Written By Jon Pickens, OTS
Occupational Therapy Student from Gannon University during his internship at InterPlay
Since sensory input is the raw material used for brain development and learning, it is vital that the multi-various sensations be addressed and organized quickly and accurately. While most of us are used to think about vision and hearing as the main senses involved in learning, they are actually small in quantity compared to large prevalent inputs like the sense of balance, gravity and movement (vestibular system) and the sense of touch from the skin , which covers the whole body (tactile system). Other large sources of sensory input are the tendons, muscles and joints, known as the proprioceptive receptors (forming the proprioceptive system). These big sensory systems provide the essential unifying foundation for organization of all other senses such as vision, hearing, taste and smell. They also form a strong foundation for motor and postural skills, attention, social emotional development, and learning skills among others.
We also know that when children are motivated, having fun and engaged; their brains are more receptive for learning. It is logical, then, that therapists facilitate brain development by guiding the child to pleasurable activities that provide vestibular, tactile and proprioceptive stimulation. It is not coincidental that young children spontaneously run, jump, spin, climb, and love all kinds of rough and tumble play. Some children, especially those who are developmentally delayed, do not get enough of these kinds of stimulation or have a difficulty processing the information coming from their senses. This impacts their participation in their daily occupations and limits their ability to develop further. For them, occupational therapy using an Ayres Sensory Integration Approach can help to provide what they have been lacking and at the same time promote more typical development. The fact that the brain can develop throughout life (neural plasticity) is what makes development possible and therefore therapy successful.
One of the key elements in occupational therapy with a sensory integration approach is the child’s active role in the process. The therapist’s role is to use the child’s interests and motivation as a guide to providing the “just right challenge”, – a challenge which can be met successfully. Each successful movement creates or strengthens neural connections which form the basis for the next success.
Here is a list of some different ways that InterPlay’s therapists can provide the input a child needs.
- Increase calming and organizing input by providing deep touch (pressure) and vestibular stimulation in the cuddle swing
- The trapeze swing addresses the child’s upper extremity strength and core stability.
- The Net Swing can be used sitting or laying on the stomach. It cradles and put pressure on the child’s side so they feel safe and secure. This swing is great for strengthening the back extensor muscles, gives large amounts of vestibuar input and aids in timing and sequencing of motor actions.
- The ladder provides climbing action that aids in the coordination of both sides of the body, promotes core stability and body awareness, and helps improve visual motor control.
- Log or bolster swings help develop overall body strength, encourage righting reactions, provide linear motion and motor planning.
- The Platform swing helps provide vestibular input and supports the development of muscle tone by allowing the child to push the swing with their weight.
- Scooter boards encourage balance reactions, extension against gravity, directionality and build proximal stability.
- The body socks, crash pillows and the steam roller are some of the equipment that provides large amounts of deep touch and proprioceptive input.
Almost all of the other objects and toys you will find at InterPlay are there to provide some type of sensory input and challenge the child’s mind and physical body. You are welcome to visit us at any time by calling (561) 450-5080.