Snow Much Fun: The Therapeutic Benefits for Snow

by FS&TS

Snow.  It’s cold, wet, and difficult to drive in.  But as Occupational Therapists, we love snow!  At least, we love the therapeutic benefits of snow.

If your child is a sensory-seeker, on-the-move, emotionally dramatic, or high-energy kind of kiddo, keep reading to find out why you can love the snow too!

Playing in the snow is an activity that provides excellent deep pressure and heavy work or proprioceptive input.


Proprioception is our internal sense of body awareness. It tells us about where our body is, how our muscles are moving, and how much force we are using. For many kids, proprioception (heavy work) and deep pressure are very calming and organizing types of input. Snow provides an excellent source of these types of input! Simply wearing all that snow gear gives a nice dose of deep pressure, similar to using a weighted vest or blanket. And playing in a snowy backyard is a natural way to get a heaping helping of proprioceptive input, which can help your child remain more organized during the long hours of indoor work at school or play at home.

Next time your child is bouncing off the walls, consider a healthy dose of SNOW THERAPY with these activities:

  • Climb a SNOW DRIFT MOUNTAIN: Provides heavy work and great exercise!
  • Build a SNOWMAN: Great arm strengthening as they roll and lift the balls of snow. Also provides heavy work/proprioceptive input!
  • Make a SNOW ANGEL: A more restful way to provide heavy work/proprioception. It also is perfect to pair this with deep breathing while your child lays in the snow.
  • Create a SNOW MUMMY: Burry your child from toes to shoulders in the snow for a great dose of calming deep pressure. Then have him or her try to climb out!
  • Build a SNOW FORT: Strengthen arms and legs, provide great proprioceptive input, and work on those planning and problem-solving skills!

With all these benefits in mind, let’s encourage our kids to bundle up and head outside for some SNOW THERAPY!

School VS Clinic Treatment Setting

by FS&TS

Speech language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists work to to identify, evaluate and treat children in settings that meet their academic, family and social needs. We work in a variety of settings but most commonly children are receiving services through a “school setting” and/or a “clinic setting”. Parents looking for services for their child will sometimes ask which of the two service settings will be most beneficial. The answer really is, both. Here’s why:

School VS Clinic Setting Blog Post.jpg

 

Qualifying:School and clinic settings hold different criteria to determine whether a child is appropriate and would be considered “qualifying” for services. Both settings use standardized tests, parent report and take into consideration the child’s strengths and weaknesses. School districts evaluate to determine the child’s areas of need to improve academic success. Depending on the school district, there can be a variety of screenings and teacher based interventions that will be attempted before a formal evaluation is completed. Clinic therapists evaluate and make treatment recommendations based on the needs in home, school and community settings.  Qualifying for clinic services is not only determined by performance on tests but take into consideration the child’s overall functioning. These services are often covered by their insurance company when scores indicate a significant need.

Expertise: Therapists recognized by their state and national organizations are qualified to work in either setting however therapists in the school district most often also hold a department of education licensure.  Both settings have access to equally qualified and trained professionals. Therapists in both settings have a wide array of experience, continuing education and resources.

Goal Focus: Services provided in the school setting are tailored to improve the skills of the student within the academic setting. This includes the child’s ability to use speech and language skills to communicate, improve literacy skills, develop fine motor skills for writing and navigating their school environment safely and to the best of their potential. The clinic setting allows the therapist to develop similar goals which may allow the child to be successful in any setting he or she may be involved including school, home, community, daycare, etc. Goals can be easily adjusted in the clinic setting to suit the child’s and family’s changing needs.

Documentation: Within the school, services are described and monitored via an IEP (Individualized Education Program) or an IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan), which is a legally binding document once signed and in place. This includes regular meetings and input from the student’s teachers and other academic providers. In the clinic, progress is reported to the family, the child’s physician and if appropriate, the insurance company.

Treatment: Within the school, services can be provided within the classroom setting, often referred to as the “push-in model”. This allows the service provider to facilitate learning within a setting that is most natural, in collaboration with his or her teacher while monitoring the student’s progress first hand. The student may also be pulled out of their classroom to develop their skills in a one-on-one setting or within a group. The duration of the visits can vary from 5 minutes to 60 minutes, and up to several times per week. The clinic setting allows a one-on-one interaction allowing for dynamic activities and custom treatment approaches; fresh ideas sent home with parents following each session. In the clinic, the therapist designs activities and learning opportunities specifically for the child’s interests and needs. Sessions can range from 30 minutes to a hour.

