Sensory Stimulation is not Sensory Treatment

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I thought that I might never hear it again, but there it was.  Another parent telling me that a member of her child’s treatment team had placed her hands in a rice-and-bean bin.  “Why?” I asked.  “She said it was sensory.” was the response.  This particular child has no aversions to touch, and no sensory-seeking behaviors either.  Her aversion to movement out of a vertical head position keeps her in my sessions, and her postural instability and hypermobility will keep her in PT for a while. But unless she is swishing around in that box while on a balance board or while she is sitting on a therapy ball (BTW…not) it isn’t therapy.   I struggle to see the therapeutic benefit for her specifically.  It is sensory play, but it isn’t therapy.

It seems that OTs got so good at being known for sensory-based interventions and fun activities, that it appears that engaging in sensory play is therapy.

Let me be clear:  if your child is demonstrating sensory processing issues, random sensory input will not help them any more than random vitamin use will address scurvy or random exercises will tone your belly.

Sensory processing treatment is based on assessment.  Real assessment.  A treatment plan is developed using an understanding of the way individual sensory modalities and combinations of modalities are neurologically and psychologically interpreted (remember, mind-body connection!)  It is delivered in a specific intensity, duration, location and/or position, and in a particular sequence.  I know it LOOKS like I am playing, and the child is playing, but this is therapy.  In the same way that a PT creates an exercise program or a psychotherapist guides a patient through recalling and processing trauma, I have a plan, know my tools, and I adjust activities on the fly to help a child build skills.

I never want to make other professionals look bad in front of a parent.  That’s not right.  I ended up making a suggestion that the therapist could use that would be actually therapeutic.  Some day I hope to finish my next e-book, the one on hypermobility, and hope that the information will expand the understanding of what OT is and is not.  It is absolutely not playing in sensory bins….

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