• WHAT DOES “SENSORY” MEAN?

    We are constantly having to take in sensory information from outside our bodies (from the environment) and from within our bodies (from our muscles/joints & inner ear) throughout the day.

    This includes seven senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, body awareness (aka- proprioception), and balance/movement (aka- vestibular).

     

    Once sensory information from these seven senses has been received, it then travels to the brain, where it must be interpreted (“processed”, “integrated”) and put to good use as a functional behavioral response. For example, if you are walking on a curb and you start to lose your balance, several senses will instantly notice this and quickly send messages to your brain, which then quickly sends messages back to your body so you can adjust your position and avoid falling.

     

    For many of us, this process of receiving, interpreting, and using sensory information in a functional manner occurs unconsciously and nearly instantaneously. But for students with sensory challenges or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), this is not the case. When students have difficulty processing and using sensory information from their environment or their body in a functional manner, it can make school much more challenging.

     

    SCHOOL STRATEGIES FOR STUDENTS WHO ARE SENSORY SEEKERS

    • Sensory seeking/craving — This means a student may be actively seeking out ways to gain certain types of sensory input. This is the student who is always tipping their chair backwards, touching others in line, chewing on their pencils, or putting themselves upside down and backwards on the floor when they should be sitting “criss cross applesauce” during carpet time.

     

    For students who are sensory seekers, it can be helpful to increase the intensity of sensory experiences in their daily activities at school as well. However, just because you are increasing sensory intensity for low registration students and seeker students doesn’t mean that they are the same. With under-responders, you are increasing sensory intensity so they will notice and be able to use sensory input more effectively. With seekers, you are essentially giving them more of what they are seeking, but in a more intentional, appropriate, organizing way.

     

    General Strategies for the Sensory Seeking Student:

    • look for ways to incorporate novelty into their day

    Sensory-Specific Strategies for the Sensory Seeking Student:

    • Proprioception (Body Awareness): have the child carry or hold items during transitions (pull and hold classroom door open, carry ball/equipment bag when going to/from recess or P.E., push/pull lunchbox wagon when going to/from lunch room), provide an opportunity to engage in a heavy work activity before needing to sit down and concentrate (e.g., yoga poses, do 20 chair push ups, 30-second plank hold before sitting for a lesson or test)
    • Vestibular (Movement): give the child “jobs” that allow him to move around during the day (passing out papers, putting lunch boxes away), provide an opportunity to engage in a movement activity before needing to sit down and concentrate (e.g., windmills, jumping jacks, yoga poses that place the head in different positions), allow the child to stand while working when appropriate, allow the child a “dynamic seating” option that will allow movement while sitting (such as sitting on an exercise ball or ball chair, sitting on an air cushion or Kore wobble stool, tying a stretchy band around the bottom of the chair legs to bounce feet on (like Thera-Band), sitting on a child-sized rocking chair made specifically for school use)
    • Tactile: incorporate touch with others (partner activities) or the environment (hands-on learning activities)
    • Visual: allow them to use bright colors during projects, vary where the child sits to provide novel visual input
    • Auditory: incorporate sounds into daily activities when appropriate (songs, humming, background music)
    • Oral/Taste + Smell: chew gum for additional oral proprioceptive input (here are 5 tips to help kids who chew on everything), teach student to apply scented lotion or chapstick at appropriate times of the day

     

    Sensory Activities to complete in the classroom:

     

    Vestibular Activities: Sense of balance and motion, located in the middle ear. At the most basic level, the vestibular system is activated any time we move our head, but it is also continuously being activated by the downward force of gravity to give us a sense of where we are in space. The vestibular system is a very complicated yet powerful sensory system, and there are actually different types of vestibular input depending on what direction or angle your body is moving. Vestibular input can produce a variety of responses. It can be calming, organizing, alerting, or disorganizing depending on the type of movement and the sensitivity of the individual.