Taking a Team Approach: Both treatment settings offer a connection with a skilled professional with the child’s learning as top priority. Parents are able to seek and obtain services in both settings to determine the best fit for their child. Also, parents can request that their school and clinic therapists collaborate to bridge the gap between settings. Another strategy for success includes finding time to connect with your SLP/OT/PT on a regular basis either via phone call, email or during the first or last 5-10 minutes of your clinic visit. As always, ask your therapist or service provider if you have any questions about how to initiate services in either of these settings.

Eating Doesn't Have to be Scary: Halloween Holiday Food Exploration

by FS&TS

By Jessica Naiberg, OTR/L

Holidays and changing seasons are natural times to explore new foods due to the changing seasonal produce and meals. For our children, this change can be exciting AND scary.

Halloween Sweets Blog Graphic (1).png

 

Playing with food is one way we can encourage our kids to explore new or non preferred food items: flying food like an airplane, playing peek-a-boo with food placed under a napkin or even making art with food. “Painting” with applesauce using a pretzel stick or creating “food art” by making pictures on a plate is a great way to increase exposure through sight, touch and maybe even taste.

To enhance flexibility around food and encourage adventurous eating, one of the first steps is to alter the appearance of already preferred food items. This strategy can be as basic as cutting a sandwich diagonally, instead of vertically, or as complex as creating food art with familiar food.

Halloween and other holidays are great times to borrow food art ideas from Pinterest or blog posts.

Happy Halloween!

You’re Not Crazy, and Your Kid’s Not a Liar: The Inside-Scoop on Sensory Processing

by FS&TS

By Jennafer Young, OTRL

I recently had a mom tell me her child has never cried at a finger prick, and he loves to bang his head against the wall. Another admitted her daughter has a screaming-and-kicking meltdown if a haircut is mentioned or a new food is presented at dinner. Still another explained her son can’t sit still long enough to put his socks on, let alone eat an entire meal or listen to her directions.

You’re Not Crazy, and Your Kid’s Not a Liar- The Inside-Scoop on Sensory Processing.png

As a pediatric occupational therapist,  I meet kids like these every day. What do all these children have in common? They’re not spoiled-rotten, picky, high-strung, ADHD-diagnosed time bombs waiting to explode. They have signs of Sensory Processing Disorder. I know, the word “disorder” sounds a little scary...especially if your son or daughter reminds you of any of these kids I’ve met. But research shows that as many as 1 in 20 kids is affected by signs of SPD (Ahn, Miller, Milberger, & McIntosh, 2004). So hang with me - you’re in good company, and there’s hope.

We usually only talk about having five senses - sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. But in actuality we have at least seven different senses.  The extra few senses (proprioceptive & vestibular) are related to sensing movement. They give us our ability to detect the speed, direction, and position of each part of our body. “Sensory processing” is our brain’s ability to take in information from each of the seven senses, interpret the meaning of the sensation, and respond in an appropriate way. For those with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), one or more of the seven senses is felt or interpreted in a non-typical way.

So what does SPD have to do with your child’s unpredictable meltdowns or insatiable thrill-seeking? Kids with signs of SPD may be over-responsive or under-responsive to the sensory input in their environments. Either tendency leads to...well, an unexpected behavioral response.

For those with under-responsive nervous systems, it takes a lot of extra input to help them experience the world at a desirable level. These kids may constantly be on the go (seeking the movement senses), constantly listen to music (seeking auditory input) or constantly chew on gum...or their pencils...or their shirt (seeking oral/taste input). If they don’t receive the input they crave, they have a hard time managing their emotions. It’s like being hungry - if your drive for food isn’t satisfied, it’s hard to keep your attitude in check. But for these kids, any of the seven senses could be what they’re lacking, and until that sensory tank is full, their behavior-truck ain’t running smoothly.

What about the flip side? You know, the super-sensitive kids who notice everything...and complain about it?! They have over-responsive nervous systems to one or more of the senses. It’s hard to imagine, but the long-sleeve shirts he refuses to wear because they “hurt his arms” probably irritate his well-tuned sense of touch. The generic brand Cheetos she refuses to eat may startle and overwhelm her keen sense of taste. And, yes, the sound of the toilet flushing is as unbearable as fingernails on a chalkboard. The world is overwhelming to a kid with an uber-sensitive system, and this child needs to learn how to adjust or manage the input bombarding them before they either shut down or meltdown.

