Pawprint - September 2015
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Therapist's Corner
Deanna Macioce
Getting A 'Sense' for the Sensory System
Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

Sensory Integration is a term that is common among those who practice in the area of occupational therapy.  Most frequently addressed among pediatric populations, however it is becoming more of a treatment focus across the life span.   In 1972, Jean Ayres defined sensory integration as "the neurological process that organizes sensations from ones' own body and from the environment and makes it possible to use the body effectively."  

So, what does this mean?  In short, it is the idea that our bodies take in everything through the various areas of the sensory system, and are able to tolerate the information resulting in a purposeful action. The sensory system is made up of seven areas, tactile, olfactory, auditory, vision, taste, vestibular (movement), and proprioception (sense of body/joint movement and knowing where the body is in space).  For example, as you sit at your computer reading an article, you are seeing what is on the screen, hear your children in the background, have a sip of your coffee, swivel in your chair, touch the keyboard, and smell the lotion you just put on, and although all these things are happening at once, your regulated sensory system allows you the ability to read the article and comprehend what it means with little interruption. Individuals with what is now called Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) have hard time taking in all the sensory information thus demonstrating significant difficulty with processing it in a functional, organized manner.  

It is important to pay attention to the term "significant" because as individuals we all take in sensory information differently, some inputs are more difficult than others to tolerate, but it does not mean you have SPD.  This term is used when the sensory issues are disrupting an individual's daily routine or ability to function.  So, if you think about the abovementioned example of sitting at the computer, for an individual who struggles with auditory input he would not be able to block out the background noise of the children and therefore may become agitated. The background noise would seem more like a fog horn going off and result in a "flight or flight" type manner. This would make it hard for him to concentrate and comprehend what he was reading.

The sensory system and diagnosing SPD are difficult to understand and get a grasp of due to the lack solid research.  It is challenging to get sound, solid controlled studies completed because often SPD is present with another diagnosis, such as Autism, Down Syndrome, Anxiety, ADHD, just to name a few.  In addition, some individuals demonstrate difficulty in a few of the sensory areas, while a smaller number have concerns in only one area.  Often characteristics and behaviors vary from person to person.  When looking at SPD, behaviors are often put in one of three categories: sensory seeking (under-responsive), sensory avoiding (over-responsive), or typical.  For example, two children with tactile issues will present differently.  A child who is under-responsive will be seen to easily play with shaving cream, but rub it up and down her arms, legs and divulge herself into the activity, possibly becoming angry when the task has to end.  The child who is over-responsive will avoid the shaving cream task and may become agitated or anxious when presented with the activity.  And the child with the typical response will easily participate, following directions with ease, and cease the activity appropriately.  Therefore, it is often hard to get enough statistical information and data to produce solid research studies.

The complexity of this topic requires a lot of attention to fully understand it.  This is just a snippet of information to describe SPD and give a broader picture of what it means.  October is Sensory Processing Disorder Awareness Month, so as therapists and parents of children with SPD, this is a good time to focus on the diagnosis.  Challenge yourself to learn one new thing about it or treatment approach, as well as make a conscience effort to educate one new person the basics of SPD.

Product Spotlight

The Togo is a new and innovative seating adaptation, designed by Mollie Verdier, COTA/L. The Togo provides the gentle vestibular, vertical up-and-down motion of a therapy ball, while maintaining the posture, focus and trunk control required to sustain the position of sitting on a standard T-stool.

The Togo is a practical, economical and portable solution to combine both the sensory and strengthening components of a therapy ball and a standard T-stool.

The Togo can be utilized for increasing core strength, maintaining focus and decreasing joint discomfort while promoting increased overall wellness for the user. The Togo is recommended for pre-school children through geriatrics with proper supervision for balance. Adults and children with ADHD, autism or sensory processing disorder, and those that demonstrate low tone or lack of focus, can benefit from the sensory stimulation that the Togo provides.

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Activities with Alex
 What is a Sensory Diet?
 Alex Lopiccolo, COTA/L, CPT, NC

Just as your child needs food throughout the course of the day, his need for sensory input must also be met. A "sensory diet" (coined by OT Patricia Wilbarger) is a carefully designed, personalized activity plan that provides the sensory input a person needs to stay focused and organized throughout the day.
By having your child perform Proprioceptive input (sensations from joints, muscles and connective tissues that lead to body awareness) and Vestibular input (the sense of movement, centered in the inner ear) from the animal walks. Take turns with your child for 8-12 minutes of intense heavy work in the morning to help organize their Central Nervous System and achieve an improved optimal alert state for academic learning.

Sensory Diet Animal Walks Before School

Cheetah - Crawl on your hands and tip toes while walk the left hand forward and right knee simultaneously outside the right elbow, then right hand forward while hiking the left knee to the outside of the left elbow. Focus on coordination and fluidity of movement.

Caterpillar - Lay on your stomach in yoga child's pose, walk finger tips forward to lay flat on stomach, tuck hip/knees in to move forward.  Work on full body flexing and extending. 
Frog - Bend your knees with your back straight and arms behind you, hop vertically with both feet while simultaneously bringing your arms up in front of your to carry your body forward and land on your feet. Jump for distance and correct technique!
Gorilla - Stand and attempt to touch your toes...if you can't bend your knees till your hands are flat on the floor. Slowly walk your hands out till your in a push up position then begin walk your feet towards your hands. Perform sl
owly to stretch your hamstrings (back of legs) and perform cautiously to not overstretch.
Roly Poly - Lay on back with neck, hips and knees flexed with both feet on floor. Begin by pushing off with one foot to slide forward backward, alternate feet to continue. The main focus is to keep head off floor to work for neck strengthening.
Walrus - Lay on your stomach with hands onside of chest, push up with arms while keeping hips on floor then push backwards with arms extended to finish movement. Repeat sequence. Improve upper body strength which will impact push-up exercise independence.

For a .pdf file you can use to print out and fold to make your own Animal Walks Cube, click here
Southpaw Products

Weighted Ladybug Blanket

Our Weighted Ladybug Blanket can be used the same as our regular weighted blankets for calming or all-over sensory input. The inner liner is laminated with 12 evenly spaced weight pockets to provide an even distribution of weight. The Ladybug outer cover is made of durable fabric that is pleasant to the touch. The inner liner is intended for use inside of an outer cover, and may be surface washed.

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Bubble Tube

Our Bubble Tubes are available with Interactive or Relaxation functionality, allowing clients to enjoy the vibratory input offered by the movement of the bubbles/beads and the visual sensory input provided by the gradual changing color of the LEDs. And... our Bubble Tubes use the Simple Drain™ system, making water changes stress free.

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