One of my favorite topics, SENSORY!
I commonly tell parents my little spiel about sensory processing. I like to think of our sensory systems as a cars in our brain. As we process our sensory information our “cars” drive that information to the right place to create motor plans and memories. When our sensory system is functioning properly, there is little to no traffic. When we have sensory processing difficulties/disorder it is more like a traffic jam. We are constantly taking in sensory information throughout the day, all day, every day.
We have our 5 known senses: tactile, visual, auditory, olfactory (smell), and gustatory (taste).
We also have 3 hidden sensory systems: vestibular (movement), proprioceptive (input to our joints), and introception (how our body communicates with our brain).
Why is sensory information so important? Research shows that sensory experiences build neural pathways which are important for learning complex tasks. Processing the sensory information that is all around us all day every day is extremely important for behavior, attention, self-regulation, and learning. Sensory play is important for language/social development, fine and gross motor skills, and cognitive development.
Tactile (Touch) System
- This system processes tactile information coming into the body.
- There are receptors in our skin that help us differentiate from light touch to deep touch, temperature, different textures, vibrations and pain.
- Tactile input helps children develop body awareness, motor planning, and fine motor tasks.
- How children process tactile input can have a significant impact on the child’s emotional well-being.
- Our visual system interprets color, shape, size, orientation and movement.
- Our visual system is crucial for keeping us safe, navigate in our environment, & help us locate objects.
- Visual activities help with developing visual tracking, visual motor skills, visual attention, and visual discrimination.
- Our visual system is closely linked to our other systems and important to development in all aspects.
- The inner ear has 2 important systems: the cochlea interprets the sounds we hear and the vestibule helps the brain interpret what those sounds mean and what motor response we should have.
- Our auditory system is closely linked to our vestibular system (where our body is in space).
- It tells us if a sound is dangerous, alerting, calming, or if we are being given a command.
- It is important for listening skills, communication, social skills and for general safety.
Gustatory (Taste) & Olfactory (Smell) Systems
- Our olfactory system helps us differentiate different smells to tell us if things are dangerous, safe, strong etc.
- Our gustatory system tells us if things are salty, sweet, sour, savory, bitter, spicy through our taste buds (receptors of the tongue).
- These senses are closely linked and help our tongue interpret flavors as we smell them. Smells also trigger memories.
- Oral exploration is important for establishing our sense of taste and differentiating between textures.
Vestibular (Movement) System
- The vestibular system detects movement of our head through our inner ear.
- It helps us determine where our body is in space, balance, direction, speed and when we are moving.
- It helps children develop their sense of balance, posture & coordination. It refines our gravitational security: maintaining our position without falling.
- When we move our heads, our vestibular system detects direction of movement and acceleration to tell us where our body is in space. This can cause difficulties with motion sickness & tilting the head back during bath time.
Proprioceptive (input to the joints) System
- The proprioceptive system relies on the sensory information from our joints and muscles. It tells us where our body is in space, the direction of movement and the amount of force needed.
- It is stimulated by pressure to our joints, movements of the limbs by pushing, pulling, hanging or lifting.
- This system directly affects arousal level, attention, behaviors and muscle tone.
- This is important for exploring their environment with their body and regulating their emotions.
Interoceptive (how the body communicates with the brain) System
- The interoceptive system is how our body communicates with our brain (I’m hungry, I have to pee, I am in pain, etc.)
- Nerve receptors all over our body tell us how our body is feeling. This directly affects our emotions, self-awareness, problem solving & social skills.
- When our interoceptive system is functioning properly, it senses our body’s emotions, needs, actions we need to reach our optimum function.
- Difficulties modulating this system looks like being overly-responsive or under-responsive to input.
Over-responsive or Under-responsive?
We are constantly taking in sensory information all throughout the day. 💆🏼 For most of us, we are able to sort through it and it isn’t a problem. For others, they have difficulty processing this sensory information (sensory processing disorder). Some will seek out sensory input or are under-responsive & some will become overwhelmed and avoid sensory input or are over-responsive.