So where’s the hope in all of this? Well, the bright side is that you, Mom, are not crazy. You’re not crazy for thinking your daughter is more observant, more sensitive, more “picky” than her friends. And you’re not crazy for thinking your son is louder, more energetic, or more rough than his peers.

The other bright side is that your child is not a liar. Or manipulator. Or hopeless whiner. He or she is simply communicating how they experience the world - either as exhaustingly mundane for the under-sensitive, or unbearably overwhelming for the over-sensitive. Either extreme makes it difficult to simply “behave.”

Crazy or not, I realize that all these haywire senses can still cause painful meltdowns and family tension. That’s where professional help comes in: Occupational therapists are trained to understand all seven of the sensory systems and how they impact a child’s emotions and behaviors. Through a “sensory processing” or “sensory integration” approach, OT’s can identify, design, and teach you and your child strategies to meet their sensory needs. And when their needs are met, these kids are much more prepared to live, laugh, and learn.

October is Sensory Awareness month. So take a moment to reflect:

When your child’s responses to the world seem baffling, consider if there’s more than “behavior” going on here. Have you seen signs that your child is a super-sensor or a seldom-sensor? Please share your stories!

Citations:

Ahn, R. R., Miller, L. J., Milberger, S., & McIntosh, D. N. (2004). Prevalence of parents’ perceptions of sensory processing disorders among kindergarten children. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 58, 287–293. https://www.spdstar.org/sites/default/files/file-attachments/ahn_miller.pdf

Playground Benefits

by FS&TS

By Kristina LaBarre, MOT, OTR/L

Playgrounds are filled with wonderful equipment designed to help bolster your child’s gross motor, sensory motor, and social skills. The best part is that kids are busy having fun while they are developing their skills in age appropriate ways!  
These are just some of the MANY playground benefits from an occupational therapist’s perspective: 

Proprioceptive processing

This sensory system takes information from the muscles and joints that sends it to our brain to communicate about where our body is in space.  This input is required for coordination, body awareness, rate/timing of movements, and force modulation (the amount of force required for activities). 

  • Activities such as hanging, climbing, jumping, crashing, pushing, pulling help develop this sense

Vestibular processing

This sensation allows us to maintain balance, arousal regulation, spatial orientation, ocular motor skills, postural control, weight shifting, motor coordination, attention, and speech development.  This can be achieved through changes in head position. 

  • Equipment and activities that develop this sense include monkey bars, slides, zip lines, swings, merry-go-rounds, log rolling, somersaults


Tactile processing

This sensory system gives us information about our environment, determine pain, the amount of pressure required for activities, body scheme, and assist with developing fine motor coordination required for writing and completing fasteners.  

  • Equipment and activity that develop this sense include: sand boxes, grass, rocks, climbing on different surfaces


Auditory processing

This can be addressed via filtering out and tuning into certain sounds during play.  Children with difficulties in this area may rely on other senses especially touch and sight during play.

  • Nature sounds can also provide a calming effect.  


Visual system

This system helps us make sense of what we see, assist with spatial relations, and directionality.  
Strengthening

Playgrounds provide opportunities to strengthen the whole body and endurance. 

  • Activities that develop this sense include: climbing, hanging, swinging


Social skills, safety awareness, and attention are also developed naturally at the playground.
 

The Key to Fidgets

by FS&TS

By Brenna Patterson, MS OTR/L

In the past few months, fidget spinners have become all the rage and it appears most kids (and pets!) have found uses for these gadgets. While these spinners are fun for the fingers and minds, it also appears that they have distracted kids from school activities as well. There is merit to these fidget spinners, but to clear the name of “fidgets,” I wanted to provide information about how to find the optimal fidget for your child and how you can tell that this fidget is effective.

Fidgets, by definition, are objects or tools that a child or adult uses to improve their attention to activities that they are doing. Having a fidget often provides sensory input that a person may not be getting from their environment and enabling them to filter out the distracting input they otherwise may have had difficulty filtering out. Contexts for “fidgets,” may include work meetings, lessons at school, doing homework, waiting a turn during a game, and focusing on a conversation with a friend or family member.

