Tag Archives: sensory

Benefits of Outdoor Play

By: Laura Van Zandt, OTR/L

While visiting my family recently, I was reminded of the importance of outdoor play. I was lucky to grow up with a two-acre yard and large untamed wood behind my house. It granted me endless hours of exploring and freedom. Now, children have highly-scheduled lives and don’t have the opportunity to play outside as often. Safety is another legitimate concern for families reluctant to allow their children unsupervised play time outside.

But the whole family can benefit from play time outside. The benefits for children include:

9_DyeAsherLGross Motor Skills: The outdoors is one of the very best places for children to practice and master emerging physical skills. Children can freely experience gross motor skills like running, skipping, and jumping. It is also an appropriate area for the practice of ball-handling skills such as throwing and catching. There are also tons of opportunities for strengthening and coordination through sensoriomotor and heavy work activities such as sitting on a swing, pushing a swing, pulling a wagon, and lifting/carrying objects.

Fine Motor Skills: When children are playing outside they are constantly using their hands to pick up and hold an endless number of items. Each time they pick up something new, they must form their hand around a variety of different shapes. In turn, they learn to separate the two sides of their hands as well as learn how to develop grasp patterns.

27_Sims_McKenna_3.jpg

Sensory Processing Skills: The outdoors are full of boundless sensory processing opportunities. Each of our seven different senses (vision, auditory, tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), vestibular (balance), and proprioception (body’s ability to sense itself) are constantly given a vast array of opportunities.

Just close your eyes and listen to all the different sounds. Can you identify the different birds? Open your eyes and now look. Can you find the bird that made that sound? Sit down and feel the grass on your skin. Talk a walk down to a neighborhood garden and smell the different flowers. Which one is your favorite? Can you find the fresh vegetables and fruits? How do they taste? Bend down and simulate your vestibular sense as you pick the different vegetables and fruits. Put them in your wagon and give your proprioceptive system a workout as you pull it up the hill.

Cognitive and Social Skills: Without all the bells and whistles of electronics, children are more likely to invent games as they learn how they can interact within the outside world. Who can jump the furthest over the stick? Who can run the fastest to the biggest tree? Where can I find the best hiding spot for hide-and-seek? Inventing games offers children the possibility to test boundaries and invent rules. In the process, children learn why rules are therefore necessary. They also learn the fine art of flexibility, and give and take with others. Children learn how to work together for a common goal and how to problem solve and use materials in new ways. They can also learn how to take turns and wait while playing on the playground.

Health: Playing outside is also a natural way to relieve stress. Sunlight provides vitamin D, which helps prevent bone problems, heart disease, and diabetes. Our vision is also known to be helped by playing outside (Optometry and Vision Science, 2009 January). Believe it or not, playing in the dirt also helps boost the immune system and handling bugs can help with auto-immune diseases.

Studies show that as many as half of American children are not getting enough exercise, and that risk factors like hypertension and arteriosclerosis are showing up at age 5. So simply going for a walk can greatly help children. Studies have also suggested that playing outside may help to reduce the signs and symptoms of ADHD in children by reducing attention deficit symptoms (American Journal of Public Health, 2004 September).

Activities by Age for the Great Outdoors

Infants:

08_Finn
Photo by Petra Ford
  • Lay a blanket down and have tummy time outside
  • Introduce grass, leaves, and sand in their hands as they exercise fine motor skills of touching and holding
  • Face the infant toward children at play to stimulate their eyes
  • Place the infant in a safely secured swing
  • Push an infant in a stroller around the neighborhood or park

Toddlers:

  • Blowing bubbles and trying to catch
  • Peek-a-boo around trees, bushes, and playground equipment
  • Explore in a sandbox
  • Encourage exploration on small playground equipment
  • Water play with cups and plastic containers
  • Push and pull equipment

Preschool:Gardening Blog1

  • Create a garden or plant some flowers
  • Go on a nature hike with a scavenger list of items to find
  • Use sidewalk chalk to create pictures
  • Collect twigs, branches, and sticks
  • Collect pinecones for making nut butter bird feeders
  • Fly a kite
  • Allow free time/ independent play

 

School Age:jorge-on-bike

  • Running outside
  • Kick a ball
  • Jump rope
  • Hop-scotch
  • Go on hike
  • Plant and maintain a garden
  • Ride a bike
  • Build forts outdoors

Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley’s therapy is modeled on play. If you have concerns about your child’s development or want an evaluation, visit www.eastersealsdfvr.org for more information.

