Occupational Therapy With a Sensory Integration Approach

Ayres Sensory Integration® and the importance of the environment.

In order for a child to appropriately move through space and interact with their world in an alert, regulated, effective and effortless manner, they must take in an extraordinary amount of sensory information, unconsciously interpret it and then make appropriate adaptive responses on a rapid and continuous basis. This is an incredibly complex process that relies on an intricate network of sensory systems functioning appropriately and simultaneously. It’s an amazing process that most of us take for granted; it just happens and we never think twice about it. Unfortunately, for many of the children we work with, this is not the case.

For a child with sensory integration dysfunction, the seemingly simple task of moving across a classroom, putting on a t-shirt, copying from a board, finding a toy in a closet, listening to mom on a busy street, walking barefoot on a beach, or playing in a swing in the park may be interpreted as impossible/daunting or terrifying.

Occupational therapy with a sensory integration approach can help the brain improve its perception and understand the world better. To accomplish this, intervention by a qualified therapist in a specialized environment is necessary.

The physical environment plays an important role in the lives of children. This is especially true for children with special needs. When the physical environment is carefully and knowingly arranged it can add a significant dimension to children’s experience and development. A versatile, rich and interactive physical environment enhances and supports the child’s ability to:

  • Explore,
  • take control,
  • initiate and complete activities,
  • communicate and interact with others, and
  • develop their perceptual and motor skills.

Sensory enriched environments are designed to evoke active exploration on the part of the child with the premise that “brain structure and function are enhanced” by this interaction. (Jacobs & Scheider, 2001).

Therapeutic facilities that are designed to provide occupational therapy with a classic Ayres Sensory Integration® approach contain large activity areas with array of specialized equipment that is interesting and motivating for the child. These environments include a variety of swings, climbing equipment, ramps, tunnels, ball pits, and crash pads that provide various somatosensory experiences. Mats and large pillows are used for safety and allow for more freedom as children explore and experiment with the environment.

“The availability of suspended equipment is a hallmark of this treatment approach” (Case-Smith, 2005). Suspended equipment such as swings, provide rich opportunities for stimulating and challenging movement activities as well as promoting the child’s active participation and therefore enhancing the level of the adaptive response.

Overall, specialized sensory enriched environments not only provide children with a safe and interesting place in which to explore their capabilities, but also provide therapists with the ability to create challenging experiences depending on each child’s individual level.

When choosing a therapeutic facility for your child make sure both the therapists and the environment are qualified. The therapists should have:

  • post-professional training in sensory integration
  • close supervision by a highly qualified therapist

The physical environment should have:

  • adequate space for flow of vigorous physical activity
  • versatile equipment and materials for fast changes to the intervention environment
  • no less than three (3) hooks for suspended equipment with enough space to allow full orbital movement
  • rotational devises attached to ceiling to allow for 360° of rotation
  • a quiet space
  • bungee cords for suspended equipment to allow for vertical linear stimulation
  • mats, cushions and pillows
  • large variety of equipment adjustable to child’s size

When both the therapists and the physical environment fulfill these premises your child will be:

  • ensured physical and emotional safety
  • presented with a variety of sensory opportunities
  • helped in attaining and maintaining the appropriate levels of alertness during the session
  • challenged in postural, oral, bilateral integration, ocular motor, and resistive whole body
  • challenged in praxis and organization of behavior
  • collaborating in activity choices
  • presented with the “just right challenge” by tailoring activities
  • ensured success
  • encouraged to play and use his/her intrinsic motivation
  • part of a healthy therapeutic alliance in which child and therapists have fun and work towards achieving common goals

Since InterPlay understands the therapeutic value that the environment provides when using an Ayres Sensory Integration® Approach, we have placed much effort in setting up the largest and better equipped sensory integration gym in Palm Beach, Florida.

We are very passionate about the children that we treat. With that said, it is our priority to have the best sensory integration trained therapists, working in a comprehensive and well planned facility with all the resources needed to achieve our goals.

All our staff is trained by Dr. Pilar Saa and many attend courses with high profile educators in the subject such as Dr. Zoe Mailloux, Dr. Erna Blanche, Susanne Smith-Roley and many more. Besides having extensive knowledge and experience in the subject of sensory integration and praxis, these amazing educators were Dr. Jean Ayres students themselves. We are VERY proud to be able to learn and consult with such brilliant women.

*Adapted from Case-Smith, J., 2005 and from the Fidelity Measure of the Ayres Sensory Integration® Intervention

MB & BB
Words cannot even begin to describe how very grateful and pleased we were with Dr. Pilar Saa and her professional staff of Occupational Therapists. We had an appointment for an initial evaluation with Dr. Saa scheduled a few weeks in the future for when she returned from being out of the country, but we called her office as our 3 year-old son was in some immediate distress and she squeezed us in before she left. We have never forgotten that!! Our son was able to start his OT immediately with the most wonderful, warm, kind, compassionate therapist that we all grew to love. He actually looked forward to his appointments at the play-gym. We are happy to report that our son is thriving and doing wonderfully. We cannot thank Dr. Saa and her staff enough for being such a special part of our "village". They held our hands through every step of the way, educated us and guided us as we navigated this scary thing called "Sensory Processing Disorder". We highly recommend Dr. Pilar Saa and her staff at InterPlay!!!!
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