Sensory Integration Activities
Parents can make use of simple sensory integration activities and exercises to complement occupational therapy sessions that their child may be receiving.
Children with sensory integration disorder struggle to process information that the senses send to the brain. The brain thus does not respond effectively, which usually leads to an inappropriate response by the body.
Sensory processing disorder in children can cause sensory modulation difficulties, sensory-motor difficulties (coordination and motor planning), and/or sensory discrimination difficulties (visual, tactile and auditory processing).
The activity suggestions on this page are aimed primarily at children with sensory modulation difficulties. These children may be
- sensory seeking,
- under responsive to sensory stimulation,
- or over responsive to sensory stimulation. Over responsive children are sometimes described as tactile defensive or sensory defensive.
Sensory integration activities are designed to stimulate the appropriate sensory system and prompt the brain to process the information more effectively. This should result in the child responding more appropriately.
Basic Sensory Integration Activities:
A “sensory corner” can provide stimulation to the under-responsive child, sensory input for the sensory seeking child, and a safe retreat for the sensory defensive child.
Make a "Sensory Corner" by blocking off a corner of the room and using soft furnishings with a variety of textures. A big comfy beanbag provides wonderful deep pressure and a snuggly effect which can be very calming.
A sensory box filled with objects that have different textures and weights can stimulate your child, while some kids find fiddly toys calming. In the beginning offer a variety of objects eg smooth wood, velvet, squishy textures and stretchy objects, until your child discovers his favorite object. A sensory seeking child often focuses better when his hands can fiddle with an object in his pocket!
Encourage your child to gradually tolerate light touch on the hands by giving a box filled with sand or dried beans in which small objects are hidden. Time your child to see how long it takes them to find the objects!
Some children find a lava lamp or fish aquarium soothing to look at, and others appreciate having headphones with which they can listen to soft soothing music.
Occupational therapists can train parents and caregivers in the use of the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol. This very effective technique helps tactile defensive children and uses a surgical brush to brush the child. It gives deep pressure and tactile input and should be used regularly throughout the day.
Proprioceptive Sensory Integration Activities:
Information from the muscles and joints is called proprioception. Proprioceptive activities can be passive, where deep pressure is given to the child, or active, where the child actively takes part in a heavy work activity. Proprioceptive activities are excellent for sensory-seeking kids who are always craving movement and crashing into things. They can also help stimulate a lethargic child.
Passive Proprioception Activities:
Let your child lie on a mat or folded blanket and pack pillows on top to make him into a pizza or sandwich. Weighted vests, weighted blankets and lap blankets are also effective ways to give passive proprioceptive input. Your child may also enjoy being wrapped in a blanket or snuggling in a beanbag.
Active Proprioception Activities:
Heavy work activities help your child to really “feel” their muscles and joints. Let your child carry groceries, sweep the yard, dig in the garden, or any other activity that lets their muscles work hard. Jumping on a trampoline and climbing on playground equipment also gives good proprioceptive input. If your child struggles to sit still to listen to a lesson, then try a stress ball to squeeze, chewing gum, or a special chew toy to give proprioception input.
Vestibular Sensory Integration Activities:
Most movement activities will stimulate the vestibular system in the inner ear, which helps the body to know how it is moving and how fast it is moving. Depending on their intensity, vestibular activities can be stimulating for an under-responsive child, or calming for a sensory seeking or over-responsive child.
Trampolines, rocking horses, swings, roundabouts or slides are all good vestibular activities.
A child who is gravitationally insecure may fear movement and avoid escalators, elevators and playground apparatus. They need to experience very gentle, safe movement.
It will be less scary for them to move while sitting or lying down, rather than while standing up, or to try a gentle activity while being held by a parent. Try gentle bouncing on a trampoline while lying or sitting, swinging on a very low swing, and rocking on a rocking horse.
Be careful not to force a fearful child to take part in an activity – be guided by her reactions.
There are more vestibular exercises on this gross motor exercises page!
Oral Motor Sensory Integration Activities:
A fussy eater may be a child with an oversensitive mouth. Your occupational therapist can show you an oral deep pressure technique to reduce this over-sensitivity.
Some children chew on clothing, pencils and other inappropriate objects. They are usually seeking tactile and proprioceptive input through their mouths. There are a range of oral-motor products on the market that give them the sensations that they crave through chewing, or you can try ”Chewelry”. Blowing bubbles in a bowl of water with a straw, drinking thick milkshake/yogurt through a straw and blowing on harmonicas can also give calming proprioceptive input.
View the full range of Oral-Motor products at PFOT
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