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Sensory Integration TherapyMany parents are perplexed at the initiation of sensory integration therapy for their child.  “How can all this play actually help my child’s behavior?”, parents may question.  Let me explain.

Sensory processing isms often manifest as resistance or refusal to participate in certain activities or tasks.  This resistance can result in frequent meltdowns.

Sensory isms are often associated with limitations self-care skills such as dressing, bathing, or tooth-brushing.

Some children with sensory isms have extreme sensitivities to certain sounds, forms of touch, or bright lights.

Other kids with sensory processing isms seem to not be able to get enough of certain forms of sensory input and are on a perpetual quest to obtain that needed input.

Occupational Therapy & Sensory Integration Therapy

Occupational therapists commonly use a sensory integration approach to treat children with Autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, and developmental delays. Additionally, many children without a formal diagnosis are impacted by sensory processing isms. Sensory processing isms can impact the daily life of a child.  Children who struggle with sensory isms can greatly benefit from occupational therapy to address their sensory needs.

The goal of occupational therapy treatment is to regulate the response to sensory input and enable the children to be able to modulate their sensory systems more effectively.

Enlighten Perplexed Parents to Sensory Integration Therapy

Because symptoms of sensory processing disorders often manifest behaviorally, it can be very difficult for parents to understand how occupational therapy and all the fun, playful activities can improve their child’s behavior.

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After all, a therapy session may involve the use of crash pads, playing in shaving cream, and multi-directional swinging.   Keep in mind, this play is a child’s occupation.  This form of sensory play therapy can actually improve a child’s behavior during participation in daily life activities.

Britt Collins, OTR/L does an excellent job of briefly describing the connection between these types of playful sensory activities and the child’s daily behaviors in her video,  OT For Children With Autism, Special Needs And Typical.  This video is a must-have resource for occupational therapists.  Loan it or refer it to parents  when their child is beginning therapy aimed at addressing sensory needs. This resource will go a long way in reducing the mystery of a sensory approach to therapy.

The video breaks down various sensory processing isms and gives a brief overview of treatment to address each of the following:

Gravitational Insecurity

“Gravitational insecurity refers to an excessive fear of ordinary movement, being out of an upright position, or having one’s feet off the ground. Children with this fear are uncomfortable with gravity, and their reactions are out of out of proportion to any real danger that exists or to any postural deficits the child may have” (1)

Motor Planning

“Motor planning is using the brain to direct the body to be able to sequence and perform goal-directed motor tasks.  Learning to ride a bike, tie shoelaces, and learning karate or dance moves are all examples of learning new motor tasks.” (2)

Vestibular Dysfunction

“The vestibular system detects movement of the head and the pull of gravity. The sensory information is received through the inner ear and then interpreted in the brain. This system governs your balance and tells you whether you are right side up or upside down. Children who have under-responsive vestibular systems seem to want to be constantly on the move, spinning, jumping and running. Children who have over-responsive vestibular systems are scared of swings, elevators, movement, maybe a baby cries when you lay them down.” (3)

Proprioceptive Dysfunction

“The proprioceptive system is input received through receptors in the joints and muscles with movement and heavy work. When these receptors are activated, body awareness is improved and the person knows where his/her body is in space.

Children who tend to crave proprioceptive input may overstuff their mouth with food, tend to give hard high fives, color with so much pressure the crayon breaks, or crash into things.

Other children may hold a pencil so light that you can barely see it, or the pencil won’t stay in their hand.

They also may have poor body awareness and bump into things, or have a low tolerance to pain and cry at even the slightest bump.” (4)

Tactile Dysfunction

“When children are defensive or sensory over-responsive to certain tactile input, it can really affect their ability to function. Some children are sensitive to tags in their shirts, touching sticky or gooey things like glue or finger paint, walking barefoot in grass or light touch. Others may crave touch with a desire to touch everything they walk by, which can get a child in trouble at school.” (5)

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Oral Sensory-Motor

“Oral defensiveness falls into two main categories: hypo-sensitivity and hyper-sensitivity.

Individuals with hypo-sensitivities have low oral tone and very little awareness of what’s going on inside their mouths.  This “oral numbness” so to speak can cause significant speech and feeding delays.

On the other hand, individuals with hypersensitivities are overly sensitive to oral stimulation.  Even the slightest touch might be uncomfortable and even painful, which can lead to texture/food aversions, picky eating, and speech and feeding delays.” (6)

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Visual Motor

“Also referred to as Visual Motor Integration, this is the ability to control hand movement guided by vision. A child who is challenged in this area has difficulty coordinating body movements in response to what he/she is seeing.” (7)

Organization of Behavior

“The child with poor organization of behavior may be impulsive or distractible and show a lack of planning in approach to tasks. Some children have difficulty adjusting to a new situation. Others may react with frustration, aggression, or withdrawal when they encounter failure.” (8)

OT Meets ABA: Sensory Integration Therapy

In the video, OT For Children With Autism, Special Needs And Typical, you will discover how Collins combines traditional Occupational Therapy exercises with Applied Behavior Analysis to address the aforementioned isms.  This video teaches parents and caregivers various skills which can assist in desensitizing a child and help them on the path to reprogramming their brain function.

With Sensory Integration Therapy, the meltdowns and refusals will slowly come to an end.  Dressing, bathing and tooth-brushing battles may become a thing of the past.  Your child will be better able to adapt to sounds and learn how to manage bright lights.  Children on the perpetual quest for sensory input, will learn a sensory diet to keep their sensory needs well met.  To help you and your child along in the management of a sensory diet, consider BrainWorks – A wonder sensory diet tool!


(1) Gravitational Insecurity.North Shore Pediatric Therapy. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 June 2016

(2) De Marino, Andrea, MHS, OTR/L -. “Motor Planning Requires Adequate Sensory Functions.Special-Ism. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 June 2016.

(3) Collins, Britt, M.S., OTR/L. “Vestibular Activities and How to Use Them Appropriately with Your Child – Special-ism.” Special-Ism. N.p., 17 Feb. 2011. Web. 26 June 2016.

(4) Collins, Britt, M.S., OTR/L. “20 Proprioceptive Input Ideas for Home and School – Special-ism.Special-Ism. N.p., 19 Apr. 2013. Web. 26 June 2016.

(5) Collins, Britt, M.S., OTR/L. “Tactile Defensive? Start with the Other Senses.Special-Ism. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 June 2016.

(6) Lowsky, Debra C., MS, CCC-SLP. “Oral Defensiveness & Aversions with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).” ARKs Blog. ARK Therapeutic Services, 02 Aug. 2011. Web. 26 June 2016.

(7) Eye Hand Coordination.Therapy Street for Kids. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 June 2016.

(8) A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Sensory Integration.Exceptional Family Resource Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 June 2016.

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Gwen Wild is the owner of Sensational Brain Co. She is also on the faculty of Summit Professional Education and travels nationwide speaking on the topic of “Creating and Implementing Effective Sensory Diets for Children and Teens.”