Diane Corson, an Occupational Therapist with the Florida Elks Children’s Therapy Services, joins me for two fascinating podcast as we look into the world of children with sensory processing disorder. As promised, here are Diane’s notes from our talks. Be sure to check out LPOP 71 and LPOP 72 for our two part discussion. Even if you don’t have children with sensory processing disorder, 1) you know someone who does (I do!) and 2) some of these same strategies will be a blessing in any home!  The first half of these notes are definitions and descriptions of the various terms associated with Sensory Processing Disorder  The second half outline strategies for helping children with SPD as discussed in the two podcasts.  Thank you Diane for being an amazing therapist and a great teacher!

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder is difficulty organizing sensory information in the brain to make an adaptive response.  Sensory and motor pathways are being formed in the brain, beginning in utero throughout childhood and even in adult years. Most children are well integrated by 8-12 years.  Those with Sensory Processing Disorder do not “feel” sensations the way an average person will.

What is Sensory Discrimination?

  • Ability to pull information from one or multiple sensory systems to make sense of task. Impacts ability to perform motor tasks and respond to sensory cues from body during tasks. Sensory Systems help answer questions like:
    •How heavy is this toy? How can I maneuver it?
    •Why do I feel something so scratchy when Mom is helping me get dressed?
    •What is this huge, pointy rough thing Dad is shoving in my mouth? I feel like I’m going to choke. When will it end? Why is this happening?

What is Sensory Modulation?

  • Ability to respond to sensory input from the body and/or the environment. Ability to attend to instruction rather than continually alert to background information. State of arousal, alertness, attention
  • Sensory Registration: Level to which child notices sensory stimulation; some children notice every sensation; some notice much less
  • Sensory Defensiveness: actively avoids sensory stimulation; retreats from new situations; acts out in order to avoid stimulation
  • Sensory Seeker: actively seeks out sensory stimulation; wants to add intensity; creates excitement and change

What is Sensory Regulation?

  • Ability to achieve, monitor, change and maintain a calm and alert start to meet the demands of the situation. Foundation to function in society. Sensory regulation strategies impact modulation.
    • Stage 1: Regulate temperature, muscle tone, sleep/wake, survival
    • Stage 2: Other people help child maintain a calm, alert state
      Sensory diet
      Adaptive strategies
      Teacher/parent behavioral strategies
    • Stage 3: Higher level cognitive skills and ability to problem solve
      Use of social stories
      Self talk

What Causes Sensory Processing Disorder?

  • Studies vary in number of children affected; 1 in 20 children/1 in 6 children
    Spectrum Disorder: varies greatly in severity
  • Perhaps genetic, environmental or combination
  • In utero: drug or alcohol use
  • Birth complications: prematurity, low birth weight
  • Environmental: abuse, neglect

Parent Strategies to help with Sensory Processing Disorder

  • Sensory Diet
  • Accommodations/adaptations to Environment
  • Behavioral Strategies
  • Teach emotional control

Sensory Diet

  • Every two hours a typical neurological system resets
  • Movement, proprioception, and touch are strong sensory inputs
  • Use in combination
  • One sensory system will impact another system
  • Put sensory stimulation into daily routine
  • Touch and proprioceptive input before brushing teeth, eating, getting dressed

    • Use various materials
    • Different lotions scents
    • Brush outside of cheeks before inside of mouth
    • Count/sing song so child knows how long it will last
    • If having difficulty, stop and give movement break, then go back and finish
  • Movement every day
  • Ride bicycle before school
  • Visit a park
  • Play in back yard
  • Heavy work every day
  • Carrying, lifting, moving
  • Resistive body movements, like yoga poses, push ups, planks

Sensory Input and Functional Tasks

  • Vacuum
  • Clean sliders
  • Clean baseboards
  • Lift and carry toy baskets/laundry baskets

Sensory Diet: Bedtime

  • Routine
  • Massage
  • Deep pressure
  • Weighted blanket
  • Essential oils
  • Music
  • Lighting

Adaptations to Environment

  • Use a timer
  • Use a schedule with pictures
  • Change the area where something is performed
  • Ex: homework in quiet closet versus kitchen
  • Change the seating
  • Ball, rocking chair, cushion, stand, different fabric/blanket, lap pad (tube sock with rice)
  • Fidget toy
  • Weighted blanket
  • Pressure vest/pressure garments/tight undershirts
  • Music
    • Calming: classical and Baroque periods
    • Alerting: Rock, violin
  • Smells
    • Calming: vanilla, lavender, banana, coconut
    • Alerting: citrus, peppermint, coffee, cinnamon, rosemary, pine
  • Vision
    • Calming: natural lighting, decreased clutter
    • Alerting: bright light, high contrast colors

Behavioral Strategies

  • Get attention BEFORE giving direction
  • First/Then
  • Give choices
  • Teach active problem solving
  • Ask questions
  • Fill in the blanks

Emotional Control

  • Acknowledge the emotion
  • Recognize content of emotion. Listen for feelings.
  • Label the emotion: “You are feeling sad.”
  • Describe the emotion: “You are crying. Your face looks like this.”
  • Give 3 empathy statements: “You have to stop playing and that is hard. When you play with that toy, you are happy. Stopping is no fun. It makes you feel sad.”
  • Wait…for response from child
  • Child might agree or disagree
  • If disagree, then figure out next emotional choice
  • Problem Solve
  • Repeat!
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