What is Sensory Processing?
Sensory processing is how our brain processes and makes sense of sensory information coming into our body. All of the sensory information comes together to build our conscious reality. This includes sight, sound, movement, internal sensation, body position and touch input.
The way our body experiences the world is critical to our feelings of safety, moving our bodies, making friends and completing tasks. Making sense of the world is how we achieve success.
Kids who have “behavior problems”
As a pediatric occupational therapist for the last 18 years I have seen challenges with sensory processing come in many forms. Children can be over reactive, under reactive, or a combination of both. This leads to difficulties with motor coordination, academic skills, feeding delays, difficulty calming, poor attention and much more. Children are often labeled as having “behavior problems” or “sensitive kiddos”. What I have found through working with many children is that these “behaviors” are actually a child’s nervous system making a response.. It can't make sense of the world around them, and so the child is constantly in “fight or flight” or appears to be “tuned out”.
Imagine a child who is overwhelmed by touch. They struggle to make friends on the playground because anytime they are touched unexpectedly their body goes into fight or flight and they lash out. To most other children this appears like a “mean kid” who gets upset quickly; but to this child they dread recess every day. They can’t seem to organize their body for success and none of the kids want to play with them.
How do I know if challenges in sensory processing are impacting my child?
The next step is to contact an occupational therapist to do an evaluation. I have extensive training in working with children with sensory processing and regulation difficulties. This is a specialized field, so it's important to find a therapist that is a good match with knowledge of how to recognize sensory processing difficulties, and help families establish a sensory lifestyle. A sensory lifestyle consists of the combination of knowledge and tools that make every day activities go much smoother.
Intensives=quicker progress in shorter time
Ongoing treatment sessions are often recommended after the OT evaluation. This can be done weekly, but I often recommend to families that we do intensive treatment. This involves working intensively several times a week for a short burst of time, and then the family can get onto living with new tools to help their child be successful across all environments. Compare when you are training to run a race. You will improve quicker running 3 days a week vs training one day a week. My role as the occupational therapist is to empower families to take control and quit letting sensory processing challenges rule their lives.
You can schedule a free consult or reach out to Connect Pediatric Therapy for more information at 402-413-1356.
Right now we are all feeling a little (or a lot overwhelmed). Kids are the same. Their lives have been turned upside down. As everyone continues to try to "find a new normal", kids are getting more and more frustrated. They just want to play with their friends and do all their favorite things again. When kids are frustrated it comes out as behaviors, yelling, and sometimes a child you don't recognize. You may be saying "She never used to act like this" or "why can't you just calm down?" Often we are caught off guard, and something that seems like it should be "no big deal" turns into a massive meltdown. This affects not only the child, but the entire family.
We have certainly had these struggles at our house, and likely you are having the same problems. As a parent it is maddening to try and figure out what is wrong. Sometimes kids can't tell you; they just know they are frustrated. They are struggling with control.
Self control is the ability to control your own emotions and behaviors. Another name for is self regulation or sensory regulation. Sometimes kids struggle with self control because of difficulties with sensory processing and sensory modulation. Sensory processing is how our nervous system take in sensory information from the environment and makes sense of it. Sensory modulation is controlling the amount of sensory input that comes into the nervous system. Some kids are sensory seekers and some are sensory avoiders. When there is a disconnect between the sensory information coming in, and the child's ability to process it, there is often difficulties with self control.
Other times difficulties with self control stem from struggles with emotions and external circumstances. This is likely the case for many children right now. There are lots of tools you can use to help children learn about their own emotions and come up with strategies to calm themselves when feeling overwhelmed. I often use How Does Your Engine Run and Zones of Regulation. The picture above is a great visual to teach kids about self control. First you STOP what you are doing, THINK about the different options you have, after you chose the options you can reACT.
If we equip our children with simple tools to help them think through different options, they are empowered to realize they are in control. They can learn to think before reacting. This will be so powerful to a family when a child can have better self control.
Pediatric occupational therapists are one of your best resources in teaching children self control. They are uniquely positioned to look at the child from a neurological (sensory) and behavioral perspective.
For more information about occupational therapy services that are available in Lincoln Nebraska please reach out at 402-413-1356 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Halloween costumes that will bring smiles instead of tears
Halloween is less than 2 weeks away. Many times this holiday is met with excitement and fun. For children with sensory processing challenges Halloween is stressful and frustrating. Children with sensory processing challenges experience the world very differently. Their bodies often over respond to sensory input. Noises and certain fabrics can send them into a panicked fight or flight state.
Imagine having to walk around in the dark in a wet swim suit with the sound of fingernails running down a chalkboard, and ants crawling all over your body......sensory overload. This is how a child with sensory processing difficulties may feel if forced to wear a costume and trick or treat.