A New Perspective about the Playground

By: Bridget Hobbs, PT

Summer is finally here and your little ones are asking to go to the park.  So, pack a few snacks, slather on the sunscreen and take advantage of this free way to build confidence, make friends and gain gross motor skills at the same time.

Children learn best through play-based experiences and exploring the playground is great way for children to refine their gross and fine motor skills.  Here are a couple ideas for parents and caregivers to engage their children at the park in order to build not only bonding and fun, but to also build muscle strength, endurance and gross motor skills.

Here are some new or different ideas to incorporate to your little one’s playground fun:

Playground-28.jpgClimbing up the slide

As a child, you were likely told to just go down the slide.  Of course if there are children waiting to go down the slide, climbing up it is not a good idea.  However, if the park isn’t crowded, help your child bear walk (on hands and feet with bottom in the air) up the slide.  Doing this builds great core strength as well as cross-body coordination skills.

Using the dividers as balance beams

Playground-20.jpgThere are often railroad-tie type of dividers that divide the grass from the wood chips/foam surface under the playground equipment.  Challenge your child to go across these as they would a balance beam.  They can experiment with going forward, backward, side-stepping and even doing toe taps to the ground each step.  This activity helps with control of leg and core muscles as well as coordination skills that your child will use in gym class and on sports teams in the future.

Use hills to your advantage

If you participated in track or cross-country in high school, you know that training on hills was a vital component to the big picture of a race.  Make hills fun for your little one by rolling down them like a log to help with development of the vestibular system.  You can also really challenge them by bear walking or crab walking up or down the hill.

Don’t avoid the climbing wall

Playground-45.jpgChildren as young as toddlers can enjoy the climbing wall with help of their parents.  Even if you have to support their body, children learn motor planning and sequencing by deciding where to best place their hands and feet to navigate the wall.   A bonus is that the small muscles in the hand are strengthened by grasping the holds, which can lead to improved ability to write and play ball sports in the future.

There is a lot of research that clearly links play with brain development, motor and social skills.  Playgrounds provide different textures, sensory experiences and motor planning opportunities for children to help build their development.  So, think outside the box the next time you are at the park with your child and try to incorporate these different ways to assist with their development.

For more information on physical therapy and play based therapy services at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley visit our website.

*Above images by Molly Gardner Media

 

How Sensitive is Too Sensitive?

By Maureen Karwowski, OT

I am sure that I am not the only person to buy a wool sweater that I thought looked great.  I bought this sweater despite the fact that it might be a bit itchy.  The first cold morning of the year I decide it is time to wear this sweater, and it feels okay, but not greatAs the day progresses, I am more and more aware of the feeling of my new sweater.  After a long day of working, and a brutal commute home, my skin is crawling.  This sweater is intolerable.  For many of the children that I work with as an occupational therapist who have sensory processing difficulties, this experience may be familiar to them.   

Sensory processing challenges occur when a child has difficulty interpreting  and responding to the sensory experiences in daily life.   It is estimated that 1 of 20 children are impacted by a sensory processing deficit (Ahn, Miller, Milberger, McIntosh, 2004).   When I assess a child who has a suspected sensory processing difficulty, I look at 3 areas:

  • sensory regulation
  • sensory modulation
  • sensory discrimination

In my last blog, I discussed sensory regulation.  It is generally understood that sensory regulation is the ability to keep ourselves at the optimal activity and alertness level for the situation.  For instance, being able to sit through a meal or story time at the library all requires a child to be regulated.   We all have tricks to keep us “regulated”.  Drinking coffee, chewing gum, or working out are just a few examples of how adults naturally regulate themselves.

