If your child has sensory integration issues, he may hate bath time because of the way the water feels on his skin, or he may not even notice when he's been hurt, depending on his sensitivity to sensory information. He has trouble processing all of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes or textures he comes in contact with and knowing how to handle them. However, occupational therapy can help children learn to process sensory information -- and much of it seems a lot like playing.
1. Messy Play
To help children develop normal tactile processing, they need experiences with a variety of textures. Playing with modeling dough or shaving cream or splashing around in a tub of water will help introduce new feelings to your little one. The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation suggests incorporating sensory input into your daily routine. For example, at bath time give her a variety of soaps or bath foams to bathe and play with. Rub lotion on her for even more tactile input. Even if she is hesitant or refuses to touch some of the messy items, continue to encourage her to explore them. Give her objects she can push around in the shaving cream. Then encourage her to use one finger to play, and eventually work up to using the whole hand.
2. Heavy Work Activities
Children with certain sensory needs often crave movement, and you will see that they just can't seem to sit still. With heavy work activities, your tot can develop his proprioceptive system, which is his sense of muscles and joints in his body. When he receives input in his muscles and joints, it can help him settle his body down. These activities include carrying heavy items such as a phone book or a pail of water, and pushing or pulling objects like a wagon filled with blocks or a toy shopping cart filled with food. You can also use a weighted blanket for him to cover up with or roll up in. After heavy work activities, the child is more able to sit and focus on a task.
3. Swinging and Jumping
While some kids with sensory integration issues just can't seem to get enough movement, others have difficulty with simple playground activities because the movement is scary to them. Education.com suggests that simple playground activities can be a great way to practice a variety of movement and learn to tolerate it while building confidence. Swinging in a back-and-forth or side-to-side motion can be very calming to the brain. Find a swing at your nearest park and gently push your child on it. Jumping can be an activity that helps organize kids' sensory information, so you can use a small trampoline or place several large pillows or bean bags on the floor and let your little one jump as much as she can, to give those muscles some good sensory input.
Sensory integration issues could cause a child to be very sensitive to smells, while others seem not to notice even strong smells. Giving kids opportunities to experience many different smells can help them learn to tolerate them or even use them to relax. Mix a powdered drink mix into paint to give it a sweet smell as your child uses it, or put some peppermint oil into the recipe when you make homemade modeling dough and he will smell it as he plays with it. When selecting scents, consider the outcome you are looking for. For example, lavender can be a very soothing scent, while cinnamon can be more stimulating.
5. Tunnels and Tents
Place different textured items inside a play tunnel, so your child can feel them as she crawls through, or shine lights inside the tunnel to offer more visual input. As she moves through the tunnel, shake it to challenge her balance skills and give her more movement input. Tents can also be a fun way for children who are easily overwhelmed by sensory information to escape to a sensory-controlled environment for a brief period of time. Making a fort of blankets in your living room can offer the same safe haven, and you could fill it with bean bags, blankets or pillows to offer a comfortable place to relax.