The Role of Occupational Therapy in Sensory Processing Issues

If You Suspect Your Child Has Sensory Processing Issues

While sensory processing issues are frequently seen in children with autism, lots of kids who are not on the autism spectrum also experience them.

There is no medication to treat sensory processing issues. But there are therapies as well as practical changes you can make at home and at school to help your child feel better and do better.

Who Can Help

Occupational therapists (or OTs) are the specialists who work with kids who have sensory issues. OTs engage kids in physical activities that are designed to regulate their sensory input, to make them feel more comfortable, secure, and able to focus.

What Occupational Therapists Do

Evaluation: Each child is different. Before therapy can begin, the OT will evaluate your child’s specific sensory issues. She will use tests as well as closely observing your child’s behavior and talking to you and his teacher.

Treatment: Occupational therapists offer activities to make your child feel more comfortable, secure, and able to focus. There is a lot of physical contact designed to give him the right amount of stimulation. Activities include rolling or bouncing on huge balls, jumping into a ball pit, crashing into a mountain of huge pillows, jumping on a trampoline and spinning in a protected sling.

Brushing: OTs also use something called “brushing,” particularly for children who find the sensations of what most of us would consider “normal” touch—walking barefoot, the feel of clothing against our skin, of being touched by another person—irritating or unpleasant. It involves using a soft-bristled brush to provide deep pressure, followed by joint compressions. OTs teach the procedure to parents so that it can be done several times a day.

The sensory gym: Treatment usually takes place in a setting outfitted with specialized equipment, called a sensory gym. The equipment allows kids to safely spin, swing, and crash into padded surfaces. The gym may also be outfitted with things like weighted vests and” squeeze machines”—developed by the autistic writer/inventor Temple Grandin— to provide deep pressure that is calming to kids with sensory processing issues.

The sensory diet: Your child’s OT may also design a sensory treatment plan, custom-made for his needs, for you to carry out at home. Activities are designed to give him stimulation he needs, from weight and contact that help a child feel grounded to tastes and temperature that stimulate an underactive sense of taste.

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