5 reasons sensory integration should be your lifestlye

At my workplace, we suggest parents to bring their kids to therapy twice a week. We do an individual evaluation so the frequency is not the same for all the kids, but in most cases it turns out to be twice a week. The sensory room is big, has many things and it can be a lot for certain kids to handle. But that’s therapy. And it’s great. But if you ask me, sensory integration should be looked at as lifestyle. No matter if your child is “healthy” (of a typical development), or has some developmental difficulties. Two hours a week is simply not enough. Just knowing a thing or two about what it is and how kids respond to the stimuli can give you a lot of insight into why kids do things the way they do. For instance, why do kids walk on the arm rests and frames of your living room couch, why they slide down 100 times and still want more, why they can spin around in the park for 5 minutes and you want to puke just by looking at them?

  1. If parents knew just a little bit about the SI, it would not be such a mystery and I am sure parenting would be even a bigger joy. It is to me, anyway.
  2. I love seeing my little boy exploring his body. I don’t get all first-time-nervous-mom on him, but I am a relaxed parent as I understand what my baby is going through.
  3. SI is great for your child but is also good for you. Your brain is not as easy to “change” as the child’s, but is not impossible. When I started working in the sensory room I would get nauseas within three to four rounds on the swing and now I can do at least 10. I also couldn’t write texts or read messages on my phone while in the moving bus, and now I have no issues with that whatsoever.
  4. Other than that, as a parent you get more creative because you need to find ways to offer your child the stimuli they need in different ways: e.g. Proprioceptive stimulus can be acquired by jumping, rolling, pressing, bouncing off of something such as a mat.

    acquired from: kikisclinic.co.uk
  5. Last, but definitely not the least is the fact that one or two hours a week is really not suffice. Can’t emphasize that enough.

And that old excuse “I don’t have so much time to play with my child because I have to ____________ (enter your reason why)” is not applicable any more if you make SI your lifestyle. Because if you live SI, then you do it all the time, becomes a way of living and communicating. But have in mind that even if you apply the SI concepts, you should still be the child’s parent and go for the hour or two of therapy with a professional. Doing it at home does not mean stopping it with the professionals by any means.

And remember, it should be fun! :)

Let’s get dirty: Top 5 sensory summer activities

I love summer for its practicality when it comes to sensory activities and the creativity at this time of the year is endless. Here’s my top 5 sensory activities for the summer season:

1. Water

  • Sea: if you are planning a trip to the coast, this might be a great sensory experience for your child. Not only swimming, but walking through the shallow water, touching the sand or pebbles with bare feet or just splashing it around is good.
  • Bathing in the tub: You can prepare baths for your child in the yard or the balcony like I did with my son. My 4 month old loves to bathe and splash water everywhere. During the hot days I take his tub out in the balcony and give him a coconut oil massage first (as per Indian tradition) and afterwards we dip. If your child is a bit bigger, fill the tub with some plastic balls for the kid to play with while bathing.
  • Color: You can use some food coloring and color the water for your child to play with. Throw in some cups and toys, too. Tea party? Sounds great!


2. Sand

  • Dry sand: put a lot of sand in a box, hide some small toys that your child loves inside and have him or her search for the toys. Take a cup and slowly sip the sand through your child’s hands, arms, hair, legs and feet. See if they like it in one place more than the other. I worked with a few kids who didn’t like to touch sand or seeds but they loved when I sipped it through their hair.
  • Wet sand: you can of course take molds and make different shapes and build it up to a castle or a road for your child’s favorite car.
  • You can bury your child’s feet or hands in the sand so they feel its heaviness (proprioceptive stimulaiton) or tie up some sand in a bag and around your child’s feet, on top of his shoulders or even around his waist.

20140415-002444.jpg tia sand

3. Foam

  • if your child has a tendency to put their hands in mouth, perhaps you should use an edible version of a shaving foam such as whipped cream. Again, you can color it with food dye for more visual attraction, you can have your child put the foam all over the body, starting with foamy mustache or role play “how does mommy put her facial cream on her face?” or “how does daddy shave his beard?” and continue onto legs and arms. Add some natural scent (orange, lemon…) if you are using an edible version for the olfactory and gustative stimulation.
  • you can dip your plastic toys and give them a nice foamy bath and rinse them in water afterwards.
  • all of these can be done outdoors, while child sitting in a tub or on the pebbles.
  • if you don’t have pebbles around your house, consider using grass or other unstable surfaces such as a balance board.
Girl and a boy playing with shaving foam.  Permission acquired from their parents.
Girl and a boy playing with shaving foam. Permission acquired from their parents.

girl playing with water

4. Barefoot

  • summer is a great time to be barefoot. There is very less chance your child will get a cold due to walking barefoot in the summer season. Exactly the opposite, walking barefoot could do a lot of good to your child so use at least this season for that. If your home heating system is good enough, you can have your child barefoot even during the winter inside your home.
  • opportunities are endless: walking on the sand, pebbles, small stones and if you are brave enough, you can have the child walk on the pine tree needles (be careful, some insects like to hide in there!), shallow part of the sea or lake and through the grass!

t n t in grass

  • you can have your child be barefoot in a park too, if you find that socially acceptable.

tia barefoot in park


5. Indulge

  • Flavors: seasonal fruit, Popsicles
  • Smells: woods, fruits, flowers, Mediterranean herbs
  • Hot & Cold: You can give your child some ice (be careful!) to play with, see it melt or spread it on his body. You can also dye it with some food colors for more visual fun. To make it even better, use some fruits to color it and you ask the child to lick it as Popsicle. On the other extreme, no, I am not suggesting you should have your child play with fire, but let them feel the warmth by walking barefoot in the sun (don’t let them burn their feet though! Concrete floor and stone can get pretty hot so be careful. Try it yourself before letting your kids do it). Let them put some ice on a hot surface (again, be careful and always around your child for safety measures!) and see it melt. Let them see you cook and try putting their hand high above the cooking pot so they feel the vapor but can’t get hurt. Can’t emphasize the safety measures enough for these ideas!