For some people, the tactile and proprioceptive input provided by writing or typing is sufficient to improve their attention to what they are doing in the moment. However, for other people this may not be enough and their mind may require additional textures to the tactile input or squeezing to decrease this “wandering” or “seeking” for this input. For an item or object to be considered a fidget, it must be small in size, improve the person’s attention, be safe, have a reasonable cost, and is not distracting to others around them. Thus, if the fidget makes additional sound it may be more distracting than supporting attention (For example, has someone around you clicked and unclicked a ballpoint pen over and over again and driven you crazy to the point that this is all you hear? This is an example of that!).  

Fidget Spinners provide proprioceptive input through squeezing the middle circle, as well as tactile input through the smooth texture of the plastic. Some of the fidget spinners have visual input provided as well, such as lights, which may actually impede someone’s attention or the attention of others around them. If you find your attention going to and staying with the fidget spinner, this is not an effective fidget for you! When looking into fidgets, it is important to consider certain textures or input that the person may avoid/dislike, when they appear most “fidgety,” for determining when it will be used, and try to use sensations that are sought after by that person-this will be most calming and supportive. In addition, consider rules you may need to introduce when instructing or educating your child on the fidget and its uses so that the fidget is used well and does not get taken away or accidentally used in a distracting way!

There are a number of low-tech fidgets that can be found all around you, and you may already be using them without knowing! Rubber bands, coins, paper clips, links on a chain, slime, theraputty, stress balls, and foam blocks are all examples of low-tech fidgets. This is not to say that you cannot use the nice and novel fidgets-these have their benefits as well! Everyday objects can also be used as fidgets and wanted to provide these as options. Some of the newer fidgets provide a variety of textures and pushing/pulling opportunities; for example, there is a “fidget cube,” that many children have reported as helpful to increase their attention during the day.

One of the keys to occupational therapy is finding practical and functional ways to improve a skill that is required for daily life, and everyone needs to have attention for activities, whether these are hobbies, recreational, or work-related activities. These are some of the functional and practical ways to increase attention during the activity, and I hope that this was helpful in exploring some of the options. Please see your occupational therapist if you have further questions or would like more information on what fidgets would be beneficial for your child.

Sugar Cookie Day- How Baking Cookies is Good for Development- PLUS Recipes

by FS&TS

By Christine Peters, OTR/L

July 9th is SUGAR COOKIE DAY! Not only do we love to eat these sweet treats, but we also love to utilize baking cookies to work on child development!

Take advantage of this “holiday” and work on developmental skills such as:

-Following Directions (reading or hearing step-by-step directions from a caregiver)

-Coming to Midline (pouring ingredients into measuring devices)

-Crossing Midline (stirring, reaching for ingredients, rolling dough with rolling pin)

-Strengthening (stirring dough, rolling dough with rolling pin)

-Bilateral Coordination (rolling dough with rolling pin)

-Visual Motor (measuring ingredients)

-Tactile Input (messy play with kneading dough)

-Auditory Input (mixer or hand-mixer)

-Safety (working with hot oven and/or hot cookies right out of the oven- this is a good opportunity to discuss oven and kitchen safety)

 

Following are sugar-cookie and frosting recipes that have dietary restrictions in mind:

COOKIE RECIPES:

-Classic Sugar Cookie

http://www.inkatrinaskitchen.com/best-sugar-cookie-recipe-ever

-Gluten-Free Sugar Cookie

http://flippindelicious.com/2013/02/soft-sugar-cookies.html

-Dairy-Free Sugar Cookie

http://mywisemom.com/dairy-free-christmas-cut-out-sugar-cookies

-Allergy Friendly Sugar Cookies (dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free)

http://momversusfoodallergy.com/2016/02/11/allergy-friendly-sugar-cookies/

-Low-Sugar Sugar Cookies

http://heavenlyhomemakers.com/sugar-cookies-the-whole-wheat-low-sugar-super-delicious-way

FROSTING RECIPES:

Classic Icing:

http://www.cleverlysimple.com/how-to-make-the-best-and-easiest-sugar-cookie-icing-glaze/#sthash.osQLAck0.qjtu

Dairy-Free Frosting:

http://www.kiwimagonline.com/dairyfreefrosting?recipe=dairy-free-vanilla-frosting

A Very Sensory Spring

by FS&TS

By Jennafer Young, MS, OTR/L

Spring is here! And with it come many advantages to outdoor sensory play.