Sensory modulation impacts a child’s ability to function at home, in the community and at school.  Sensory modulation refers to how sensitive a person is to different touches, sounds, sights, smells or movement. 17b_Riley_and_Reasan_Wazniki_b

As I described my sweater experience, this may be similar to how some children respond to a variety of clothing.  The seams of jeans, or the texture of socks may be very hard for some children to tolerate.  We encounter textures every day, all day and for most of us, we are hardly aware of them.  For others textures such as soap suds, food textures, glue, hand sanitizer, t-shirts with writing on them, and band aids are just a few textures that can be troublesome.

Many children with sensory processing disorders can have extreme challenges in busy environments such as a family party, the school cafeteria, or even McDonald Land.  The sensory input in these situations is immense.  Noise levels are higher and unpredictable.  Large spaces, or crowded spaces can be very hard for children who are sensitive to visual experiences.  Novel foods have new smells, tastes and textures.  All of these experiences can cause an over-reaction.  Some children react by getting so revved up that they can lose control.  Other children cling to their parents or cover their ears.  Some children avoid these situations entirely.    For most children, climbing ladders, and spinning on a merry-go round at the park are delightful.  Others prefer to keep their feet on the ground as movement can be very scary and uncomfortable for them.

On the other side of the coin are the children who are under-reactive to sensory input.  These children often seek intense input in order to register it, and to feel calm.  For instance, a child may be bouncing up and down in their seat at the dinner table without even realizing that they are moving at all.  Another child may seek intense “rough and tumble” play at inappropri26_Jack and Kathleenate times, climb or jump on furniture despite being asked to stop repeatedly.  These children may have difficulty judging how hard to touch someone or something which can impact them socially.

We can all identify some sensory “quirks” that we have.  I know that the sound of Styrofoam makes me cringe.  My co-worker cannot stand the smell of my peppermint tea (crazy right?).  We all have things that are “triggers” for us, certain noises, textures or smells.  When a child has enough of these “triggers” that it is interfering with their ability to learn at school, socialize with other children, and function at home, an evaluation by an Occupational Therapist may be appropriate.

The good news is that a skilled OT can work with you and your child to help them with these sensory issues.  The key is a comprehensive evaluation, using parent interview, observations of your child, and a standardized assessment.  Once that is complete, treatment sessions are typically enjoyable for your child while they are working towards their goals.  You can work with your child’s OT to problem solve the sensory situations that are challenging at home, and when in the community.

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley and Occupational Therapy please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.

Sensory Regulation, What Is It?

By Maureen Karwowski, OT

As I sit at my desk typing this blog on my laptop, I am regulated enough to focus on this task.  I am able to filter out the sounds of the lights buzzing, my coworkers typing, the feeling of my clothing, and the light coming in from the window beside me.  I will admit that some times I am able to do this, and not others.  For a child with sensory processing challenges, the interpretation and responses to the  sensory experiences I described can be ineffective.  These ineffective responses can impact a child’s overall regulation and can affect many areas of development.  It is estimated 01_Mason Esquivelthat 1 of 20 children are impacted by a sensory processing deficit (Ahn, Miller, Milberger, McIntosh, 2004).

I have worked with many children with sensory processing challenges as a pediatric occupational therapist.  I know from my work that every person presents with their own unique sensory profile.  Since every child is so unique, I am required to closely assess each client to be sure that I understand where their challenges are and what I can do to assist them.  A skilled occupational therapist will use a variety of assessments, some are standardized evaluations, and others are from observations of the child.  A thorough assessment will address three areas of sensory processing: sensory regulation, sensory modulation, and sensory discrimination.  Today’s topic is sensory regulation.

