Sensory integration is a theory developed by A. Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist with training in neuroscience and educational psychology. Sensory integration is defined as a “neurological process that organizes sensation from ones own body and from the environment, thus making it possible to use the body effectively within the environment.” This theory helps explain the relationship between the brain and behavior, and helps explain how and why individuals respond to various sensory inputs. The five main senses are: Touch, Sound, Sight, Taste, & Smell Two other powerful senses are:
- Vestibular – Movement and balance sense. Provides feedback where the head and body are in relationship to external space.
- Proprioception – Joint and muscle sense Provides feedback on where and what the body parts are doing.
Since many special needs children are deprived of normal proprioception in the fingers, it makes it difficult to manage fine motor tasks which are needed to write well, button clothing and other vital tasks. Activities that support fine motor control of the hand and fingers are an important part of physical rehabilitation.
“Research now shows that mental effort can further stimulate new brain cell growth. Mental effort stimulates the generation of new brain cells that migrate to the area where cells are needed, as well as the surrounding cells to perform the necessary functions. This is especially important for those who are recovering from a brain injury. To improve cognitive fitness, the goal is to turn inactive brain cells into healthier active brain cells. Cognitive training is organized, ongoing activity that requires some effort and challenging new thought. The best way to improve and maintain cognitive health is through deliberate brain exercises. To be successful, cognitive training should be designed for each individual’s needs. Cognitive training works best when it is gradual, consistently ongoing and adapted as performance improves. The training programs shouldn’t be too difficult or too easy, but should maintain interest without frustrating the participant.” – Shlomo Breznitz “Long-Term Living” April 2010
Weighted products provide proprioceptive input that helps establish increased body awareness, improves attention span and concentration, and has calming benefits. Children who do not have sensory problems may also benefit from weighted products by helping calm tantrums, aid with attention span and help relieve restless legs. Although there is no specific formula for determining the weight, the common formula to use is 10% of the child’s weight plus 1 pound. After the weight is selected, a therapist should observe the child to determine whether adjustments are needed.
People with impaired proprioception are missing an internal body map for adjusting body motions. Without knowing how to apply the correct amount of force to external surfaces, the body lacks the ability to judge the body position in space or to determine touching pressures. A craving for intense proprioceptive experiences may result in behavior such as crashing into walls, banging, tumbling into a pile of pillows and rough housing or horseplay to increase sensory messages. Children displaying these behaviors may be perceived as aggressive, but the behavior itself is innocuous. The child is seeking a means of enhancing his or her sensory experiences. The reverse may be true in children who avoid physical activity. Various devices and props are useful to help ensure the child’s safety.
All humans need comfort, rest and sleep for physical and emotional well-being and health. Many factors affect the child’s comfort, including environmental factors, physical comfort when sitting or sleeping and reduction of stress. Unmet needs cause tension and anxiety and adversely affects the childs state of well-being. Among some of the measures that can be taken to improve the childs comfort is to make available an effective seat cushion for long periods of sitting. Also, by providing bed positioning devices, the child can reposition to attain a more comfortable position and sometimes to relieve pain and muscle spasms when they are a problem.
Regular exercise has many benefits. Designing a program for a cognitive disabled child is challenging and requires knowledge of the child’s social behavior. Incorporating variety into the fitness program is also essential in order to maintain the child’s interest. Consider the child’s sensory deficits when planning and identifying exercises that are within the child’s ability. Prevent boredom by exposing the child to combinations of exercise that are repeated no more than twice a week. Feeling a sense of accomplishment builds self-esteem and enhances self-confidence. An effective fitness program will evolve with the child’s progress and the program will help motivate the child to participate in a healthy lifestyle over the long term.