🔴 Not all people are only sensory seekers or avoiders. Most of the time, people are a combination. For example, someone may seek out touching other people but HATE when people touch them. Another example, would be a child turning the iPad volume ALL the way up but hate unexpected loud noises. It is important to know what your child’s “triggers” are and their response to the triggers. 🔴
Difficulties processing sensory information can be treated by a trained and educated occupational therapist. There ARE solutions and sensory tips/tools to help regulate your child’s sensory system. We want to be able to provide the right amount of sensory input so that your child can process the sensory information appropriate.
Follow my instagram/Facebook @ivegotyoubabes for more sensory information. I will be posting more sensory tips of how to help your avoiders or seekers. As well as, different sensory activities to implement with your little one! Always message me with your questions or concerns!
This stage is so fun! There is SO much development happening during this stage. They start engaging more with people and their environment as they become more aware. There are some big milestones happening during this stage… ROLLING is one of them. Below I am going over different activities to do with your little one during this stage, how to facilitate rolling, sensory activities, and some things to look out for.
- Parents- sit on the floor with your knees bent, place your baby’s back against your knees so they are facing you. Their feet or bottom can be sitting on your pelvis. In this position you can hold their hands to play patty cake, hand over hand for clapping, dancing, etc. This is also a good position to make silly faces or noises at your baby!
- Supported sitting- having your baby sit in your lap (you can use your legs on both sides for additional support). In sitting, you can engage in blocks, pop up toys, lighted push down toys, etc.
- Sidelying play- This is a PERFECT pre-rolling activity. Rolling starts with movement of the pelvis. When your baby is lying on their back, take their leg/hip and rotate it to either side, putting them into a sidelying position. This lets they get comfortable and they start creating the motor plan for rolling. Gravity then helps them complete the rest of the movement whether that is to roll onto their belly or back. You can use a rolled up towel to place behind them if you don’t want them rolling back onto their back.
- Place toys in a SEMI-CIRCLE around your baby. This will encourage them to start scooting or pivoting themselves when they are playing in tummy time!
- Vestibular (movement): Bouncing on your knee, “airplane” flying through the sky
- Tactile- WATER PLAY!!! get a cookie sheet and fill with a little bit of water and let them splash away! Another idea, especially for summer is filling a ziplock with water and some ice cubes. This gives them different temperature to learn about.
- Taste- (& tactile too)I love just putting baby food in front of them and let them splash around and explore it without the expectation of having to eat it.
- Visual- I love using sensory bags/bottles. I recommend black/white/red/pink pom poms in a zip lock bag or water bottle. This is a super fun sensory activity and helps refine their vision and visual motor skills.
Things to look for:
- Poor visual tracking
- Only using one arm to engage with toys
- Not playing with their feet or able to get into flexion (lying on their back with legs flexed towards their chest)
- Not rolling or attempting to roll
- Not kicking their legs when lying in supine (back)
- Demonstrating head lag with pull to sit
- Cannot maintain propped or supported sitting
- Difficulty with head control
If you are concerned with your child’s development, please contact me! I am here to help!
Something important to note is if your baby was born premature, it is important to look at their adjusted age and base their developmental skills on that versus their weeks outside of the womb. I can help you figure out this number if you need.
I wanted to talk more about different activities you can do with your 0-3 month old! Babies may not seem like they are doing too much at this stage but they are developing SO much everyday!
Here are some different activities you can do with your baby:
- Use a bobby pillow and lay them on their tummy or try and prop them up on their elbows
- Baby gyms or mobiles that have contrasting colors (black and white)
- Using lighted toys to work on visual tracking
- Alternate walking around the room mom/dad and look for your baby tracking you
- Singing and dancing to your baby, who doesn’t love a good dance party!?
- Swings- start working those vestibular systems early. This will help later down the line with tilting their heads back in the bath or with lessening the chances of getting car sick.
