Occupational Therapy and Sensory Regulation

October 25, 2011

What comes to mind when one hears the term “occupational therapy”? When many people hear the word “occupational” they automatically think of work. So what do pediatric occupational therapists do?  Do they find jobs for babies?  According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (2008), occupations are anything a person does to occupy their time, including play, work, self-care, etc.  With this definition, it is clear to see how occupational therapy can contribute to the pediatric population, through addressing areas of play, school, and self-care. Children who have difficulty regulating their senses often have difficulty participating in these areas of occupation that are crucial to their development. Therefore, one major focus of pediatric occupational therapy is to support children with sensory processing disorder so that they can effectively process sensory input and participate in occupations that are functional and meaningful.

When children are unable to regulate their senses effectively, they may exhibit behaviors that interfere with their ability to participate in play, school, or self-care.  For example, a child that is hyper-sensitive to touch may resist important self-care activities such as bathing, brushing hair, and even eating. Children that are under-responsive to proprioceptive input (the sense of one’s body position in relation to the environment) may have difficulty making friends because they are constantly bumping in to or pushing other kids. A child who is under-responsive to sound may have difficulty listening to the teacher in the classroom.  These are just some examples of how problems with sensory registration can impact a child’s daily activities. Occupational therapy can help by providing children with play experiences that help the brain organize sensory information. In doing so, children can overcome their difficulties with sensory regulation so that they can engage in activities that are fulfilling and contribute to their overall growth and development.

American Occupational Therapy Association. (2008). The occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and processes (2nd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 62, 625-683.

-Meridith Porter, OTS


How Can You Help Your Child with Sensory Integration?

October 18, 2011

Sensory integration is the way we take in and make use of information about the environment around us through our senses.  Our brains are constantly receiving and processing little bits of information about what we are touching, how we are positioned in space, how we are moving in relation to gravity, as well as what we are seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting.  The sensory input then gets organized and integrated and is used to develop and nourish the brain. When sensory information is not processed well, children have difficulty directing behavior, learning, coping with stress, and developing a positive self-image.

If you suspect your child has difficulties with sensory integration, here are some suggestions on how you can help:

  1. Recognize the problem. Early detection and intervention by a trained specialist offer the best chances of reducing the effects of poor sensory integration on the child’s life.
  2. Encourage a positive self-image and reduce feelings of frustration or inadequacy. Recognize that your child’s difficulties are caused by physical dysfunction involving chemicals and impulses in the brain. Often the results of the problem manifest in behavior, mood, and the child’s ability to learn. However, keeping in mind that the cause of the problem is beyond the child’s control (just like a cold or broken bone) can help you cope with negative behaviors while continuing to provide the love and support your child needs. It is appropriate to tell your child when he or she behaves in a way that is not acceptable, but be sure to comment on the behavior, not the child. Use a disciplinary style that is consistent and sensitive to your child’s nervous system. Try to foresee situations that will push your child to lose control, and guide your child to participate in activities that will help soothe the nervous system when an emotional crisis appears to be on the horizon.
  3. Control the environment. Provide structure and organization of your child’s time and environment. Create an environment that provides tactile experiences (textures, pressure, etc.) that your child finds comfortable and calming. Provide plenty of opportunities to engage in the types of movement and stimulation that most help to organize his or her unique brain.  Watch and listen to your child to learn which sensory experiences he or she needs.
  4. Help your child learn to play. Children with sensory integrative dysfunction tend to have less varied play, and may have difficulties playing with peers. Show your child imaginative ways to move the body, interact with toys and the environment, and play with others. Simple, durable toys and games often allow for the most flexibility and variety of play experiences, as well as presenting greater opportunity for success. Most importantly, make sure your expectations match your child’s ability and that your efforts are rooted in encouraging your child to follow his or her inner drive for play. Bring a sense of fantasy and creativity to make play truly fun and rewarding.
  5. Seek Professional Help. If you suspect your child has difficulties with sensory integration, do not wait to speak to a trained professional, such as an qualified occupational therapist. Your child is not likely to outgrow the problem, and furthermore, it is possible that the difficulties will compound as the child gets older and has more expectations placed on his or her performance.


The following resources may be helpful:

Sensory Integration and the Child by A. Jean Ayres

The Out of Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz

Sensory Smarts

The Sensory Integration Network


-Holly Restani MS, OTS & Vibha Pathak, OTD, OTR/L

Are Spoken Language and Literacy Connected? YES!

October 11, 2011

The experiences with talking and listening gained during the preschool years prepare children to learn to read and write during the early elementary school years. This means that children who enter school with weaker verbal abilities are much more likely to experience difficulties learning literacy skills than those who do not (Roth et al., 2011). One spoken language skill that is strongly connected to early reading and writing is phonological awareness, or, the recognition that words are made up of separate speech sounds. There are a variety of oral language activities that you may already be playing with your child that demonstrates their natural development of phonological awareness such as rhyming, alliteration (e.g., “big bears bounce on beds”), and isolating sounds (i.e., “a is the first sound in apple”).  Soon children segment words into their separate sounds, and “map” sounds onto printed letters. This allows them to learn to read and write. Research shows that children who perform well on sound awareness tasks become successful readers and writers, while children who struggle with such tasks often do not.

When keeping in mind that language is learned all the time, and every where, it’s no surprise that you can help your child develop literacy skills during regular activities-without adding extra time to your day! Try some of these activities at home:

  • Talk to your child and name everyday objects, people, and events in the everyday environment.
  • Repeat your child’s strings of sounds (e.g., “dadadadadada, babababa”) and add to them.
  • Talk to your child during daily routine activities such as bath or mealtime and respond to his or her questions.
  • Draw your child’s attention to print in everyday settings such as traffic signs, store logos, and food containers.
  • Engage your child in singing, rhyming games, and nursery rhymes.
  • Read picture and story books that focus on sounds, rhymes, and alliteration (i.e., Dr. Seuss books)
  • Reread your child’s favorite books.
  • Focus your child’s attention on books by pointing to words and pictures as you read.
  • Provide a variety of materials to encourage drawing and scribbling (e.g., crayons, paper, markers, finger paints)
  • Encourage your child to describe or tell a story about his or her drawing and write down the words.

This information contained in this article was derived from the article, “Emergent Literacy: Early Reading and Writing Development,” (Roth, Paul, & Pierotti, 2011) found at www.asha.org.

-Sarah Peters, MS, CCC-SLP

Research Review: Parent Participation in Early Intervention

October 4, 2011

A recent study that was reported in the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology (August 2011)  was conducted by a team from Vanderbilt University in Nashville.  They looked at how effective early intervention services were when parents were participating and helping to conduct the therapy.  This team reviewed 18 studies conducted previously and analyzed the results.  All of the children in the studies were between the ages of 18 months and 60 months.


The Vanderbilt team found that when parents implemented language interventions, there was substantial language growth in young children.  They encouraged parents to be taught both general and specific strategies for language support.  The Vanderbilt team also found that when parents received training, they used more complex language than parents who did not receive training.  The study also reported that there were gains in both receptive language (what a child understands) and expressive language (what a child says).


So what does that mean for you and your child?  If your child is receiving early intervention services, get involved with therapy!  If your child’s therapist has been trying to engage you in therapy, take his or her invitation and learn.  If your child’s therapist has not offered to include you in therapy, ask to be included so that you can learn strategies to help your child make the most gains possible.  Therapy is most effective when everyone is involved!


Reference for the article:

Roberts, M.Y. & Kaiser, A.P. (2011). The Effectiveness of Parent-Implemented Language Interventions: A Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 20, 180-199.


Jennifer M. Adams, MA, CCC-SLP