Sensory Processing
Calming and Alerting Strategies
Did you know that there are more than just the 5 senses we're taught
about in school?  We experience the world around us through our eyes
vision, ears hearing, skin touch, mouth taste, nose smell and movement.  

And within these senses there are others.  For example, touch includes sensing vibration
and pressure in addition to what is felt on the surface of the skin.  Movement includes the
sense of
balance which is detected by the inner ear and proprioception which is
detected by small sensors within our muscles and tendons.  
                        Over Active  vs.  Under Active

Some children are overly sensitive to certain sensory stimuli within the environment.  This may cause the child to over
react.  He or she may appear to be fearful, overly excited, agitated, restless, hyperactive, controlling or moody.  On
the other hand, some children may be under sensitive to certain stimuli.  This may result in a child who appears to be
children seek out intense sensory experiences.   It is also possible to have a combination of responses depending on the
type and intensity of sensory stimuli.  



Sometimes problems arise with too much sensory stimulation coming in at once.  The child may feel bombarded with
sensations, become upset or try to tune out by shutting down.  When there is too much information to sort out, some
children may have difficulty knowing what is important to focus on and what stimuli to filter out.   A simple example of
this is being unable to concentrate on a task because of a squeaking noise from the air conditioner.  Most of us are able
to tune this out (filtering) and it becomes background noise that we adjust to.  But for those who can not filter out
irrelevant stimuli, it becomes a nagging irritant that interferes with the job to be done.

The goal of therapy is get the child to that "just right" emotional state.  At home and at school there are many
strategies that are effective in getting to that "just right" state of mind.

Calming Activities
  • Gentle slow rocking in a rocking chair or hammock
  • Compression "sandwich" that gives a feeling of being hugged tightly, cuddled and swaddled: Lay pillows or sofa
    cushions on top of the child while he/she is laying down from the neck down, press firmly but gently.
  • Compression garments are comforting and calming such as tight fitting Under Armor garments or a Bear Hug Vest
  • Wrap up snugly in a blanket or large beach towel
  • Provide a comfortable retreat area such as a small play tent filled with pillows, bean chairs, blankets
  • Mouth comforts: sucking on a sports bottle, drinking through a straw and sweet tastes are relaxing.
  • Heavy work for the mouth is calming: chewing gum or chewing on a straw
  • Heavy work for the body: wear a heavy backpack or carry a box filled with toys or books, push a vacuum cleaner
    or wheelbarrow, push and pull toys and games, move furniture, knead dough
  • Squeeze a foam ball, clay, play doh, putty, koosh ball, pinky ball, etc.
  • Roll your child up in an exercise mat from shoulders to feet and play "make a hot dog":  pretend to put on ketchup,
    mustard, etc., by firmly pushing on the hot dog from shoulders to feet, up and down.
  • Make a “quiet corner.” Have a tent with a beanbag chair and blanket inside. Use only for quiet things such as
    reading, or getting composure when upset.
  • Adapt the environment: dim the lights, certain wall colors are particularly calming, add scents such as vanilla and
    lavender, slow moving visual stimulation (lava lamp, rope lamp, bubble tube), slow and rhythmic music

Activities to Increase Level of Alertness
Many activities for calming also help for alerting.  In addition to the above, try these:
  • Fast rocking or swinging
  • Jumping on a mini-trampoline or bouncing on a therapy ball while seated
  • Jump rope, jumping jacks, animal walks
  • Stacking books and other heavy objects
  • Playing on playground equipment
  • Stacking chairs or pushing furniture
  • Compression activities:  Wall push ups, push hands together, hug yourself
  • Mouth Alerts: sour candy, mints, crunchy foods (dutch pretzel, carrots), mint gum
  • Music with a fast beat


             
                     
For Teachers  Use this handy help sheet for more strategies specific to the classroom:
                                     
 Sensory Strategies in the Classroom
Therapy Street for Kids
More about Sensory Processing
    Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD, is a constellation of symptoms and behaviors that occur when signals taken in by the body's
    sensory receptors are not properly interpreted by the brain.  You may be familiar with other terms such as Sensory Integration, SI,
    sensory modulation or self-regulation to name a few.  However, SPD has recently become the preferred term when discussing disorders
    having to do with the organization of the senses.   
Why is this important?
    Imagine this:   Here is what your brain has to organize in order to carry on a simple conversation.
    Let's say you're at the school gymnasium waiting for the basketball game to begin.  The bleachers are loading up with people.  To listen
    to your friend,  you're supposed to turn your body to face him and look him in the eye so he knows you're listening.  It's noisy in there.  
    You use your ears to try to hear what he is saying.  You need to use your trunk muscles to keep you sitting upright on those metal
    bleachers that give you no balance support and the metal makes you feel very cold.  But you're trying to ignore those sensations.  You
    must also ignore the scratchy annoying tag inside your shirt collar that you wish you changed out of before leaving the house.  Hard to
    hear your friend? You must ignore the hoards of people talking around you and the vibrations of the basketballs bouncing in the same
    room.   The doors to the locker rooms are open-- Whew!! That sure smells, got to ignore that, too.
    Suppose your brain couldn't let you ignore all those things while attending to the task at hand-- the conversation.  You may feel
    bombarded with sensations to the extent that this scenario would make you irritable, frustrated,  perhaps angry and anxious to escape.  
    And your friend is wondering "why won't you look me in the eye?  Are you even listening to me?  . . . "
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