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 Or, it can be overwhelming, causing him to become defensive and withdrawn.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.
If you’re looking for ideas for great sensory toys and games, check out our gift guide: TOYS TO PROMOTE SENSORY SKILLS!
Want to learn how to successfully engage your child in a quality sensory experience at home? Stay tuned for our next Trick of the Trade!
Click here to find Useful Tips and Tricks for Promoting Child Development from our team of pediatric occupational and physical therapists!