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Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory Integration Therapy for Sensory Processing Disorder

Starfish Youth Therapy Center is proud to offer sensory integration-based therapy for children who display sensory processing differences and/or sensory processing disorder (SPD). Our sensory gym provides a state-of-the-art multi-sensory environment, providing every child positive play in a therapeutic environment.

Your child’s sensory processing patterns will be assessed at their initial evaluation. This provides the therapist and the rest of the therapy team with insight on your child’s responses to sensory experiences during the natural course of daily life. Knowing how a child reacts in various contexts (home, school and community) provides a way to understand what influences a child’s behavior throughout the day and determines how sensory processing may be contributing to or interfering with participation in daily activities.

During therapy sessions, exploration takes place through play-based experiences in the sensory gym. Through play in the gym, your child will become more comfortable with different sensory experiences and adventure into areas that were once avoided or hard for them. This will foster development of new motor, social and cognitive skills as well as facilitate a new sense of well-being. Your child will start to perceive their sensory processing differences as strengths and learn to navigate their world in a way that brings them joy and success.

What is Sensory Processing?

Sensory processing (sometimes called “sensory integration”) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Our senses give us information about the physical condition of our body and the environment around us. Sensory processing involves the brain’s ability to receive, organize, and make sense of different kinds of sensations entering the brain all at the same time. When sensations flow in a well-organized or integrated manner, the brain can use those sensations to form perceptions, behaviors, and learning. When the flow of sensation is disorganized, simple tasks may be difficult, which leads to frustration and avoidance of sensory opportunities or movement challenges. Sensory processing refers to the mechanisms of how we feel and underpins every aspect of human functioning. Everyone processes sensation. Sensory integration-based therapy helps the neurological systems to process, interpret, and organize the stream of sensations, and therefore improves children’s behavioral and motor responses to make everyday tasks easier.

What senses make up the sensory system?

Sensory processing is the brains ability to process information from our senses (8 of them) and connect that information with what we already know about the world around us. It is our brain’s ability to use our senses to make connections about what is happening to us, around us, and with us. Our 8 senses include vision, auditory, tactile (touch), gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), vestibular (movement, balance), proprioception (body awareness, position), and interoception (ability to sense the internal state of the body—for instance, to accurately identify sensations such as hunger, thirst, pain, and internal temperature).
In children with autism, sensory processing deficits have been theorized to cause difficulties that affect behavior and life skills. This means that they may not filter out extraneous sensory stimulation or do not process sensory stimulation in a typical way. As a result, some children may be over-sensitive or under-sensitive to events or objects in their surroundings. Children with sensory processing deficits may also have difficulty with motor skills, balance, and eye-hand coordination impacting participation in all daily activities.

What is Sensory Integration Based-Therapy?

Sensory Integration-based therapy is designed to help children with sensory processing challenges and cope with the difficulties they have processing sensory input. Sensory integration-based therapy helps children’s neurological systems to process, interpret, and organize the stream of sensations, and therefore improves children’s behavioral and motor responses. Therapy sessions are play-oriented and may include using the sensory gym and it’s equipment such as swings, trampolines, and slides. Sensory integration also uses therapies such as deep pressure, brushing, weighted vests, and swinging to assist in calming, or self-regulation. In addition, sensory integration therapy is believed to increase a child’s threshold for tolerating sensory-rich environments, make transitions easier, and reinforce positive behaviors. Recommendations for managing sensory processing challenges at home, school and the community will be made during therapy sessions to support the child’s individualized sensory processing patterns.

What behaviors are associated with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?

An over-responsive child seeks less sensory stimulation. Over-sensitivity to sensory input may look like:

• Extreme response to or fear of sudden, high-pitched, loud, or metallic noises like flushing toilets, clanking silverware, or other noises that seem unoffensive to others
• Is upset by tags in clothing only wears clothing with particular textures
• Avoids messy play (i.e. finger painting) or becomes very concerned when hands get dirty
• May notice and/or be distracted by background noises that others don’t seem to hear
• Fearful of surprise touch, avoids hugs and cuddling even with familiar adults
• Seems fearful of crowds or avoids standing in close proximity to others
• Doesn’t enjoy a game of tag and/or is overly fearful of swings and playground equipment
• Extremely fearful of climbing or falling, even when there is no real danger i.e. doesn't like his or her feet to be off the ground
• Has poor balance, may fall often
• Is picky about food textures and frequently gags on food or the smell of non preferred food
• Has extreme difficulty with changes in routine, novel activities, and anything unexpected

An under-responsive child seeks more sensory stimulation. Under-sensitivity to sensory input may look like:

• A constant need to touch people or textures, even when it’s inappropriate to do so
• Doesn’t understand personal space even when same-age peers are old enough to understand it
• Clumsy and uncoordinated movements
• An extremely high tolerance for or indifference to pain
• Often harms other children and/or pets when playing, i.e. doesn't understand his or her own strength
• May be very fidgety and unable to sit still, enjoys movement-based play like spinning, jumping, etc.
• Frequently crashes and bumps into people and objects
• Seems to be a "thrill seeker" and can be dangerous at times
• Does not seem to respond when name is called repeatedly
• Extreme preference for sedentary activities
• Mouths non-food objects
• Overstuffs food in mouth

Sensory Integration Approaches at Starfish:

Remedial Intervention: involving the skilled use of sensory and motor treatment activities and equipment, including engagement in activities that provide increased sensory input, motor planning, and much more.
Accommodations and Adaptations: adapting daily tasks to manage over-sensitivities and improve attention, self-regulation, or organizational difficulties to increase effectiveness in performing school or work.
Sensory Diet/Lifestyle Programs: involving a daily routine/plan with a menu of individualized, supportive sensory strategies to help manage sensory needs and related emotions and behaviors such as anxiety or self-injury, to help change sensory processing patterns, minimize crisis escalation, or promote calming for overall health and wellness.
Environmental Modifications: and adaptations to increase or decrease the sensory stimulation a space provides.
Education: to family members, caregivers, and individuals, about the influence of sensory functions on performance in daily activities.