Some children can’t handle sights, sounds and sensations Sensation is the detection of stimuli (environmental or bodily events) whereas Perception is the organization and interpretation of sensory information. To perceive the world accurately the senses must first respond with the optimal level of activity needed to accurately detect the source of the stimulation. Senses that are under-sensitive operate with too low a level of activation. Conversely, senses that are over-sensitive operate at too high a level of activation.
Second, sensory stimuli are converted into neural energy and sent to the brain where a composite of the sensory information must be formed into a coherent whole in order for the source of stimulation to be properly perceived. Disturbances in either the detection or processing of stimuli can cause sensory integration problems. These children are often referred to as Sensory-Avoiders or Sensory-Seeking. Children with sensory integration problems react differently from most other children; Sensory Avoiders are often described with such terms as avoiders, overactive, emotional instability, clumsy, and sensory inappropriate.
Here at The Center School, the OTs have been treating SPD (Sensory Processing Disorders) also known as sensory integration dysfunction since 1979.
Dr A. Jean Ayres a UCLA Psychologist and Occupational Therapist and a pioneer in the field, defined SPD as a mixed bag or syndrome, which involves difficulty handling information that comes in through the senses— not just touch, taste, smell, and sight, but also Proprioceptive and Vestibular senses, which tell us where our arms and legs are in relation to the rest of us and how our body is oriented toward gravity. Some children treated for SPD can’t maintain an upright position at a desk; some are so sensitive to touch that they cry when their nails are trimmed or their hair is combed or cut. Smells and sounds can also be overwhelming, for example the sound of a lawn mower, or vacuum. Here at Center School, in addition to the therapy that is provided to the children, families get instructions on how to adjust their child’s “sensory diets” to help them function better at school and at home.
Our Program and Services
The Center School Occupational Therapists work in conjunction with the entire educational team to help all of our students succeed in all aspects of their education program by addressing their sensory-motor, perceptual, academic, and social needs. This is accomplished through Individual Sessions, Group Sensory Diet Sessions, Consultation with staff for modifications and adaptations to the environment as well as The Life Skills Program.
The Sensory Diet program provides a variety of sensory-motor activities that stimulate muscles and the sensory system, providing our students with a variety of sensory input and opportunities for skill development. Self-regulation principles are also taught and incorporated into each Sensory Diet session. In our ‘State of the Art’ 2,000 square foot department, we have the privilege to provide our students with multiple sensory experiences. Individual sessions focus on meeting each child’s needs, whether they be sensory motor, fine motor, visual motor/visual perceptual, motor planning or self-regulation. Our Occupational Therapy room also has a large break area, separate from our treatment area, with multiple options for movement, heavy work and overall sensory input. Students who need to take a break from the classroom in order to focus or release energy are welcome to come up to the OT room for a set amount of time and then return to class. The goal of these Sensory breaks is to teach our students strategies needed for self-regulation, leading to more successful classroom participation and social engagement.
Our occupational therapists have expertise in task analysis and we work closely with our students and educational team to identify where challenges occur during the school day and how we can adapt or modify the task or environment in order to help our students reach their potential. Adaptations and modifications can include alternative classroom seating options, handwriting accommodations, adjustment to schedules to accommodate a student’s sensory need(s), fidgets, strengthening exercises, etc.
In the Life Skills Program, the Occupational Therapists, along with the Life Skills Teacher, work with our students to teach skills in areas such cooking and meal preparation, financial management, household management, social skills, activities of daily living, community outings, etc. The goal of this program is to foster independence. During all activities, tasks are modified or adapted to maximize success.