When I talk to people about B’s day at occupational therapy (OT), I notice their eyes glaze over and they nod mindlessly like I do when my husband starts talking about computers 🙂 OT can easily become over-loaded with acronyms and medical terms that can be intimidating. After all of the perks B has received working with her OT, I feel like I need to redeem OT’s everywhere (specifically sensory-based OT’s) and help parents, families, and others recognize the importance of movement exercises to help our bodies/brain function better throughout each and everyday of our lives.
Sensory-based OT’s work specifically on trying to help kids with sensory challenges self-regulate. Throwing a big word out there, but actually we all self-regulate at different times throughout the day. Self-regulation is having your emotions, mind, body in a “ready-state”. The state where we’re ready to learn, adapt, adjust, transition, and take in sensory input (Voss, 2011). As adults, we tend to self-regulate independently. I personally chew gum, and I’m one of those annoying people who HAS to pop bubbles. It calms my nervous system and helps me self-regulate. So does rocking. We specifically bought a glider for our living room so that I could rock our children as babies, and so I can rock/self-regulate as they grow into teenagers 😛 Angie Voss (OTR/L) created this awesome checklist to determine how we all self-regulate. Take a look and feel free to comment on some of the ways you self-regulate http://www.understandingspd.com/sensory-blog.html. (How do YOU self-regulate 3/21/2012).
For kids with sensory challenges, they struggle to self-regulate independently. They don’t always know how to verbalize what their bodies need and situations they find overwhelming. Here’s where the sensory-based OT comes in. He/she works on the three power sensations (proprioception, vestibular, and tactile input). To keep things simple, proprioception=heavy work. Some examples include carrying a heavy backpack full of books to the office while delivering attendance, shoveling snow, or pushing a wheelbarrow full of wood to the outdoor fire pit. Vestibular=movement/balance. Bouncing on a hoppity hop ball, skipping from the car into school, and swinging are all examples of vestibular activities. Finally tactile input includes the mouth, light/deep pressure touch, dealing with different textures (dry, wet, messy) and processing pain/temperature (Voss, 2012). Without the three basic power sensations working together, you won’t have the foundation skills needed to maintain a “ready state”.
B’s OT creates so many awesome sensory activities to help build the basic powerhouse sensations. She swings while playing ring toss, she rolls over bumpy crash cushions, she completes obstacle courses, she jumps on the trampoline, she pushes/pulls herself w/ a bungee cord while laying on a scooter board, she lays upside down on an exercise ball and works on pulling herself up, she walks on balance beams, she crawls through tunnels, she swings on the trapeze swing, she finds hidden objects in rice and beans, she feels different kinds of fabrics/textures, she uses different types of sensory medium (clay, glue, shaving cream, paint) to learn how to manage the tactile sensation. She even participates in cooking activities! Without all of these activities, B would not have the foundation to improve her ability to self-regulate which in turn builds her brain development.
How do I know OT is working? This week Tuesday, B’s 4K teacher came up to me and told me she’s finally starting to “get it.” She’s verbalizing her sensory needs at school. Her teacher could tell she was on over-load. She went up to her and asked if she needed a sensory break. B replied with a resounding, “Yes!” She took a 30 sec. break, came back, and had no trouble finishing the activity. She also knows exactly when she needs to use her seat cushion at school. We all have our proud “mama bear” moments with our kids and this was mine. She’s starting to recognize and use the tools OT has given her this last year!
I couldn’t be happier:) I couldn’t be more thankful for the sensory-based OT’s we have in our lives. B’s home-based OT and Angie Voss have taught us how to work with these challenges and point out how we all use various tools to self-regulate. I try to consciously remember that when I’m sitting next to the people twirling their hair, biting their fingernails, or tapping their fingers on the tabletop. I hope you can too!
*An extra thank you to Angie Voss for introducing me to my sensory bibles, “Understanding Your Child’s Sensory Signals (2011)” and “Your Essential Guide to Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder (2011).”