, smell and taste. Sensory integration development is the foundation base for skills such as motor organisation, learning and the organisation of behaviour.
People who are sensory seeking actively and continuously engage with their environment. They make noises, fidget, rub or explore objects, chew things and wrap body parts around furniture or people as they try to increase the amount of sensory input. People who are sensory seeking require additional sensory input in order to stay alert. Often their behaviour and preferences tell us what they need in order to maximise their engagement. Therefore this sensory input should not be used as a reward for engaging in an activity but provided as a prerequisite. What is required is providing additional sensory input in to all routines so that their sensory thresholds are met.
Scarlett presents with a range of sensory seeking behaviours such as:
- Seeking and becoming overexcited by movement activities
- Seeking out all kinds of movement such as whizzing and twirling
- Using playground equipment and sensory equipment repeatedly
- Jumping in all activities and flicking legs up in the air
- Enjoyment in falling
- Always on the go, her body and feet are always moving
- Seeks out deep pressure
- Touching people and objects
- Banging on metal
SENSORY SEEKING STRATERGIES:
- Regular short bursts of movement activities throughout the day embedded in between focused tasks such as bouncing on the trampette, bouncing on a ball, vibrating activities.
- Calm, controlled rocking to and fro on a swing, prone and fro over a roll or therapy ball gently and providing deep pressure should work at regulating the sensory system in order to relax and concentrate.
- The use of heavy or weighted blanket should help with regulation.
- Engaging in an activity that involves exertion and a high level of activity such as swimming, biking and the trampoline may help Scarlett to achieve the sensory level she needs to be in the ‘just right space’ in order to be able to engage in tasks which require her to be calm and focused.
- Encouraging wearing a backpack with some weight in.
- Encourage pushing/pulling a trolley with some resistance.
- Woosh and Twirl in the swimming pool against the waters resistance.
- By continually providing situations where Scarlett can successfully achieves the ‘just right’ state when given the right sensory input she may learn how to regulate herself in the future.
- Encourage massage and barefoot on different tactile surfaces.
The aims of the programme are to:
1. To improve sensory sensitivity
2. To improve poor registration
3. To improve concentration and focus
4. To improve independence
Here are a list of the activities Scarlett completes with her Occupational Therapist:
1. Platform Swing: In prone (tummy) position Linear (forwards-backwards movements. Use deep pressure to feet for calming and controlling intensity of the swing. In sitting gently rock swing to challenge motor skills.
2. Hammock swing: On back swinging in linear movements. Use deep pressure to feet for calming and controlling intensity. Use fidgets to stretch and pull or vibro.
3. Weighted Blanket: Use for 20 minutes for periods of calm and relaxation after or before and period of focus.
4. Brushing Program: To be used at regular intervals throughout the day (OT training required)
5. Therapy Roll: Scarlett to use roll in her prone position to reach for items in front of her. Scarlett to sit astride roll and then rock side to side. Roll can be used for deep pressure squishing.
6. Therapy Ball: Scarlett to sit on therapy ball and bounce in a controlled way with support. Scarlett to roll over ball in prone position. Ball can be used for deep pressure squishing.
7. Foot/hand massage: Firm massage then introduce tactile surfaces to walk on.
8. Weighted activities: Scarlett to have a weighted backpack to carry on transitions. Scarlett to be responsible for arranging class chairs, carrying books, pushing a trolley with a weight in.
There has already been drastic changes with Scarlett since using this program at school. She has shown an increased ability to concentrate and focus. She is becoming increasingly more independent as is showing increased interest in a variety of motivators. There has been a notable change in her ability to interact with others and is much less tactile defensive. If you feel your child displays any of the seeker traits it may be worth consulting your pediatrician or occupational therapist about designing a a similar program for your own child.
When I first heard the words ‘Sensory Processing Disorder’ I found lots of great information and an increased understanding of this disorder in a recommended book- The Out of Sync Child by Carol Kranowitz.
It helped me to gain greater understanding of some of Scarlett’s behaviours and with that greater understanding came a greater ability to help Scarlett! 🙂
IMPORTANT: This program should only be implemented by a trained Occupational Therapist and not attempted at home.