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….
Preemies often wait a long time to start playing. NICU life isn’t about fun, it is about survival. Once your preemie is home, you will want to get the party started. If she has a weak grasp or isn’t coordinated enough to easily hold every rattle and toy that you got for your shower, you might want to consider the O-ball to develop visual-motor skills.
The Original O-Ball!
This is the basic O-Ball, a great toy that I recommend for my 1-4 month clients. I also recommend the next generation O-ball toys, such as the O-ball car, for equally easy grasp with my slightly older preemie or developmentally delayed kids.
Why do I like this ball over cloth balls or those bumpy sensory balls?
The web-like design allows a child to hold it with almost any type of grasp. Low muscle tone, spasticity, or weakness reduce a baby’s ability to grasp and retain a toy. It just isn’t fun if your toy keeps falling out of your hand.
Texture, but not too much texture. The plastic is a little bit grippy, so it doesn’t fall out of her hand like a smooth plastic ball, but not so textured that a sensitive infant would find it overstimulating. Preemies sometimes leave the NICU a little overwhelmed by sensation, and yet many need the extra touch input to really feel what is in their hands. This ball is a good balance of tactile inputs.
Fun at a fraction of the weight. A baby that has strength or tone issues needs lightweight toys to pick it up easily and continue to hold it as gravity pulls the ball down and out of his hand.
The O-ball is large enough and light enough for 2-handed grasp, an important developmental milestone. As an OT, we know that using two hands at midline (the center of your body) supports all the other movements that require a sense of moving around a center…rolling, crawling and walking! Start now to develop awareness of midline and two-handed activity.
Second and third generation O-balls have built-in rattles and are more colorful than this one. None have sharp edges or pieces that can fall out. Safety first.
Did you say “Spit up”? Wipes clean in an instant.
It is a bit squishy, which means it will bend, not break. If your child drops it on her face or on the floor, she might cry from surprise but not from injury.
It will still be fun to play with next year. This ball will still be fun to roll and throw later on in life, unlike those rattles that will be tossed out in a few months.