By: Nina Chesno
The Occupational Therapists at The Therapy Place specialize in treating children who present with sensory issues which may occur concomitantly with learning or language disorders.
Young children cannot express themselves or don’t understand what is bothering them, get frustrated and parents become anxious not knowing why they are crying. Learning more about why they’re upset in the first place allows parents to work with them and communicate with them more effectively.
These are some indications that your child may require an occupational therapy sensory assessment:
- Sensitivity to different textures of clothes
- Refusing to eat certain foods
- Rocking or flinging hands around
- Oversensitivity to light
- Difficulty holding objects
- Easily distracted by noises/smells
The Occupational therapist will begin the sensory assessment with a detailed case history about your child’s development and response to different senses such as eating, dressing, coping at school, and making friends.
They will observe your child’s reactions, movement, and coordination, as these are automatic functions of the brain’s ability to receive and process information from all senses of the body. The occupational therapist may visit the school to observe how your child reacts when other children are talking as well as his coordination on the playground.
This will enable her to determine if your child has a sensory processing or sensory integration disorder, which may require sensory desensitization occupational therapy.
Your child may struggle with the same input over a period that affects their daily functioning. This pattern may vary on different days and according to your child’s emotional status.
We take it for granted that what we see, hear, feel, and eat is part of daily life. However, a child with sensory integration difficulties experiences the five senses differently, and may overreact to one or all the following senses:
Your child identifies what they see and processes what to do with these sensory issues. Your child may have a sensitivity to light or have difficulty tracking, which affects reading. This does not involve the physical act of seeing.
Hypersensitivity to sound can be a huge challenge for a child in a classroom. Your child may experience an abnormal increase in the volume of sound, despite normal physical hearing.
Headphones during written tasks for improving concentration and completing a task.
Hypersensitivity to some smells: perfumes, food, or items in the classroom.
Oral sensitivity to the textures and taste of different foods.
This could extend to an oral motor disorder where your child will require the assistance of a Speech therapist to improve sucking, swallowing, and breathing.
Tactile defensive, as they cannot tolerate the feel of labels on clothes and different textures. Scratching and refusing to wear certain clothes.
There are two additional senses in addition to the five that we all know. These are:
This involves how your child responds to balance, coordination, and movement. It indicates how your child copes with his own body in relation to his position in space.
This is how your child receives sensory information regarding the position, force, and direction of their own body movements.
Children with sensory processing disorders will be unable to process the input of information from one or more of these various senses, which will result in anxiety and behavior problems. This is often found in Children diagnosed with autism or attention deficit disorder
Sensory integration disorders cannot be cured with medication. They are neurological issues that can be improved by exposing your child to many activities in sensory occupational therapy.
The occupational therapist will set up an individualized therapy program for your child to work on their sensory issues. The aim of these activities is to normalize their responses to the input of all the senses.
Activities for improving sensory issues will include real-life activities such as putting and taking off clothes, teaching your child the back and front of a shirt, and how to put their shoes on the correct feet
Occupational sensory therapists may use different methods in therapy such as sensory integration and sensory play therapy to reduce their reactions to input that bothers them.
Sensory occupational therapy also involves the use of equipment such as large balls, swinging ropes, lying in a hammock, spinning movements, jumping into a ball pond, lying on a soft mat, or stroking a soft toy. There is often a tactile table for children to explore different textures of toys.
Tactile activities will involve the sensory occupational therapist giving your child different objects that are rough, smooth, soft, or prickly. Placing items into a box with a smiley face or a sad face if they are non-verbal. Otherwise, your child can describe how the object feels and what he doesn’t like about it.
Vestibular activities are those that help your child to understand his position in space-related to others. It can be extremely distressing for both the parent and child when someone invades their space.
Gym Occupational Therapy
Sensory gym occupational therapy is a fun way of enabling a child with a sensory integration disorder to learn new techniques using movement to cope with their difficulties.
Teachers will be encouraged to begin the day with brain gym exercises, breathing exercises, stretching, or jumping. Classrooms can have busy, bright classrooms, and a child with sensory issues will need to be seated in a quiet area.