Sensory regulation refers to a person’s ability to keep their arousal at the right level for the situation.  Adequate self-regulation is essential to the development of attention, regulation of sleep/wake cycles, control of emotions, as well as the daily transitions that make up a child’s routine.  Sensory regulation is necessary for social interactions and learning.

One of my clients, who has significant challenges with this skill described a story about how at school, he loves to run around on the playground at recess.  He told me that the problem is that all of the other kids can slow down after recess, line up and then go back into school.

“I get so revved up that I can’t control myself anymore.”10_Logan

His teachers stated that he ran into the building, bumping into other kids at times, and did not respond to verbal directions.  This is a great example of how regulation issues can impact transitions and school.  This story ends well for this little boy.  His mother and I worked together and identified what were the factors that were impacting his regulation challenges.  For this boy, he was sensitive to movement and visual input.  He was correct in his statement that running around on the playground “revved” him up.  In occupational therapy sessions, and at home with his parents, we worked to address his challenges with movement and with visual input.  This in turn assisted him with his transition from running around to lining up to go back inside the school much easier.  We also worked on using some “tools” to help him with this transition, such as being given an earlier warning than the other kids from the teacher, he blew the whistle which gave him a chance to take a deep breath, and was in charge of carrying the bin of recess equipment into school which gave him some heavy work.

We all have strategies that assist us in keeping our arousal level where they need to be.  People chew gum, drink coffee, fiddle with objects, all in an effort to keep alert.  We also have strategies to calm ourselves down such as deep breaths, working out, knitting, herbal tea.  It is very important for children with sensory regulation challenges that we identify what are the regulating strategies that they can use to assist them.  Something as simple as chair pushups, sucking on a piece of candy, squeezing a stress ball, or rocking in a rocking chair can be useful.  It is important to customize these strategies to your child, as everyone responds differently.

I find that my occupational therapy sessions are the most effective when the parents and I are working together to identify the child’s sensory processing challenges and how those challenges are impacting daily life.

Stay tuned, as my next blog post will discuss sensory modulation.  Sensory modulation is the amount of sensitivity a person experiences towards a sensory experience.

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.

Sensory Play for Winter Fun

By Maureen Karwowski, OTSensory Play

We all know that winter time can be brutal for active kids who are stuck inside.  I live in Chicago, and the winters can feel endless.  I work with children who have sensory needs, and sensory input can be hard to find when you are stuck inside.

Here are some ideas that are safe, fun and require only what you have in your home.

Heavy work and movement play ideas:

  1. Have a tug of war contest with your child/children using a blanket.
  2. Have your child crawl across a “mountain” of pillows, and couch cushions.
  3. Wall push-ups, chair push-ups, wheelbarrow walking, and donkey kicks.
  4. Jumping in place, hopping or jumping jacks with the red light/green light game.red/light green light
  5. Animal walks such as crab walking, bear walking, frog hopping. Play red light/green light with these different walks.
  6. Log rolling across the room, or over a pile of pillows and blankets.
  7. Play the “roly poly” game where your child sits on the floor and curls up into a ball, and rocks back and up again.
  8. Give your child a magic carpet ride. Have them sit or lie in a blanket and pull them around.  If you have more than one child, they can help you pull their sibling around.
  9. Play catch with large, soft objects such as pillows or oversized stuffed animals.
  10. Have turtle races where the kids are crawling on hands and knees using a large pillow or couch cushion on their backs as a shell.

Messy, Tactile Play Ideas:

Setting up a vinyl shower curtain or a paint tarp can minimize the mess, and allow your child tSensoryhe freedom to fully explore textures.  If you have a young child, you can always have them explore textures in the tub.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Have a car wash with cars, sponges, soap suds and a spray bottle.
  2. Shaving cream, finger paints and cornstarch mixed with water are all great textures. For more texture ideas click on this link.
  3. A bin filled with dry tactile textures such as rice, beans, split peas, aquarium rocks and sand are all great options. Hide items for your child to find in the bin for a treasure hunt.

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.