Six occupational therapy techniques you can do at home to help your child gain sensory processing skills
If your child experiences sensory processing issues, you know it can sometimes be a struggle to make it through the day while trying to meet developmental goals. The current COVID-19 crisis has probably made it even more difficult to get the regular occupational therapy (OT) your child needs to continue making progress.
To make it easier, here are six techniques you can try at home to help your child with sensory processing issues. These activities can be done anytime, and in conjunction with regular OT sessions from a professional.
Defining sensory processing issues
Children with sensory processing issues have trouble receiving and processing information from their senses. These issues can take many forms. A child might have trouble sensing his/her location in space. There may be vestibular or balance/coordination problems. A child may have trouble understanding his or her own emotions or physical state, or have trouble processing information from the senses, such as touch, taste, hearing, smell, and sight.
These sensory concerns can manifest in extreme aversion to loud noises, lights, and being touched. They may also show up as coordination issues, your child not realizing he/she is sick or in pain or your child having a hard time staying seated and keeping their body regulated.
Occupational therapy can help children process and respond to sensory information in a healthy way, so they can gain control of their minds and bodies. This OT technique is called sensory integration therapy.
While sensory integration is usually done in the office with a trained OT, you can also support your child’s progress with exercises at home. This can be beneficial for your child if regular access to an OT is restricted – as it has been during COVID-19 – or as a way to reinforce what your child has learned during in-person sessions.
Six occupational therapy activities to try at home
1. Create a sensory bin
Children with sensory processing issues may be extra sensitive to touch, textures or materials. A sensory bin enables your child to get used to different tactile experiences. It can also promote visual perception, language, and fine motor skills.
All you need to do is put common household items in a plastic container and let your child explore. Be careful not to overstimulate with too many items, which could trigger your child’s anxiety.
Household items like cotton balls, beans, buttons, rubber balls, uncooked rice, grapes, stuffed animals, and other small objects would work well for the bin.
2. Log Roll Yoga
This is a fun activity that balances and strengthens the nervous system. Have your child lie on his or her back and stiffen their arms and legs in a log shape. Then have them rock back and forth until there is momentum to start rolling. Your child should attempt to keep their body tightened and straight while rolling over and over in one direction, and then reversing directions.
This activity strengthens the vestibular system, which helps children develop proper muscle tone, postural and bilateral coordination. It’s also vital to the central nervous system and includes our sense of movement and gravity.
3. Make your own play dough
Did you know you can make playdough at home? It’s pretty easy, actually. Plus, it teaches your child to follow directions, explore textures, develop visual skills, and even regulate emotions.
Here’s what you need:
- 1 cup of flour
- 1 cup of salt
- 1/2 cup of water
Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl. Add the water and knead until you have a thick, smooth dough. Then start playing and making shapes with it.
4. Play hot potato
You might remember the game hot potato from when you were a kid. For this version, you’ll need heavy stuffed animals. This game combines physical movement with stimulation, which will help with coordination, visual perception skills, and getting used to textures.
5. Compete in a straw race
Some sensory processing issues include struggling with oral motor skills, coordinating mouth movements, and accepting different textures into the mouth. A straw race is a good way to work on all of these difficulties.
To do this, grab some straws, fill a large container with water, and then place two floating objects in the water. It can be paper cups, a leaf, or whatever else you can find. You and your child will then race to push the objects to the other side of the container by blowing through your straws.
6. Make a paper plate person
This activity is good for improving body awareness, orientation, and visual skills. It can also be a “stealthy” way of processing and discussing your child’s emotions.
You’ll need a paper plate, four Popsicle sticks, and objects to create facial features like a nose, eyes, mouth, and ears. Use objects you have around the house, or pick up supplies at a craft store.
You’ll then use the plate and other objects to make people. Your child will let you know how they’re feeling by the facial features and expressions they choose. You can also weave this activity into a discussion of emotions and what certain facial expressions mean.
How Lumiere can help
Lumiere Children’s Therapy offers occupational therapy and treatment for children with sensory processing issues. We focus on working toward a child’s individualized goals and needs.
Along with sensory processing issues, we also help children with specialized diagnoses related to:
- Developmental delays
- Fine motor delay
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- Cerebral palsy
- Motor incoordination
- Down syndrome
- Brachial plexus injury
- Chromosomal abnormalities
- Visual processing disorders
- Learning delays
We provide comprehensive therapies for children with a wide range of physical, emotional, behavioral, and developmental conditions so they can achieve traditional milestones.
- Speech therapy
- ABA (behavior) therapy
- Developmental therapy
- Physical therapy
- Social work
- Augmentative alternative communication
- Early intervention
Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.