Sensory integration is the interpretation of the information gathered from our senses. Through sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell, our brain receives messages about our world that tell the rest of our body how to respond. The loss of control experienced by swinging gives the body a sense of exhilaration. Playing with modeling clay can be calming. However, for many people, sensory integration doesn’t work the way it should. When this system is dysfunctional, it may cause different reactions. Swinging may be fearful and modeling clay may feel so disgusting it’s torture to touch it. There are various activities to help repair sensory integration dysfunction, helping a child enjoy many more things in life without being so fearful of things in his daily experiences.
All things nasty
Modeling clay, finger paints, funny foam, mud and shaving cream are great tools to use for any child. These can be used as therapy, even if the child is resistant to touching them. Exposing them to these things for short periods of time regularly helps them realize they aren’t harmful. Eventually, they can learn to enjoy playing with them while learning to use their imagination and create things with them.
Sand and water tables provide great therapy tools for kids with sensory integration problems. Place objects deep in the sand for the child to dig through and find helps with tactile defensiveness as well as understanding important concepts that interfere with “out of sight, out of mind.” Water can be calming, both for the sense of touch as well as visually. Mixing water and sand to make wet sand changes the texture as well as the weight, showing the child that objects in the environment can change.
Many children are unresponsive to sensory stimuli. They may either not be interested in doing anything that requires movement or may be unaware when things are going on around them. Involving them in activities that require rocking, jumping, pushing or pulling objects, bouncing or digging in the sand are great ways to wake up the sensory system. Placing things in a wagon and pushing or pulling across the grass or dirt takes a lot of exertion, helping build sensory awareness as well as coordination and muscle strength, all things related to the sensory system. Jumping or bouncing on a trampoline sends many messages to the brain that can stimulate the child, helping him to become more responsive to instruction.
These activities are also great for sensory seekers. These children crave sensory stimulation and will go out of their way to get it, crashing into things, jumping instead of walking or swinging as high as possible in a swing and jumping off. Having them do as many heavy load activities as possible for scheduled times may help satisfy these cravings in controlled and safe situations.
Food can be used as an effective sensory activity. Chewing can help calm as well as stimulate a child, causing them to be more alert and ready to receive information. Chewing on hard foods such as granola, or sweet or sour candies or gum can be helpful. Some children have an insatiable need to chew on their clothes, pencils or other objects. Allowing them to chew on objects such as airline tubing or straws may help satisfy this need without the need to replace clothing that has been chewed up.
Many children with sensory integration dysfunction benefit from deep pressure activities. Wrapping them in a rug or blanket and rolling them on the floor can give them the deep pressure they crave, or help them overcome fear of being in small places. Ball pits provide gentle pressure while working through the fears of not being able to get out. Weighted blankets or vests can provide deep pressure while they are in a classroom or watching television, giving them a calming sensation.
With a little creativity and an understanding of the individual child’s needs, coming up with activities to help children with sensory problems can be easy. Almost anything can be used to provide stimulation the child needs or to provide therapy to help them deal with things they are fearful of. Always allow the child to lead and limit the activities to short amounts of time that the child can tolerate.