The outdoors is the perfect place for your child to encounter rich, meaningful, fun, and challenging sensory experiences! Think about it: playing outside provides some of the greatest variety in sensory experiences. You naturally have many sounds (birds, cars driving by, children down the street)...many smells (grass, pine needles, rain)...many sights (various colors, sizes, distances, and patterns)...and many textures (light breeze on your face, sticky mud on your hands, soft grass on your feet).

On top of all this input, you have plenty of movement input (vestibular and proprioceptive) from the play children naturally participate in when they are outside: running, swinging, puddle jumping, rolling, digging, sliding, climbing...the list goes on!

When children are playing outside, they get to learn about challenging and wonderful sensory input in a natural, non-threatening way. They get to learn about the world that will always be around them, rather than a contrived world of sensory bins and structured play. Don’t get me wrong - I love these too. But these activities imitate rather than replace the sensory-rich experiences found in nature. So let’s set aside our grown-up and all-too-practical ideas of uber cleanliness, hyper-safety patrol, and total control. Let’s encourage our kids to get outside, get sweaty, and get dirty! Here are a few ideas:

Instead of staying inside to create home-made play dough for a texture experience, why not go dig in the sandbox or make mud pies?

Rather than having animal races down the hallway, why not have your races outside where the whole body is engaged in a sensory experience?

Instead of playing in a water basin or bathtub, why not put on old clothes and go puddle jumping?

Rather than host a dance party to get the wiggles out, why not climb trees or have rolling races down the hill in the backyard?

And don’t forget to invite the neighbor kids! You may be amazed at the sensory input your child will accept when they have a friend laughing and playing right along with them.


Happy Spring!

Interoception, what is it and how do I improve it?

by FS&TS

By Kristin Connell, OTR/L

What is interoception?

Your stomach is grumbling, your mouth is dry, your heart is racing, your fists are clenched.  This is your internal system signaling your brain that you are that you are hungry, thirsty, nervous or angry.   You are using your interoceptive system to be aware what of what your body is telling you.

Interoception an internal sense, and the the 8th sense in our sensory system (see previous Vestibular and Proprioceptive posts for information on the 6th and 7th senses).

It is the signalling and perception of internal body sensations and emotions. The receptors inside our body, organs, muscles, skin, etc send their signals to the brain.  The brain interprets these messages for us to feel body states such as hunger, thirst, pain, temperature and emotions.

This system is important because when we feel a certain way, your body responds (ie. stomach grumbling-you eat, you feel nervous-you find comfort, etc).  If we feel our internal system is “off”, we try to change the imbalance by doing something.

Many people with sensory processing disorder, autism or developmental delays do not have good interoceptive awareness, therefore are not aware of their body’s sensations or emotions. Bringing awareness to these feelings will improve independence with self care skills, self regulation, perspective taking and problem solving.

How do I improve it?

Interoception is a topic that has only recently been researched and written about, so currently there is limited information on the best ways to improve this area.  Here are the two most effective ways to begin the process of increasing interoception awareness.  

Occupational therapy!

An OT can help improve a child’s body awareness through providing specific sensory input in the clinic and at home to improve the child’s self awareness.

In addition, various programs such as Therapeutic Listening and Integrated Listening Systems (iLS) and Zones of Regulation can improve body awareness and self regulation skills as well.

Body check chart

Older children:

Begin this process with positive experiences like after running around outside, after a warm shower, after a meal, etc.  

Draw an outline of the person.  Label specific parts-head, eyes, ears, mouth, voice, chest, heart, hands, stomach, feet, skin, muscles, etc.

Have the child label one body part and how it feels at that moment (i.e. eyes-sleepy, awake, watery, itchy, dry, etc).  Continue to add body parts and corresponding sensations, depending on the level of the child.

After noticing the sensations of various body parts, give each sensation meaning. For example:

  • when your eyes are watery/itchy, it means you are tired
  • when your heart is beating fast, you may feel nervous or angry about something
  • when your stomach makes a grumbly noise, it means you are hungry

As the child continue to progress, have them match different body states or emotions to their specific body sensations. (i.e. Nervous: hands sweaty, heart racing, legs moving, stomach fluttery)

Younger children:

Trace their body on a large piece of paper.  Point to a body part on the drawing and have them wiggle it on their own body to build body awareness.  You could also play a game of Simon Says to build awareness: touch your heart, clench your fists, breath really fast.


During a body state/emotion-label the body sensations you see, in a non judgmental way (your hands are wiggling, you are breathing fast), and write it on the drawn body. This will help bring about awareness to their sense of self and begin to understand their body’s signals.

