Note: This workshop was offered in my community as part of Autism Awareness Month. I paid to attend the workshop and am sharing some of what I learned because of the value of the information for parents and others who work with children with SPD. I received no compensation for writing this post, and it contains no affiliate links.
Is It Sensory or Is It Behavior? Workshop Re-Cap
On Saturday, I had the honor of hearing Carolyn Murray-Slutsky and Betty Paris present the Is It Sensory or Is It Behavior? Workshop based on their book with the same title. I was very impressed that they were able to discuss the concepts in their presentation in a way that was easy to understand for the parents, childcare workers, and teachers present. (The continuing education workshop for therapists had been the day before.)
This is a brief re-cap of the information presented in the workshop.
Sensory Integrative Dysfunction (also known as Sensory Processing Disorder) is a neurological disorder that the child can’t control. It can affect a child’s learning and behavior.
The first question to ask yourself when you’re looking at a child’s behavior is: Is the behavior being used to obtain something or avoid something?
Next, ask yourself if the behavior serves a social/communication purpose (to avoid or obtain something) or if it’s sensory in nature?
The workshop focused on Sensory Modulation Disorder. Modulation is regulating or adjusting to stay at a certain level—the optimal level for functioning.
The three subtypes of Sensory Modulation Disorder are over-responsive, under-responsive (passive), and sensory seekers. (A child may fall into more than one subtype.)
Over-responsive kids are sensory avoiding. They tend to have emotionally charged reactions; avoid and escape activities and environments; avoid people and situations; have difficulty with transitions, changes of plans, and activities; and are overly sensitive to noise, movement, touch, or sounds.
These children need help coming down into the optimal level for functioning. They tend to live in fear/flight/fight mode. Some modifications we can make for them at home and in class are:
- Limit environmental stimuli.
- Provide preferential seating and placement in lines.
- Use a low, calm voice. Avoid being enthusiastic and animated.
- Structure environment, tasks, and activities.
- Give choices.
- Provide heavy work throughout the day to decrease arousal levels.
- Foresee emotional crisis. Teach coping strategies and to advocate for themselves.
Under-responsive (passive) kids have nervous systems that aren’t set to respond to stimuli at normal levels. They seem uninterested and withdrawn; overly tired and apathetic; are difficult to engage; won’t answer when called; stay to themselves; wander aimlessly; are compliant but don’t seem to be learning; and do not engage in tasks that aren’t stimulating (like writing).
These children need us to make all experiences more concentrated with sensory information so that their threshold for sensory input will be met so they can respond and answer cues in the environment.
Home and class modifications for under-responsive kids include:
- Increase sensory threshold to get the child to engage.
- Use movement – circle time, music with faster tempos, jumping, exercises.
- Be animated, enthusiastic, use gestures, generate high energy.
- Use resistive mediums for fine motor tasks (finger paint, sandpaper under writing paper).
Under-responsive kids are kinesthetic learners. It is critical that we incorporate movement into their days.
Sensory seekers are under-responsive to sensory stimuli, so they’re always moving and doing things trying to reach the optimal level for functioning. The problem is that they don’t know when or where to stop when they get to optimal levels. They tend to be disorganized, may take safety risks, don’t notice if they’re dirty or hurt, turn in messy work, often tear the paper when writing, and have a difficult time organizing self, desk, and assignments. They are also active and fidgety, excitable, can’t sit still, run instead of walking, impulsive, active without appearing purposeful, and need to be physically active to attend and participate.
We can help sensory seekers with home and class modifications like:
- Provide sensory motor breaks throughout the day.
- Alternate between sit down tasks and activities with more energy.
- Allow the child to move within limits.
- Give the child heavy work – stack chairs, carry books.
- Provide resistance to fine motor tasks – work on incline boards, put sandpaper under the writing paper.
- Use weights or weighted vests.
- Reduce feelings of inadequacy.
Things to remember when dealing with a child with Sensory Modulation Disorder:
- They have no problem with their behaviors. You have the problem. Catch them coping well and praise them!
- If the way a child communicates works for them, they will continue to do it. Don’t reinforce negative communication methods!
This is a very brief re-cap of a workshop that was over three hours long. There was much more information presented. I encourage you to check out the books and other resources available from Carolyn Murray-Slutsky and Betty Paris at their website http://STARservices.TV.
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