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March 24, 2021

Treating Sensory Processing Disorder with Occupational Therapy

How occupational therapy techniques can help children with sensory processing disorder

Does your child have an aversion to light, sound, texture, or taste? The issue could be a condition called sensory processing disorder (SPD). What is it, and what techniques can be applied in occupational therapy to help children process sensory information?

This guide will help you learn more about the disorder and techniques we apply here at Lumiere Children’s Therapy to help children overcome their difficulties with the senses.

What is a sensory processing disorder?

If your child is newly diagnosed, you might not know much about SPD yet. It can manifest as an aversion to sensory stimulation, such as bright lights, overreaction to noises, not wanting to be touched, and even balance and coordination issues. Some children with SPD may also seek movement due to an increased arousal level which in turn can impact their seated attention.

There are eight different types of sensory processing issues:

  • Proprioception (kinesthesia) – The inability to sense your body’s location, movements, and actions. Proprioception enhances motor control and posture while providing information about how you’re occupying or moving in space.
  • Vestibular – Part of the inner ear and brain, the vestibular system helps process information so you can maintain balance, coordination, and eye movements.
  • Interoception – Interoception refers to how you sense or “feel” what’s going on with your own body. It’s how you know you’re hot/cold, hungry, or feeling sick.
  • Five senses – The other five types are linked directly to the senses, including touch, hearing, taste, smell, and sight.

Sensory processing disorder is not always viewed as a disorder on its own. Some experts believe it may be related to other disorders, such as autism or ADHD.

Treatment method: sensory integration therapy

One method used to help children learn to process sensory information is through something called sensory integration therapy (SI). With SI, an occupational therapist (OT) begins “by exposing them to sensory stimulation in a structured, repetitive way…over time, the brain will adapt and allow kids to process and react to sensations more efficiently.”

The therapist starts with simple activities and slowly graduates to more complex ones. Eventually, your child’s nervous system will become used to the stimulation and respond appropriately.

You might also see SI referred to as a “sensory diet” with activities falling into one of these categories:

  • Balance treatments
  • Movement therapy
  • Exposure to sensory input
  • Physical activities and accommodations

Examples of SI therapy

Let’s review some of the exercises or activities that might be used during an occupational therapy session. Many of these activities can also be done at home to reinforce OT sessions.

  • Painting with the fingers using shaving cream.
  • Exploring sensory bins filled with small objects like plastic toys, buttons, erasers, stress balls, sponges, and rubber tubes.
  • Texture scavenger hunt –find objects in the room that have different textures, such as soft, sticky, or squishy items.
  • Making clay art or playing with slime.
  • Tear pieces of paper or rip Velcro apart.
  • Rolling, sitting, or balancing on an exercise ball.
  • Jumping into a ball pit.
  • Jumping on a mini-trampoline.
  • Jumping into a pile of pillows or couch cushions.
  • Spinning in a sling.
  • Brushing hair with a soft-bristled brush.
  • Using an electric toothbrush.
  • Walking barefoot.
  • Drinking cold water.
  • Carrying weights upstairs.
  • Eating crunchy or chewy food.
  • Pushing a cart.
  • Balancing a tray with two hands.
  • Obstacle courses.
  • Heavy work and resistive activities.
  • Swings.
  • Theraputty.

These are just examples, of course. The activities included in your child’s sessions will be tailored to his or her sensory processing issues. In order for this to be an effective treatment it is recommended you consult with an OT who can create a sensory diet specifically for your child. A sluggish child’s regimen might include jumping jacks, a therapy ball, and holding yoga poses. The circuit is then repeated several times, with the entire session lasting about 10-15 minutes. These circuits can also be done at home 2-3 times a day.

How we can help

Lumiere Children’s Therapy offers occupational therapy and treatment for children with SPD. We focus on your child’s individual goals and needs. As with all developmental issues, our goal is helping become as independent as possible.

Along with sensory processing issues, we also help children with specialized diagnoses related to:

  • Prematurity
  • 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 also provide other comprehensive therapies so children with a wide range of physical, emotional, and developmental conditions can achieve traditional milestones.

Other services include:

  • Speech therapy
  • ABA (behavior) therapy
  • Developmental therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Social work
  • Augmentative alternative communication
  • Early intervention
  • Teletherapy

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.

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