- Yoga balls- I love using yoga or exercise balls! You can prop them up and place their feet on your pelvis. Lay their belly on the yoga ball (they are basically sandwiched between you and the yoga ball.) Once they are comfortable you can slightly rock the yoga ball back and forth. (I can do a video on this!)
- Wearing your baby- there are days where your baby does NOT want to be put down. Take advantage of wearing them (Dads too), you can take advantage and get some skin to skin in!
- Cycling- leg cycles are a fun and easy way to engage with your baby. While they are lying on their back, pick up their legs and cycle them towards their belly. This can also aid with digestion/gas.
Incorporating sensory experiences in the first few months of life:
- Tactile: using a variety of textures to let them explore with their hands, feet and mouth. Scarves, textured toys, pillows, frozen teethers, look around the room and you will find a variety of textures to introduce to your baby
- Smells: different scents are a great way to develop your baby’s olfactory system. Diffusers and essential oils are super popular now a days and an easy way to incorporate a variety of smells! I personally love lavender, especially around bedtime! Scented lotions are always a yummy way to bring new and calming smells to your baby.
- Visual: Using contrasting (black and white) different toys, books, Hey Bear! on YouTube has some great sensory videos. My nephew LOVES those videos! Also using different light up toys are a good way to start working on visual tracking.
- Vestibular (Movement): we already discussed swings and using a yoga ball. Other ways to incorporate vestibular are doing “airplane rides”. Lay your baby face down in your arms, supporting their head and neck and you can “fly” them around the room.
- Proprioceptive (Body Awareness, tells us where our body is in space): swaddling provides input to the babies joints and it soothing. Massage is another great way to provide proprioceptive input to the baby’s little joints.
- Auditory: singing to your baby, using rattles to made sounds, using different instruments or objects around your house to make noise.
What is a sensory bin?
Sensory bins are a fun way to explore the senses and incorporate tactile exploration. They are typically a large bin filled with different types of wet or dry materials that vary in texture. In the bins with the wet or dry materials you can hide some preferred items or toys. The child can explore through the sensory bin to find all of the hidden items or toys. The ideas of sensory bins can be endless!
What are the benefits?
The benefits of using a sensory bin is to help explore and challenge the tactile sensory system. Using tactile play can be calming and more regulating which can help with attention to tasks. As well as, helping desensitize the tactile system. It can also help build nerve connections in the brain which can help with development of fine motor skills. Sensory bins don’t ONLY target the tactile system, it also will target other sensory systems like: sight, smell, sound, & taste (in some cases). It can also address problem solving, scooping & pouring, visual motor skills, and fine motor skills.
Sensory bin ideas:
- Dried beans
- Dried rice
- Dried pasta
- Orbee’s (water beads)
- Water (can add soap for bubbles)
- Shredded paper
- Dried oats
- Shaving cream
- Kinetic sand
- Packing peanuts
- Aquarium rocks
What if my child doesn’t want to touch the sensory bin?
- It is good to start slow and never force them to touch it. You can start with using a tool to interact with it and then work up to using a finger tip. Once they are comfortable with their finger tip you can work up the hand until you have one or both hands in the bins!
Look for signs of overstimulation (too much sensory information coming into the body):
- Closing eyes
- Turning away from the bin
- Holding arms back, away from the bin
- Wiping off hands or needing to wash hands immediately
- Splaying fingers
Does your child:
- Eat the same foods every day?
- Refuses to try or touch new foods?
- Gag at the sight or smell of food?
- Refuse to watch you eat?
- Have difficulty with chewing or swallowing?
- Avoid certain textures?
- Have meltdowns at mealtime?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Picky eating is extremely common during the early years of life.
80% of individuals with developmental disabilities and 45% of typically developing children have some type of feeding problem.