Many well intentioned parents may think "you'll have fun if you just try" and force their child to put on a costume and go out with siblings. Unfortuatnely this child will only become more overwhelmed until eventually a meltdown will happen. It is not that the child doesn't want to go, it's that they can't handle all the confusing messages coming into their nervous system. Additionally they see friends and siblings having fun, and struggle to understand why Halloween isn't fun for them.
Below are some ways to make Halloween costumes more sensory friends so that all children may enjoy the fun.
Do you have a clumsy child?
Do you have a clumsy kiddo? Do they fall down more than peers? Do they seem to get lost when they are supposed to be getting dressed? Do they seem to struggle to achieve motor milestone like a riding a bike later than peers?
If you answered yes your child might have a praxis problem.
I found myself getting frustrated when my daughter would get lost on her way to get her shoes on. How hard could it be??! Eventually my pediatric OT brain kicked in over my frustrated mom brain and I figured out she was struggling with praxis. She got stuck in the planning part-she could think of what she was supposed to do but could make a plan that would successfully carry out the action in a timely manner.
If you've searched the web for ideas about how to help you may have run across the term dyspraxia, poor body awareness, difficulty with motor planning. What all of this means is that your child has a hard time coordinating their body for action. Praxis is how thought (cognition) directs movement (Ayres, 1985). Praxis is a latin work that means "doing or action". This is a simple definition for a complex set of events that have to happen in order for successful movement to take place.
The steps of praxis:
So as you can see coordination of movements from start to finish is a VERY COMPLEX process! It's not as simple as "go get dressed". That involves knowing what that means, figuring out how you will get the dirty clothes off your body, get clean clothes out of drawer, orient them correctly on your body and maneuver your body so clothes will go on and then decide-do my clothes match, am I wearing clothes that will be appropriate for the weather and are my clothes on my body correctly. Many kids struggle with knowing where their body is in space. When they are asked to get dressed they get lost with their own body. Clothes end up being backwards, wrong season or the child just won't get dressed because the job is too hard.
Imagine how stressful it is living in a body that is so lost? Self esteem issues are common as children get older and cannot seem to coordinate their bodies like their friends. They start to be made fun of because they can't keep up.
But how would I know if my children are having difficulties with praxis?
Great news-help is near!
Pediatric occupational therapists are a great asset in working with your child to help with praxis difficulties. Find a pediatric OT in your area that can help provide intervention and home program activities that can help your child develop a better awareness of their body and improved ability to move through their world with success.
If you have questions, need additional resources or want to schedule an appointment in Lincoln, NE please call Dr. Kristen or email at email@example.com
How do you know if your child is a picky eater or needs feeding therapy?
Have mealtimes turned into a battleground at your house? Many kids go through a "picky eater stage" between the ages of 2 and 4. This is a very normal part of development. Typically children are trying to learn about their environment and finding ways to exert control. Picking what they will eat is an easy way to gain control! Sometimes kids won't grow out of this phase, or end up with a very limited diet. Then its time to get help from a feeding therapist (typically an occupational or speech therapist). I have treated kids with feeding delays for the last 10 years. I can tell you with absolute certainty that the earlier you get started with feeding therapy the quicker the progress. There are a lot of different reasons kids might be picky. The best thing to do is see a specialist who can help you sort it out. There are lots of strategies to help picky eaters move through this phase quickly. There are also lots of resources and strategies to help problem feeders turn into happy eaters!
Here are some important questions to ask that will help distinguish the difference between a picky eater and a problem feeder:
If you have questions or want additional resources reach out to Dr. Kristen at 402-413-1356 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Going back to school looks a lot different this year. Many kids that would traditionally be heading back to school are instead doing remote learning. In order for them to be as successful as possible it is important to set up their space to support his/her learning. Here are some helpful hints to think about.
As many kids are headed back to school they will have one additional accessory this year; a mask. This is an essential piece of their wardrobe in order to keep everyone as safe as possible.
This is a polarizing issue and people feel strongly about whether kids should or should not head back into classrooms. I hold respect for people on both sides of this issue and respect that everyone needs to make the best decision for them. My kids will be headed back to the classroom. For our family, the educational and psychological benefits of being in a classroom with a teacher outweigh the risks of exposure. This blog isn't about convincing anyone, but instead serves as a resource to help parents teach children to wear a mask.
This virus is not going away anytime soon-so most likely no matter whether your children are headed back to the classroom or not; they need to learn to wear a mask. Wearing a mask for several hours can create sensory challenges. Breathing is different, glasses fog up, the texture of the mask makes a difference, the mask "smells". Whether your child has sensory processing difficulties or not, they need you to help them learn to wear the mask. Here are some tips to help ease the transition.
1. Practice now
"buy in" and wear the mask
Have a great school year whether your child goes to school, home schools, or does remote learning....we wish you the best!
Let us know what other fun ideas you have for helping kids wear masks.