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How Sensory Integration Therapy Assists Children Facing Special Challenges

With early interventions and appropriate sensory integration therapy, children who face developmental or social and emotional challenges can make marked progress toward goals. A diagnosis of autism, ADHD, dyspraxia, or other sensory disorders is frightening and confusing for parents. Often, these disorders aren’t diagnosed until early childhood.

Warning Signs

In infancy and toddlerhood, the signs of a processing disorder may be more difficult to spot. Some common symptoms include trouble sleeping, difficulty eating, and refusing to be separated from one caregiver. A lack of dexterity or activity or, conversely, extreme activity may seem to fall within the parameters of “normal” infant and toddler behavior, but these could be warning signs of a developmental challenge.

As the child enters the preschool years, the signs become more prominent and troubling. Toilet training delays are common, as are difficulties with fine motor tasks. Having difficulty with transitions, aggressiveness, or avoidance of touch and certain textures may also surface. Children who have trouble integrating sensory information may also have sudden mood swings and temper tantrums. They’re overwhelmed by the jumble of information coming at them, and their brain’s inability to sort out the signals. That’s where sensory integration therapy comes in.

Dyspraxia

A qualified occupational therapist will guide the child through activities that are specifically designed to exercise and strengthen specific processing abilities. A child challenged by dyspraxia, for example, might have difficulty with balance and posture, as well as motor skills. They will be encouraged to engage in tumbling, twirling, and other large motor movement activities that help teach the brain to process the input of movement and positional information. With the guidance of the therapist, the child is led through the activities that give the brain more practice in interpreting input about the position and movement of the body.

Autism

Autistic children face special challenges when participating in everyday life. Sensitivity to outside stimuli like textures, light, and sounds can prove overwhelming. In sensory integration therapy, the child is exposed gradually to various stimuli, slowly re-teaching the brain how to respond. One example of the technique in action is the use of a ball pit. The child is encouraged to reach into the balls and retrieve an object like a stuffed animal. The sound and feel of the plastic balls might be overwhelming in a different setting, but with a gradual introduction and encouragement from the therapist, the child learns to filter out the overwhelming flow of information and focus on the task. The therapist helps the child learn self-soothing techniques such as rubbing their back or arms during therapy. This movement reassures the child and teaches them how to offset the stimuli of the balls touching their arms.

With the help of a qualified therapist, sensory integration therapy can become an important part of an overall treatment program, helping a challenged child reach their fullest developmental potential.