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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.

Apps to the Help of Special Needs Children

Portable electronic devices like tabs and iPads are proving to be invaluable resources to impart communication and social skills to children having developmental disabilities like autism spectrum disorder or Asperger’s syndrome. Hundreds of specialized apps are available for download that can run on these devices. Apps like What’s the Expression and All Sorts! are helping special needs children pick up important skills.

The What’s the Expression app helps kids to express themselves in a better way. Children with autism spectrum disorder often can’t understand how to express themselves in various situations. This particular app was made to address the developmental issue. Special needs children have to learn how to express emotions like happiness, anger, surprise, sadness etc. The What’s the Expression helps them to do just that.

Sorting, on the other hand, is a basic skill which children usually pick up by observing their elders. But it could be a difficult exercise for those having autism spectrum disorder. All Sorts helps children to observe various concepts and objects in a single place and group them according to the commonness in their features.

The elusive cool factor of these two apps for autistic children can’t be overlooked. But it’s their versatility that’s particularly appealing to the parents of these kids. Katherine Fisher, a product reviewer and the mother of an autistic child herself, said that she tested several apps for autistic children and found these two the most appropriate. They delivered what they promised. Both What’s the Expression and All Sorts can cross over to the more general children-education apps, Katherine said, adding that these two apps are regularly updated.

There are various other useful apps that have been designed to help both adults and children affected with Down syndrome, Lou Gherig’s Disease, cerebral palsy and similar disabilities.

Children with autism spectrum disorder are showing major signs of improvement after playing with such fun-filled apps on their tabs and iPads. According to a recent study in Australia, corrective behavior was reinforced with the help of images and voiceover, on 10 autistic children who couldn’t wash their hands. Researchers claim that more than 60% of their objective was successful.

But nearly 70% of autistic children falter in motor skills, and that includes poor movement planning. These children may find it difficult to operate the small buttons of a tablet or smartphone. But the iPad, with its larger size, is usually more accessible to autistic children.

A major reason why portable devices like tabs and iPads have become particularly popular among parents, is the relatively lesser cost of these gadgets compared to the heavy, and expensive text-to-speech devices.

Take the case of 7-year old Rio, an autistic child. Before the iPad came into the market, Rio’s autism made him dependent on others for play, entertainment, communication, and learning. But with the iPad, Rio now electrifies the atmosphere with his newly-acquired independence and skills. Those who have known Rio, are amazed to see the boy’s transformation. He really rocks with his iPad and a set of apps for autistic children.