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Occupational Therapy and Sensory Integration

Occupational therapy using a sensory integration approach is often recommended for children who have difficulty behaving in an organized manner. This might include talking, relating to peers, adults and family members, flexibly changing between tasks or environments, playing on the playground or learning in a classroom setting.
Behaviors which might justify an occupational therapy evaluation of sensory processing and motor planning would include the following:

• difficulty with being touched

• trouble paying attention

• poor concentration

• distractibility

• poor coordination

• delayed developmental milestones

• difficulty with unfamiliar motor tasks

• trouble staying seated

• overactivity

• stumbles frequently

• reacts abnormally to smell, taste, sounds or other sensations

• tires easily

• prefers to play alone

These behaviors can be a consequence of sensory processing problems. Occupational therapists talk about sensory integration. Our sensory systems interpret information in our environments to give our brains an accurate picture of our bodies and our world. If the sense of touch, sense of movement, muscles and joints, eyes or ears are not interpreting or processing information properly, the above behaviors might be evident, and organized behavior might be compromised, including classroom learning as well as the ability to relate to others.

OT BolsterA registered occupational therapist can assess the status of a child's sensory processing to determine whether he or she might benefit from occupational therapy. There are different levels of service ranging from individual therapy to classroom consultation. After an evaluation, the occupational therapist will know the most appropriate level of service for the child.
Individual occupational therapy utilizing sensory integrative treatment techniques is a playful, child-directed intervention. Part of Dr. Jean Ayres' theory encompasses each child's innate drive toward competence. A child's self-direction is always trusted.

Many times, occupational therapy is confused with adapted physical education, particularly if provided in the school setting. Occupational therapy focuses on providing controlled sensory input via sensory and motor activity to assist the brain in better processing or organizing incoming sensory experience. Adapted physical education emphasizes the teaching of motor skills, and the practice of activities which improve balance and coordination. It, too, may be an important adjunct to a child's education, but does not replace occupational therapy.

Occupational therapists practice in a wide variety of setting including hospitals, private practices and schools. Some specialize in the assessment and treatment of children with sensory processing problems. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions.

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