Sensory Integration / Regulation
At Connecting OT we take a particularly functional approach when it comes to the understanding and development of sensory integration. We consider that each person whether it be an adult or child, is a sensory being and we all have likes and dislikes in terms of how we conduct ourselves. As adults we make conscious and subconscious decisions all the time in terms of sensory references that we might have. For example, some of us might choose to go for a run in the morning to refresh and wake up or some of us might prefer to sit and have some quiet solitude and some reflection or meditation to start the day. None of these are right or wrong, they are all personal preferences and as adults we have the ability to verbalise and communicate at a rational level.
Children are sensory beings as well and they are learning who they are as people and how they operate in a very sensory driven world. They are not always able to communicate with words the sensory feelings that they might be having, particularly when it comes to seeking or avoiding particular sensory situations. As a result, this can develop negative behaviour patterns. A stimulus or an occurrence of a sensory input will then be followed by a series of behaviours as there is always a combination of sensory and behaviour together.
Our job at Connecting OT is to understand what the triggers are for this process or what the key functional facets that are impacting the process are. For some children or adults it is very clear sensory aspects that are occurring, such as they are really needing proprioceptive information and muscle toning information first thing in the morning in order to be able to pace and process throughout the day. For other children, it might be an aversion to noise or too much visual stimulation. And for some children it is nothing particularly, but it is an accumulation of a series of small or big sensory facets that are occurring in their day and therefore affecting the overall way that they are able to go about their tasks and activites at school, kinder and home. For instance, some children might find the transition process from home to kinder as a little bit stressful and this is for not only the reasons discussed in terms of sensory processing but the fact that sensory does go hand in hand with behaviour and when we are having uncertainly around a behaviour, an expectation or feel anxious about what is occurring or coming up, then that can heighten the sensory response that that child is having.
Once again our job is to use a combination of clinical observation and assessment tools if needed and work to create some key goals that are going to be our starting point in this process and then work on a trial and evaluation process to achieve desired outcomes.
When we reflect on the key occupational therapy goals that we might be trying to work on for that child or family, it is imperative that the regulation element is addressed as this is the way that we are helping that child to come out of a stressed and anxious state or to conserve the energy that they might be expending throughout their day and therefore help them to be available to take on instructions and work in what we call a ‘Productive Learning Zone’ as opposed to just staying with those tasks that are comfortable or getting into a state of overload. This is a mathematical equation that we are continually working to monitor. Even when we get referrals for children just for their pencil grip or handwriting we are always on the lookout, not to over diagnose by any means, but to ensure that we are not missing a key facet that could actually be either the root of the problem or a side aspect that is preventing the pieces of the puzzle coming together for that child.
As a part of this process we will work to develop what we call a ‘Sensory Diet’. This is purely the mathematical equation of the type of sensory input that we are building in or avoiding and the frequency that we are thinking about this. As we referred to before, this is a process that quite often will start in the morning from the home environment and will need to be worked on throughout the day. For some children it is enough to have a jump on the trampoline before they go to school or to get to school early and go on the monkey bars and that has actually unlocked their sensory system and enabled them to work productively and manage themselves as they need to. For some children it is actually that ongoing process of having small or big amounts of different types of sensory input. Things that we can do depending on the type of input, is use more in terms of visual scheduling to create certainty and comfort. The child might be completely able to comprehend and have a very smart IQ, but creating certainty and tracking completion is a fabulous way of helping that child have some sort of understanding of the situation and therefore be able to develop positive habits as they transition through either a sensory rich environment or an environment that is not quite meeting their sensory expectations.