Everyday Sensory: Making Sense of the Vestibular System

by FS&TS

By Jennafer Young, MS, OTR/L

“All this talk about vestibular input is making my head spin!”

Did you catch the pun? Sorry, I couldn’t resist. In a previous post I’ve talked about how easy it is for OTs to get caught up in confusing jargon as we describe your child’s sensory needs. Today I want to remove some of the dizzying terminology by jumping into a concrete explanation of the vestibular system. Ok, enough with the cheesy vestibular-puns. Let’s make some sense of this unusual term.

What is the vestibular sense?

The “vestibular sense” is just another one of your senses. In everyday life we talk about 5 senses, but in actuality we have at least 7 senses: sight, taste, sound, touch, smell, proprioception, and vestibular. (For more on proprioception, see the blog post titled Everyday Sensory: Making Sense of Proprioception.)

Basically, the vestibular sense is your sense of balance...movement...speed...where your head is located in relation to gravity. If you bend down to pick something up off the floor, you know you are upside-down because of your vestibular system. When you spin on a tire swing, that feeling of dizziness is sensed by your vestibular system. When you change your speed from fast to slow, keep your balance on a rocking boat, or even feel carsick, those sensations come from your vestibular system telling your brain about your body’s movement in relation to gravity. This awareness of your movement, speed, and balance is sensed by receptors in your inner ear, and then relayed to your brain through the same nerve that carries auditory (sound) input from your ear.

Why does the vestibular sense matter?

The vestibular sense is what lets you sort out the difference between up and down, spinning and stationary, fast and slow. These sensations are necessary for keeping yourself upright in a moving world and for coordinating safe and controlled movements. Because of the pathways in the brain where vestibular information travels, the vestibular system is also a key player in keeping you alert, controlling posture, and even regulating emotions.

Why does my child seek or avoid vestibular input?  

People have different levels of sensitivity to each type of sensory input. Just like one person may perceive a food to taste spicy while another finds it bland, so some people are more or less sensitive to vestibular input. Some kids are highly sensitive to vestibular input and may become carsick easily or be afraid to let their feet leave the ground. Other kids can’t seem to get enough movement because they have a low sensitivity to vestibular input. To make up for it, they are constantly spinning on the tire swing, jumping into the pool, and rolling down the hill. This more intense movement helps them experience the input they are craving. Others may feel that same level input from less intense movement (like a rocking chair or a slow bike ride).

What activities provide vestibular input?

Any movement-based activity triggers the vestibular system to send messages to the brain about where we are in relation to gravity. But activities that include spinning, head movement, and changes in speed are especially rich in vestibular input.

Here are some activities that provide a lot of vestibular input:

  • -Running, skipping, jumping

  • -Swinging on a playground swing or tire swing

  • -Riding the Merry-Go-Round or See-Saw

  • -Riding a bike

  • -Rolling down the hill

  • -Rocking in a chair or hammock

  • -Jumping on the trampoline

  • -Bouncing on a hippity hop ball

Everyday Sensory: Making Sense of Proprioception

by FS&TS

By Jennafer Young, MS, OTR/L

I’ll be the first to admit that we occupational therapists like to throw around a lot of “sensory jargon.” You may nod and smile and think it all makes sense while we chatter about your child’s vestibular system, oral-seeking behaviors, proprioceptive calming strategies, and sensory diet. But when you try to explain your child’s needs and strategies to teachers, PCAs, or other family members, you realize it’s not quite as clear as you thought in the clinic. Let’s hit pause and try to break down one of these terms into real language - language you can feel comfortable using to teach grandparents or daycare providers how to best support your child. Today we’ll start with the longest word: proprioception.

What is proprioception?

“Proprioception” is just another one of your senses. Usually we talk about 5 senses - sight, taste, touch, sound, and smell. Well in the OT world, there are 7 senses, and proprioception is number 6. (Vestibular sense is number 7, but that’s a topic for another day.)

In a nutshell, the sense of proprioception is the sense of where your body is. Close your eyes and think about your body - do you still know where your left arm is, even though you can’t see it? Can you reach up and touch your ear with your eyes closed? That’s because of your sense of proprioception. This awareness of your body is picked up by receptors located in your muscles and joints. Whenever you move (and amazingly, even when you stand still!), these receptors send messages to the brain to let you know where each part of your body is positioned and how it is moving.

