Sensory Integration

I sure wish that we had started Occupational Therapy earlier! My son is low tone, but not officially hypotonia.... OT and sensory diet have made a world of difference to his progress on every front, including speech. Mind you, I DID NOT think that he needed OT....finally at 3.0 years we followed advice from a consult appointment and signed up for an OT eval. Turns out, he really need OT, it just wasn't obvious to me!!!

There are many cool sensory integration therapy ideas that I’ve learned this year. The biggest and best idea that I have to share is to find therapists that will talk to you via email to give you individualized “homework” recommendations on a frequent basis. I have learned that this is well worth and EXTRA payment to the therapist or by cutting the in-person sessions a little short. I do not talk much to the therapists before/after the session because I prefer the email discussion….It is much more focused and helps me get the homework suggestions so I know what specifically to do at home that week.  Plus before/after I have a second eye on my child and he often wants my attention too. So email is great for me!

My favorite book for parents of kids in sensory integration therapy – the out of sync child has fun. The activity books related to occupational therapy are limited and few.

We set up a kid’s game room which has lots of sensory toys and old furniture that the kids are *allowed” to climb on. Balls can be thrown in this room too. Especially the 3-4” balls that come with the playtent sets (toysrus and talbots). We also throw those balls into a kids basketball hoop (well after several minutes of coaxing we get my son to throw in a couple).

From about 2.0 to 3.5 years we stayed away from battery operated toys because he could be too independently stimulated and engaged with the toy instead of us. Now, at 4.0 years, his attention is much improved and some battery toys are both sensory fun and motivating. Like the light spinners (target, but seasonal, or Disney store), and there is a fun playdough barber/haircut toy. Also a cd player that he can learn to load and play is a fun addition….that was good after about 3.5 years.

I use computer game time as time for me to relax and time for him to engage (learn w/ the computer). The computer games with a playset that goes over the keyboard are great for fine motor skills/bilateral coordination too, like Tonka Joe. These types of games seem to be seasonal and harder to find. There is a barney musical one, tonka joe tools, Thomas railway set (hard for my son motor planning wise – got good at it about 3.8 years)…and a cash register (ok, not great , but I bought it on clearance and he likes it).

Another great idea is to make your own heavy "foam" blocks for both practicing visual spatial AND heavy work. We do our build-a-matching-tower "construction projects" with packages of toilet paper (ie 6 pack and 12`packs) that I've wrapped in fabric to make large "blocks"...The fabric is attached by wrapping on the 3 axis of the "block" with clear packing tape, all the way around. You can also use the 12 pack Toilet Paper blocks as stepping stones in an obstacle course.

More Sensory toys I’ve found helpful:

”Teletubbies go exercise” video (do it with him, pause the video until he joins has worked for me)
play tent with tunnel and balls (at least 150 balls) play hut with connected tunnel and balls 
pillows – any kind, stack them up in the corner, use them for all types of crashing and crawling play
Music/cds can be fun, like wiggles///anything that may make him want to get up and dance or move …you can join in!
cloth hand puppets (…at 3 he still won’t put his hand inside, but he does like to play with them, especially the cook and the teacher
porcupine balls, groan tube, paper yoyos, ice cream cone shooters, paddleball (have to shorten the string), (
Include just a few props (3 to 10 inches each so easy to handle) so that you and the child can reenact routines from his real-life experiences (eating, cooking, bathing, going to bed, and other social routines that he enjoys).  Ie a “Groovy Doll” and play food and real spoon and real plastic plates and cups. Empty containers from his favorite foods.  Zanybrainy has a pretend chocolate chip cookie that is a big hit at our house. Talbots has some fun pretend cakes and donuts in a box. 
pon-pon hippity hop ball  
Most any toy (ie rapper snappers, wiggly giggly, fidgets) from 
echo microphone (costs less than $5, just seems to echo your voice, no electronics), talbots or theraproducts
snap beads – at 2 years he could not yet snap them, but once he learned he was motivated because he pretended that they were trains
horns they have some really easy one, good for beginners
more- go to and type in margaret motamed in the search people box. (includes 10 piece music set, hats, gold, balls, books, etc)
foam pipe insulation pieces from the hardware store, cut into 3 ft lengths, make great swords
pool tubes (foam) make great swords
Foam swords from Talbots …the BEST product, great for sensory and pretend play
red wagon – pulling it is good work
junior stomp rocket
aerobie pro ( a large frisbee with a big hole in the center)
gertie balls and Zany brainy bodysox, elastablast (elastic band for group games), and ball play ideas PT and OT products, this is where many therapists shop for large therapy pieces like swings

For more play activity and material ideas....see there is an ideas file in the files section. There are columns of ages. I marked the things that we did at 1, 2, and now 3 years. It includes lots of sensory play materials because we started OT in August 2002 and that has been an important focus for us. Sensory play is also an important component of floortime.

Combining speech and OT
DIR/Floortime is very much all about this vein of combining therapies.  See Greenspan and Weider's child with special needs book. Also order the Apr 2003 conference audiotapes ($10/per tape) - especially the ones that are recordings by SLPs and OT's who use a DIR approach, effectively combining a sensory approach with Speech or OT.

Also, on a related note: Amazon has a book that maybe interesting- An OT and SLP Team Approach: Sensory and Communication Strategies That Work! by Nancy Kashman, Janet Mora  

My son had OT/SLP cotreat for 6 months, it was quite helpful for him. As he was very high affect and motivated during OT...that helped to increase his sentence length

Attentiveness in School

I think that lots of kids with sensory integration issues have difficulty staying focused and paying attention in school. In Preschoolers, this is especially noticeable during circle time. Our PT/SI therapist recommended that we try a pressure vest and also ask the teacher to give him opportunities to jump on a trampoline or to do heavy work just before circle time. Heavy work activities are described in this Home ideas excel file. Pressure vests are available from these websites.

More Links

Many more links to Sensory integration and OT related information are here