    • Have him hang upside down for greatest input be (careful)
    • Swinging
    • Spinning (in office chair, running in circles)jl
    • Cartwheels, rolls, jump, dance
    • Jumping jacks
    • Lay on scooter board and make him pull himself to you using a rope
    • Gentle rocking, rocking chair
    • Slow, linear gliding
    • Sliding
    • Swinging (front and back), in a circle
    • Riding on a rocking horse
    • Jumping on a hoppity hop
    • Swimming, Slip ‘n Slide
    • Roll or bounce on large ball
    • Sit ‘n spin
    • Somersaults
    • Balance beam
    • Stepping-stones in a pattern around the house
    • General movement activities:  jump, run. walk, roll
    • Stilts on a carpeted area
    • Swaying bridge on a playground
    • Use of inflatable toys that children can bounce on
    • Pull your child around the house on a large body pillow
    • Shake head quickly
    • Roll neck slowly in a circular motion
    • Jump up and down or try to touch a doorframe
    • Sports: basketball, swimming, baseball, Frisbee, etc.
    • Dance
    • Aerobics with a group or at home to music
    • Jumping on a mini trampoline or the bed
    • Imitation games: Simon Says
    • Swing in a blanket held by two adults
    • Hammock swing on stomach while doing an activity (throw bean bags)
    • Swing suspended on a bungy cord for up and down movement
    • Jump rope
    • Po-go balls
    • Po-go sticks

     

    Tactile Activities:  Sense of touch, located in sensory receptors in our skin and mouth. Our tactile system has two main functions – to tell us when we’ve touched something (being able to “sense” it) and what it is we’ve touched (being able to “discriminate” its features, such as texture, size, shape, or temperature). Think about how, when you’re digging through your purse or pocket, you first sense that you’ve touched something and then, as you feel more closely, you are able to interpret (or discriminate) the properties of what it is you’ve touched without even having to look at it, whether it’s a certain coin, key, or pen. In addition to the two main functions (sensation and discrimination), the tactile system is responsible for processing light touch (such as when the cat walks by and grazes you with her tail) as well as deep touch (like with a firm handshake or a massage). Light touch tends to be alerting and, for some, alarming. However, deep touch (also called “deep pressure”) tends to be calming and organizing, especially when feeling overstimulated or overwhelmed.

    • Handwriting in various mediums (paint, shaving cream, with wikki sticks, in sugar/salt, ect)
    • Letting students dig in sensory bins (beans, rice, bird seed, sand, hair gel, play dough, water play, cooked pasta, imitation snow, ect) have scoops/cups small items they have to find.
    • Touchable bubbles, flubber, slime,
    • Vibrating toys
    • Squishy balls or toys
    • Ball pit

    Proprioception: Sense of body awareness. Our body senses proprioception through messages sent from sensory receptors in our muscles and joints. The proprioceptive system is activated any time we push or pull on objects (such as closing or opening a car door), as well as any time the joints are compressed together or stretched apart (such as jumping up and down or hanging on monkey bars). This system helps us understand how much force we are using and whether we need to use more or less force in order to successfully complete the task, such as when coloring, cutting our food with a fork and knife, or opening a door. Proprioceptive input tends to have a calming and organizing effect on the body, particularly when feeling overstimulated or overwhelmed.

      Try different animal walks: Bear walks, crab walks, snake crawls (on belly), frog jumps

      Do turtle walks: Place a large pillow on the child’s back and see how long they can crawl around with a “heavy shell” on their back

      March or jog in place while stomping

      Do push-ups either against a wall or on a mat or carpet

      Push the doorway: Stand in the doorway and push against the sides of it as hard as possible with one arm on each side. See how many seconds they can push.

      Wheelbarrow walks: Child places hands on floor, grown-up holds child’s legs off floor and helps them walk with only their hands on the floor. Child should keep fingers facing forward as much as possible. Easier = hold child’s legs at knees or hips, harder = hold child’s legs at the ankles

      Jump and crash into a bed mattress, large beanbag pillows, or couch cushions

      Wrestle or rough house for fun (keep it clean!)