Why does proprioception matter?

By giving you a sense of body awareness, proprioception prepares you to move in a smooth and coordinated fashion. After all, if you’re not sure where your body is, it would sure be tough to coordinate your arms, legs, and trunk to complete movements like running, jumping rope, or climbing on the jungle gym! Having a good sense of proprioception also helps with safety awareness because you know where you are in relation to your surroundings. This helps keep you from bumping into people and objects around you.

Why does my child “seek proprioception”?

In regard to the other senses, we might say someone has “keen eyesight” or is “not very sensitive to smells.” Similarly, some kids are highly aware of their bodies (high proprioceptive sense), and some have low awareness (low proprioceptive sense). For those with low awareness, it takes a more powerful proprioceptive input for them to feel it. This more intense input could seem painful to us, but it is “just right” for the child with a lower sensitivity to proprioception. Does your child love to jump, roll, crash, or purposefully fall? He or she is probably trying to naturally get the proprioceptive input needed to sense the position of his/her body.

What activities provide proprioceptive input?

Activities that require your the muscles to work hard or add pressure to the joints are rich proprioceptive activities. By loading your joints or muscles with weight (“heavy work”), you can cause the receptors there to send lots of strong messages to the brain about where your body is!

Here are some activities that provide a lot of proprioceptive input:

  • -Animal walks (bear walk, crab walk, wheelbarrow walk, etc.)

  • -Tug-of-war

  • -Crawling through a mountain of heavy pillows/blankets

  • -Pulling a sled loaded with snow or sand or another child

  • -Wearing ankle weights or wrist weights while playing

  • -Monkey bars or climbing on the jungle gym

  • -Pushing the grocery cart

  • -Swimming

  • -Making snow angels

  • -Kneading or stirring thick foods

  • -Laying on the belly while propped up on elbows or hands (e.g. while watching TV, coloring, etc.)

Managing Sensory Challenges at Halloween

by FS&TS

By Brenna Patterson, OTR/L

Halloween can be an exciting, anticipated event for many kids. Some kids love to pretend to be their favorite superhero or princess, or get to dress up for a whole day. For some kids, though, this may be an overwhelming and challenging experience with new sounds (sometimes spooky!), people looking different than normal, and having to tolerate a lot of textures over the course of the holiday (pumpkin “guts,” rough costumes, masks, etc.).

There are some ways that you can prepare your child with sensory challenges for this holiday so it’s an enjoyable experience for everyone! Some preparatory planning can go a long way to support everyone’s experience on the special day.

Costumes:

Sometimes a mask may be overwhelming, especially for a child who cannot tolerate tactile textures on their face for extended periods of time. The same goes for face paint! If the child’s preferred costume requires either of these options, perhaps ease them into this experience by role playing or allowing the child to wear them for brief amounts of time, increasing the amount of time leading up to the trick or treat day. There are a variety of costumes that don’t require a mask, or maybe just requires a hat. For example, a train conductor (perhaps Sir TopHam Hat), a pumpkin, a princess, a doctor, or a fireman. Children with sensory processing challenges may have difficulty with certain fabric textures touching their skin. One strategy is putting a soft cotton shirt on underneath (and if going outside, this will help stay warm as well!).

Children may also have difficulty with the increases in noise with a lot of peers, adults, or music used during parties and trick or treating. You could get creative with their costume choice, selecting a costume that may use headphones that you could incorporate noise-cancelling headphones into. For example, a DJ, a pilot, or a race car driver.

There are now many events for trick-or-treating around communities that occur in daylight, which may be a good alternative to trick-or-treating at night for a child that does not respond well to darker lighting. Trick-or-treating in the dark may be extra intense when approaching unfamiliar homes in your neighborhood. Some strategies for creating a positive trick-or-treating experience for a child sensitive to lighting would be attending the earlier trick-or-treating events in the community, trick-or-treating early at familiar homes (family or friends), or participating in trick-or-treat for the first half hour. You can always gauge how your child is responding to the event and extend or limit the amount of homes you go to as well! You know your child best.

Finally, for the child attending a party or having a classroom event with costumes and lots of kiddos and fun activities, make sure that there is an area that your child can go to for some quieter alone time if they get overwhelmed. Having this area in mind ahead of time will help you feel prepared and make your child feel at ease if they need to take a break. Maybe include some halloween books, puzzles, or coloring sheets for them to complete in this area so they feel included in the festivities as well.