What can cause pickiness:
- Reflux – this can cause pain associated with eating certain foods which kids will instinctively refuse or stay away from those foods
- Food allergies – children with food allergies are typically very cautious about what they eat. This in turn, causes them to be picky eaters.
- Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) – eating is a SENSORY experience. If food is too overstimulating (could be the smell, color, texture, sound it makes, appearance, etc.) this will cause them to avoid those foods and textures.
- Decreased oral motor skills – oral motor skills and sensory issues with food go hand in hand. If we aren’t eating a certain food or food group, our oral motor skills won’t develop properly. This makes eating certain foods too hard or tiring so kids will avoid them. (this is the most common one I treat)
- Control at meal times – this is common as kids age. They want more control of things in their environment and feeding is one of the most basic body functions they can control.
Things to do to help with pickiness:
- Let your kid get messy- during meal times it is SUPER important to let them be messy. If they get food on their face, don’t wipe it. If they get food on their shirt, don’t touch it. If they get food on the floor, don’t pick it up (or let the dog eat it). This is important because it shows them that the variety of textures are safe and are okay to get on our body. If you are still feeding them by spoon, try not to wipe their face after each bite. This can cause unwanted tactile input which can be a negative reinforcement.
- Talking positively about foods! Trying not to say in front of them that a certain food is “gross” or “disgusting”, they will pick this up and repeat it, thinking the food is gross before ever trying it. Instead use words like “I am still learning about this food”, “I’m not ready to try that food yet”.
- Never force your child to eat anything! This will cause a negative experience with food that can cause them to have aversions to eating or meal time. It can lead to a power struggle between you and your child.
- “They will be hungry eventually”- this is FALSE! Children’s bodies and sensory systems are still developing. They don’t understand what hunger feels like yet, although they may indicate they are hungry.
- Introduce new foods without the pressure to eat the food- kids will become naturally curious about what you’re eating. Presenting it to them without the expectation that they have to eat it, can lead them to be more willing to try new foods on their own terms.
- Be patient- it can take up to 10 seperate times for a child to try a new food and like it. There are going to be foods that your child just doesn’t like, just as there are foods I’m sure you don’t like. Forcing eating will never win.
Feeding is the hardest thing we do as humans. It requires all of our bodily systems, our nervous system, and our environment to be optimal in order to sit down and have a meal. It’s so important for children to foster healthy relationships with foods. Although, it can be very frustrating when your child won’t eat the foods you want them too. There are several resources that are available to help, starting with me!
If you found this information helpful and you have more questions, please reach out on my contact page!
What is OT? Why did my pediatrician recommend it?
OT stands for Occupational Therapy. “Occupation” meaning that everything we do throughout the day is an occupation. People will commonly mistake OT for helping people get jobs. Which, isn’t entirely wrong, we certainly can help people get jobs. Examples of occupations are brushing our hair, washing our face, cooking breakfast, driving to work, etc. These are all examples of activities of daily living (ADL’s), these are things we do everyday without even thinking about doing them or how we do them. Most of us, don’t even think twice about it. Being able to do these things give us a sense of independence. What do we do when this sense of independence is taken away or interrupted by illness, disability, accident, etc.? This is where OT comes in. We strive to bring independence and functionality into all of our patients lives no matter the age. When it comes to children we know that there are developmental milestones that children are supposed to meet. There can be disruptions to this development due to injury, accident, illness, genetic disorder, or they simply were just born with developmental challenges. THAT IS OKAY! OT’s are here to help assist you and your child to performing developmentally appropriate tasks to help bring them and you a sense of independence. For pediatrics, OT’s specifically look at fine and gross motor development, bilateral coordination (using both sides of our body together), motor planning, muscle tone, upper body and hand strengthening, core strengthening, sensory processing, self-regulation, attention, academics (handwriting), and executive functioning. OT’s can also focus on another super important ADL of eating/feeding. Feeding therapy can be just as important as occupational therapy. For some, it is life threatening. Check back to my blog post explaining more details about feeding therapy!