Every person experiences sensory events in every day life: the buzzing of the refrigerator in the background, the crunch of a pretzel, the feel of socks, the weight of a backpack, and the backward movement of the car exiting the driveway. Most children do not think about the impact these events have on the way they live. Their brains are efficient at processing and integrating the sensory information from the environment and their bodies to make sense of the world.
For some children this does not happen smoothly and efficiently. These children often process this information as scary, uncomfortable, irritating, and/or distracting. For these little people play is not fun and often they end up withdrawing from many typical play situations with family and friends. This eventually leads to difficult relationships with the important people in their lives as well as difficulty learning and developing skills. Finding ways that all children can play, enjoy their environment, and feel comfortable in their bodies is extremely important for emotional bonding with others, developing social skills, achieving developmental milestones, as well as academic learning.
The Britain Center's pediatric occupational therapists specialize in providing treatment, based on past and current neurological theory and research, for children and their families that are dealing with developmental issues related to difficulty with sensory integration. OTs use specialized equipment and toys to help address each child’s specific sensory need. Bobby is a little boy who is afraid of tactile (touch) experiences. In his preschool class all his peers love to fingerpaint, however when his teacher places the paper and paints in front of Bobby he sits on his hands and refuses to participate. This type of response is common in children who demonstrate sensory defensiveness. Bobby receives occupational therapy to help his body respond to tactile input in a positive way. His favorite activities include swinging on the “horsey” swing and pushing a heavy wagon of weighted frogs down the ramp to the “pond”. After these heavy work activities, Bobby willingly sits down at the table and engages in a painting activity. As he walks out the door to see his mom he remarks, “I like this room! It’s cool.”
In 2004, we designed a new sensory treatment room. This was made possible through a grant awarded to the Britain Center by the Variety Club. In this sensory friendly environment, all children have the opportunity to learn new ways to interact with their bodies, the environment, and their families in a safe, fun, and innovative environment.
Approximately one in every 20 children has a sensory processing disorder (Miller, 2006). Occupational therapists utilize the sensory integration theory of Dr. Jane Ayres as a guide in treating children with this diagnosis. The therapeutic listening program uses this framework to guide intervention. Children listen to headphones during activities that stimulate their sensory system. The listening helps the child organize the input coming in and produce a more successful output as a result.
Therapeutic listening is a sound based intervention in which children listen to modified music through headphones twice a day for 20-30 minutes.The music is altered by taking out the middle frequencies of the music, leaving behind the highs and lows. Frick and Hacker (2001), the developers of this program, claim that this helps train the ear to attend to the foreground and monitor the background, which is often an issue in children with sensory processing disorder.
Integrated Listening Systems (iLs) is an auditory intervention that uses high-quality headphones fitted with a bone conductor and an ipod to deliver specifically modified music to all ages. Several staff members attended an in-service on May 1st to learn about and become certified to use the iLs Focus. The program is recommended to help with concentration/attention, visual and auditory processing, and movement/coordination as well as processing speed, energy, self-confidence, and overall mood. We all left the in-service wanting to try it on ourselves as well as everyone in our family. This system combines the therapeutic effect of music with a set of specific visual and balance activities. The theory behind using modified music as a therapeutic tool first started with Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis, a french ENT, who discovered the important role of the ear as an integrater of information for the whole brain. The program involves using an ipod connected to high quality headphones fitted with a small bone conductor. The music is mostly Mozart and some chants which have been carefully modified by enhancing and omitting certain frequencies. The protocol is to listen for 3-5 hours a week and can be done an hour at a time or split into shorter durations. We are excited to have another tool to use to help compliment our sensory integration therapy.
Frick, S.M., & Hacker, C. (2001). Listening with the whole body. Madison, WI: Vital Links.
Miller, J. (2006). Sensational kids; hope and help for children with sensory processing disorders. New York: Putnam's Sons.
The Lee Ann Britain Infant Development Center is located in the Life Dynamics Building on the Shawnee Mission Medical Center Campus, 9120 W. 75th Street. For more information, contact us via phone at 913-676-2253