      Tug-of-war: Can be done in a variety of positions such as standing, sitting, kneeling, or laying on tummy

      Play with heavy balls/medicine balls (but be careful)

      Jump on a trampoline

      Jump rope

      Play on the monkey bars or a single bar for hanging

      Climb a rock wall

      Pour items such as sand, dry beans, dry rice, or water back and forth between containers (larger containers = more heavy work)

      Cut the bottom off an empty milk jug and use as a heavy work scooper for water, sand, rice, beans, etc. (see my example here)

      Dig in a sandbox (use scoopers or hunt for buried items)

      Squeeze, squish, and smash play dough (a homemade recipe will give you a lot more to play with)

      Play with Kinetic Sand

      Rip paper or pieces of cardboard: Give your child yesterday’s newspaper or junk mail and have them tear it into strips, you can create a collage with all the different colored strips of paper. They can also help you tear up empty cereal boxes or other boxes from the store. These activities can also be especially helpful for children who need to “get out some aggression.”

      Play catch with a big pillow or ball

      Complete an obstacle course or relay race

      Ride a tricycle, bicycle, scooter board (find fun scooter board activities from Therapy Fun Zone or The Inspired Treehouse), or any other item that requires “heavy work” to propel

      Build a fort (include chairs and large pillows for extra heavy work while constructing)

      Lay on tummy while reading, doing a puzzle, or even doing homework

      Do yoga (my kids and I like these kids’ yoga cards)

    Oral/Taste/Smell Motor Activities: chewing gum, applying chap stick

    Resistive Sucking Items such as:

    • Through curly straws/krazy straws
    • Sports bottle with long straw
    • Lollipops
    • Drink milkshake with a straw
    • Hard candies
    • Peanut butter

    Blowing Activities:

    • Wind instruments
    • Bubbles
    • Balloons
    • Whistles/ Slide whistles
    • Blower party favors
    • Splatter painting (paint on paper blow air through a straw)
    • Kazoos, whizzers

     

    Smart Sensory Snacks

    • Crunchy and chewy foods help make kids more alert by engaging their senses.
    • Sipping or sucking can help organize and calm children.
    • And of course fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and calcium rich foods make them healthy overall.

    Try These Sensory Smart Snacks:

    • Carrot Sticks
    • Celery Sticks
    • Cucumbers
    • Grapes
    • Apples
    • Pears
    • Dried Fruit (cherries, apricots, mangos)
    • Orange Wedges
    • Whole wheat pretzels
    • Rice Cakes
    • Raisins
    • Granola Bars
    • Graham Crackers
    • Fruit Leather
    • Low Fat Yogurt with straw
    • Apple Sauce with straw
    • Chunks of cheese
    • Cheese Sticks
    • Whole grain cereal
    • Whole Grain Cracker (triscuits)
    • Cereal Bar
    • Popcorn
    • Chewy whole grain mini bagels
    • 7 grain chips
    • Baked pita chips
    • Bagel chips
    • Jerky

     

     

     

     

    Excitatory/Alerting Activities

    In general:

    • rapidly changing/irregular inputs
    • quick tempos
    • music -- lower frequencies will elicit movement (drums), while higher frequencies can engage attention (flutes, singing, cymbals)
    • cold temperatures (including foods)
    • light, brushing touch
    • fast movement, especially spinning/rotational
    • sour or spicy flavors
    • fast-moving, bright, unpredictable visuals
    • using muscles for “heavy work” of pushing, pulling, against resistance (tends to be both alerting and organizing, so can help lower “too fast engines” and raise “too slow engines”)

    Activities/Strategies:

    Swinging quickly on playground swing, especially with sudden changes of direction
    Spinning on a swing or other equipment (can quickly become over-stimulating - use caution!)
    Rocking quickly in a rocking chair
    Running, skipping, galloping for at least 1-2 minutes (any type of aerobic exercise, really)
    Rapid rocking/bouncing side to side
    Jumping in place (trampoline, jumping jacks, jumping rope, etc.)
    Motor breaks during school - stand and stretch, run an errand for teacher, walk to bathroom, etc.
    Push on wall as if to move wall
    Lean on desk for “desk push-up”
    Do “chair push-up” in sitting by lifting bottom off floor or chair, holding self up with arms
    Weight-bearing through arms via wheelbarrow walk, crabwalk, bearwalk, etc.
    Ride a bike up hills (pedal against resistance)
    Pushing or pulling heavy furniture; putting chairs on desks & taking down
    Climbing playground equipment; crossing monkey bars
    Carrying a stack of books, laundry, groceries, or something else approx. 5% of body weight
    Drinking grapefruit, cranberry or other tart juice - try partially freezing it
    Popsicles or frozen grapes or orange sections. Try frozen pickle chunks!
    Pretzels, carrots, apples, granola, and other crunchy foods
    Drinking through a long, thin straw, or reg. straw w/thick liquids (stimulates deeper breathing)
    Blowing bubbles, whistle or other blown instrument (harmonica)
    Move cotton balls by blowing through a straw (race cotton balls or play “soccer” on table)
    Play with “fidget toy” for hands, such as small koosh ball
    Dancing to rock, jazz, rap, or fast kids music
    Cold shower or cold water on face or arms
    Strobe light effects, fireworks, sometimes computer or video games or T.V.
    Brightly lit room (full spectrum or natural light)
    Walls decorated with bright, contrasting colors
    Safe crashing: jump or fall into pile of pillows or mats; pillow fighting

    Calming Activities:

     

    In general:

    • slow, steady, rhythmic, repeated, predictable input
    • slow and rhythmic music
    • firm, steady, pressure touch or squeezing (think massage or a big hug)
    • using muscles for “heavy work” (see note above under alerting activities)
    • bland or sweet-tasting flavors
    • slow-moving, dim, deep-colors for visuals
    • neutral warmth
    • slow linear movements forward-and-back or head-to-toe

    Activities and Strategies:

    Rhythmic bouncing on a hippety-hop ball or seated on therapy ball
    Steady, slow forward/back movement on swing or rocking chair
    Rocking horse or see-saw; pushing off hard with legs
    Listening to classical music, steady drums, or nature sounds (water, birds, waves)
    Jumping on a trampoline, doing jumping jacks, or jumping rope
    Riding a bike up hills (pedaling against resistance)
    Pushing or pulling heavy furniture; putting chairs on desks & taking down
    Carrying a stack of books, laundry, groceries, or something else approx. 5% of body weight
    Carry backpack or “fanny pack” with some weight to it (not more than 5% of body weight)
    Push on wall as if to move wall
    Lean on desk for “desk push-up”
    Hold self above chair seat, weight-bearing through arms, hands to side of seat for “chair push-up”
    Weight-bearing through arms via wheelbarrow walk, crabwalk, bearwalk, etc.
    Isometrics: push hands together, hook hands and pull apart, push knee against hand, etc.
    Tug’o’war, “indian wrestling,” push’o’war back to back
    Push with feet against something (push’o’war with a pillow between 2 peoples’ feet, no shoes)
    Push or pull open and hold open heavy doors
    Erase or wash chalkboards
    Look at fish tank, snow globes, lava lamp, campfire, or other slow-moving visual
    Dimly lit room, and sparsely-decorated walls (“cool” colors)
    Eat chewy foods (send fruit roll-ups, bagels, dried fruit, cheese, gummy candy with lunch)
    Chew on Chewy Tubes or Chewelry (avail. in some catalogs) or Theratubing
    Wear spandex clothing, like bike shorts or long underwear (can wear either under regular clothes)
    While in circle time or listening in seat, hold a lap weight (such as a large beanbag animal)
    Use a heavy/weighted blanket; read or work lying on floor with pillows stacked on top
    Wrap or roll-up in blanket or rug
    Crawl through a tunnel of about 3 yards of 18” cotton T-shirt ribbing (avail in fabric stores)
    Have an adult roll a therapy ball over body while lying on mat or rug
    Squeeze stress ball or other resistive “fidget toy” (putty, beeswax, art erasers)
    Put hands into container of beans or rice
    Inflatable seat cushion (Move’n’sit or camping pillow) or sit on therapy ball for listening times
    Safe crashing: jump or fall into pile of pillows or mats; pillow fighting