Group therapy in the classroom for sensory disorders due to autism, attention deficit hyperactivity is effective. Having therapy as a group can allow occupational therapists to see how the children interact with one another, and work on skills they may need at school or at home.
Writing & Drawing Activities
Another aspect of therapy is to assist your child who has difficulties with visual-motor Integration difficulties by improving their scribbling, tracing, drawing, handwriting, and cutting. This requires your child to integrate what he sees into what he is doing.
Another form of occupational therapy is desensitization therapy for their sensory issues. The goal of this therapy is to help your child to understand their reactions to different senses over a period and cope better in a process called desensitization.
The occupational therapist will give your child many different objects to touch to reduce their tactile defensiveness. Sounds may be introduced using various instruments like drums, triangles, and blowing toys. Objects may be placed in a box and covered. Looking at the toys and describing what they are used for, will enhance their visual skills.
This would be done in conjunction with the speech therapist to improve your child’s listening and oral motor skills.
The process of improving a child’s sensory integration difficulties is performed as a team, with the occupational therapist as the primary health care professional.
The team may consist of:
Sensory issues affect more than just motor skills, and it often affects the foods a child is willing to eat or the way they eat and chew their foods. Speech therapists work to improve oral sensitivity and to expose your child to different foods. They will assist your child in extending their ability to drink through a straw, thicker liquids like yogurt, and thinner liquids such as juice or milk. They may introduce various textures of foods such as mash, apple sauce, yogurt with pieces of fruit, and then tuna and meat. Correct swallowing techniques will also be part of oral motor exercises.
Psychologists are often involved in children who experience significant emotional reactions to the inability to regulate sensory information. Depending on the age of your child, the psychologist may use play therapy to assist them to express their feelings about the difficulties they are experiencing.
Parents are always an integral part of the team, to ensure the carry-over of skills to enable their children to function daily. Therapists and psychologists will work with parents and make sure they understand the activities and skills they’re practicing, so the skills can continue in the home.
Activities To Try At Home
The Occupational therapist will provide individualized activities for parents to implement at home to reduce their child’s sensory integration difficulties and desensitize them at home.
The occupational therapist may visit the school to observe how your child reacts when other children are talking as well as his coordination on the playground.
- playdough, guess what objects are by feeling them.
- listen to sounds and place counters on pictures.
- Play “I spy” for visual senses. Use soft colors in the room.
- Smell different foods, perfumes.
- Taste different foods for texture as well as taste- describe sweet or sour.
- Play games outside- climbing, running, jumping, and exercises.
- Make a “sensory Corner” in the playroom using large soft cushions, a mattress, or a bean bag to calm your child down.
Sometimes having poor sensory feedback can be due to difficulties with coping with the input of the vestibular sense. This means that your child may not be aware that he has hurt himself or others. Your child’s occupational therapist will develop their awareness of the consequence of their actions. When working at home, it’s important to keep this in mind and always be aware and alert.
Your active participation as parents is essential for your child to achieve carryover of skills taught in therapy to daily activities in the home. Children with sensory issues can be helped a great deal by receiving occupational sensory therapy.
Help is always available at The Therapy Place as well as support groups such as the autism group. If you want to learn more about how occupational therapy can help with sensory issues or other ways The Therapy Place can help your child, give us a call today.
The Therapy Place. (2020, November 22). The Therapy Place. https://www.therapyplacenj.com/
Holland, K. (2019, September 20). What are sensory processing issues in children & how to treat them. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/childrens-health/sensory-issues-in-children
Jaime, M. (2015, March 17). Ask An OT: How to desensitize a child’s skin… – Miss Jaime, O.T. Miss Jaime, O.T.
Kranowitz, C. S. (2003). The out-of-sync child has fun: Activities for kids with sensory integration dysfunction. G P Putnam’s Sons. (128)
Makerd, N. (n.d.). Five senses – touch, taste, hearing, sight, smell. Dreamstime.Com. Retrieved January 31, 2022, from
Sensory Assessment. (n.d.). Otforkids.Co.Uk. Retrieved January 31, 2022, from https://www.otforkids.co.uk/services/assessments/sensory-assessment.php
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