Therapist Thursday: What Does Sensory Really Mean?

Today’s Therapist Thursday comes from Pam at The Inspired Treehouse, a team of three moms and pediatric therapists who believe that with a little help, kids can build strong, healthy bodies and minds through play. The Inspired Treehouse is passionate about creating activities and sharing knowledge to promote development and wellness in kids.

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Getting messy is a wonderful play experience for young children and highly encouraged here at the Treehouse.  But sensory integration is a lot more complicated than just getting your hands dirty.  Here’s a quick glimpse into the world of sensory processing.

The senses send information to a child’s nervous system where it is then processed in order to generate a response.  A sensory experience can “rewire” the brain, helping a child understand his environment more clearly and making him feel safe.  Or, it can be overwhelming, causing him to become defensive and withdrawn.  And, just to make things a little more complicated, no two children will ever respond to a sensory experience in exactly the same way.  For example, if I offer GAK or putty to two children, one child may squeeze it tightly running it through his fingers, enjoying the cold wet feel.  The other child may drop it immediately, irritated by the same sensation.  This is what sensory means – the way the body receives, analyzes, and responds to the signals it gets from its environment.

Does your child withdraw from certain types of play?  Does he have extreme adverse reactions to certain sensory experiences?  If so, talk to your child’s doctor or school to see if occupational therapy services might be beneficial.  An occupational therapist (OT) is trained in sensory integration and can help you learn to guide your child through sensory experiences in a safe, playful, and non-threatening manner.  The end goal is for the child to have a strong, stable, and healthy sense of himself in his environment.

Encourage your child to experience touch, sounds, sights, tastes, and all different kinds of movement during play.  Thoughtful, guided exposure to playful sensory experiences is the best way to promote healthy development of the sensory system, ensuring that little bodies learn to process, integrate, and generate appropriate responses to the sensory information in their environments.

For further information, visit some of our favorite sensory based articles and websites.
Family Education: What is Sensory Integration?
The Out-of-Sync-Child
Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation

Pam is a mother of two children, Jack (7) and Ella (5) and has  been an occupational therapist since 1997. She has worked in several environments including pediatric inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, step down NICU, and currently school based for the past 8 years. This quote has traveled with Pam to each desk she has claimed while being an OT and helps her stay focused both in her career and as a mom.  “A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person who passes by leaves a mark.” For more information on the therapists at The Inspired Treehouse click here.

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