By Andrea Doumar, OTR/L

The month of October is dedicated to Sensory Processing Disorder Awareness. Many people do not know what Sensory Processing Disorder is until it affects them at home. We typically learn that there are only five main senses including sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. What most people do not know is that there are at least two additional senses including proprioception and the vestibular system.

Difficulties with Sensory Processing may present themselves differently in children and adults. Some children may crave sensory input, known as sensory seekers. As opposed, some may withdraw from that input, such as avoiding places with bright lights or sounds. That is known as sensory avoiding.

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Sensory Processing and Motor Skills

Sometimes children that have sensory processing issues, may appear uncoordinated or refuse to participate in daily activities due to them having difficulties in those tasks. Children displaying issues with sensory processing may have decreased motor skills in terms of fine motor and gross motor tasks. How children perceive their own sensory input may look different in each child.

An example of how sensory processing affects children differently can be seen using a swing as an example. Some children love going on the swing rocking back and forth, or laying on the stomach and spinning in circles. Some children may spin on that swing and never feel dizzy. While others may appear distressed, just from the simple rocking motion, which requires balance, or avoid the swing in its entirety.

Proprioception in simple terms is body awareness. When this system is having difficulties, a child may have difficulty with motor planning during activities. Proprioception is how we perceive movement with our body. Examples of proprioceptive activities include:

  • Heavy Lifting Activities
  • Pushing/Pulling
  • Crawling

The vestibular system primarily deals with balance.

Balance and spatial awareness are used to help with our daily movements in terms of balance, posture, and head position. This system helps the body coordinate the movements of moving fast and slow, and movements of the head despite a change in position.
Difficulties with motor skills in this system may include:

  • Poor balance and spatial awareness
  • Poor visual-motor skills
  • Issues with Sequencing
  • Difficulties coordination movement and body position

Examples of Vestibular input include:

  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Bouncing

Proprioception and Motor Skills

The sensory seekers are the ones that crave all that input. You may notice that they enjoy taking risks in terms of jumping and crashing into things, or just need a big bear hug (deep pressure) to calm their bodies. Other examples of a child seeking proprioceptive input may include biting on their clothing, pressing very hard when coloring, or rough physical play.

On the opposite end, some children are sensory avoiders, where they may appear clumsy and bump into things, such as a wall when walking in the hallway.

Activities can be used to increase the sensory input or assist with calming a child. Both may need proprioception in their daily routine to be successful during the school day, and assist with attention in class.

Activities to increase Proprioception:

  • Bouncing on a Therapy Ball
  • Wall Push Up and Chair Dips
  • Wheelbarrow Walks
    • If the child also has difficulty with fine motor and visual-motor skills, such as completing a puzzle, add in wheelbarrow walking to get a puzzle piece, then walk back to place in the designated puzzle.
  • Carrying a heavy backpack or pile of books.
  • Making deliveries during the school day pushing a heavy cart.
  • Blowing up a balloon or blowing bubbles in milk.
  • Deep Pressure to the limbs, or steam rolling.
  • Laying on a Therapy Ball on their stomach
    • Another great option to complete an additional activity while laying on their stomach on a ball. Have them reach and push through their arms to retrieve a puzzle piece, or use small pompoms and have them place them into a water bottle. This targets proprioceptive input, as well as working on the fine motor skills.

Vestibular System and Motor Skills

With the vestibular system, those sensory seekers crave that spinning sensation, similar to the swing example. Movements are very fast-paced. Children often enjoy the sensation of jumping up and down on a trampoline or spinning in circles in a game like Ring-Around-The-Rosie.

The avoiders will often avoid those same activities, especially if the activity requires more precision and balance, like walking across a balance beam. They may also demonstrate poor posture.

Vestibular activities include:

  • Animal Walking
  • Wheelbarrow Walking
    • Both the Vestibular system and proprioceptive system can work in conjunction with each other. Such an activity like wheelbarrow walking is beneficial for both systems, and motor skills.
  • Yoga Poses.
  • Running, Jumping, Climbing.
  • Create Obstacle courses at home for your child.
  • Going on a swing
    • The movements of a swing can either be very alerting or calming.
  • Riding a bike.

How can Soundsory help?

Soundsory Headphones are a beneficial product, especially if your child is showing some sensory processing issues, or has sensory processing disorder. Your student or child may be able to use it throughout their school day and assist them to efficiently navigate through the building or during classroom activities. Soundsory uses a multi-sensory program through the headphones where your child can listen to a variety of calming music that allows them to increase their motor skills and attention to task.

In addition to the sound, a movement guide is used as well to assist with further targeting the sensory systems. The movement guide of Soundsory targets balance and spatial judgement that is needed in all sensory systems, such as body awareness and coordination. A sample activity may be trying to balance on one foot. The movement guide uses precise rhythm and timing to target our systems, as well as, motor skills to assist with integration of skills. All of the exercises can be adapted for each individual!