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.
 

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 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.)