Summer is great because even if your child spills something, it will get fried quickly. Oops! Lapsus calami. I meant, dried! This just tells you what temperatures we’re currently having in Croatia. Kids can spend most of their time outdoors and enjoy the natural sensory play. I’ll keep adding activities as I do them myself with my niece, nephew and son.

Until then… stay hydrated!

What’s the point?

A mother of a boy with autism asked me once right there in the middle of a session: “What’s the point of him swinging so much, I can do that with him in the park?” As I went deeper and deeper into explaining the concepts of sensory integration and why her son needed the vestibular input and how swinging would help him in school, a parallel train of thought started unwinding in my head. Does this lady see the big picture here? There she was, a gorgeous, polished and relatively young mother of this boy. She was always very polite and in the mood for at least a small talk. She rarely stayed in the sensory room but when she had questions, she would stay inside and I would take some time from the session to talk to her and make these concepts a little bit more close to her. So, after many years of explanations from my boss, and a couple of extra years of explanations from me, she kept asking the same question: “Why are you letting him swing so much, I can go to the park and let him swing there for free.” Now, let me just be clear about this, she was definitely not a stingy lady, just the opposite. So, for all those who can’t see the forest for the trees… What’s the point of sensory integration therapy?

Sensory integration has practically one ultimate goal, with small goals in between. The ultimate goal is to help children with any kind of developmental disorder or delay learn. When a child has sensory deficits, they find learning to be very tiring, tough, uninteresting etc. One very important goal that helps us getting to the learning process is the (self)regulation. This is a very tricky one. It is the one that is very individual and rarely you will find a nice and simple equation to get to the regulation and self-regulation point in a child. One day jumping and rolling on the floor will be a bingo, but tomorrow that might cause a tantrum.

Piaget nicely indicated that play is the work of children. They learn a lot better when actively participating as oppose to being told what to do. So, what’s a better way of helping children in their journey to the land of knowledge than the sensory smart play. I follow the child’s interests, observe their sensory appetite and I try using that to help them learn new things; whether a skill, or a word. Some children can only function and learn while getting their stimuli whereas some children are ok with being stimulated first and then afterwards successfully getting the task done. So, in order to get the cognitive tasks done which are on a higher level, we need to sort the basics that our body needs first.


I’ll try making this even more clear. In order to successfully learn, you need to be ok with your sensory self. You don’t need to be perfect and rarely somebody is. But people and children with a more substantial sensory disorder will find learning very tough. However, we can learn to compensate our sensory deficits to be able to function normally with every day challenges (taking a shower, putting clothes on and getting out of the house, getting a haircut, sitting in a class, having coffee in a crowded mall, cooking a spicy dish, reading a book, writing a paper, etc.). So, this is the big picture: settling the sensory basics for the higher cognitive tasks such as learning.

And just an FYI… If you ask me, sensory integration, yes, it can be a therapy, but I would rather if parents and adults used it as a lifestyle. Think, breathe and live (and play!) in a sensory way. Don’t wait for those one or two hours a week for your OT to work with your child and help them regulate. Talk to your child’s therapists, learn from them about your child’s sensory needs and implement them all the time: while the child is eating, when the child needs to brush his teeth and go to bed, on your way to the preschool, etc. I don’t think a parent should necessarily acquire a role of a therapist, actually better if not, if possible. But, hopefully you play with your child anyway, why not making it sensory friendly in your own home or a park. So, to answer the question that a patient’s mother asked: if I let your child swing as much as his brain needs, that will regulate him and thus he will learn better. And yes, I would love it if you would take him to the park to swing more, whenever the boy wants and needs (I only assume his biggest need would be before and after his classes).

How to explain your kid’s sensory needs to family and friends?

It is not too complicated to explain sensory integration deficits to those who have never encountered this term before. But still, reactions of some people, especially those from an older generation, are quite interesting. They range from “But look at those cheeks, he looks so healthy!” to “You could not get away with this kind of behavior in my time.” Have you ever heard comments like that? So, what to do, how to explain to people that child who is throwing a tantrum over a glass of orange juice does not deserve punishment?

To answer this question, take into consideration that most of us have some sensory deficits and that we don’t even realize that some of our every day reactions are actually sensory reactions to the outside stimuli.

  • When sitting on a chair with one leg crossing over the other leg, some people start bouncing the upper leg. The brain did not have enough information about the position of the upper leg and had to move it around (or if you have some loose shoes, some people tend to play around with it). In this way, bouncing of the leg gives proprioceptive input from the joints to the brain about the leg and its position.
  • Some people find it very painful to walk on the pebbles, they have tactile hyper-sensitivity in the area of their feet.
  • Some people don’t like to touch wet sponges or wet hair.
  • You may throw some people off their balance very easily.
  • Some people will rarely manage to hit the shuttlecock as their hand – eye coordination is distorted.
  • When tired, some people become very sensitive to sounds or light (me!)

However, some of the kids and most of the healthy adults still manage to compensate these discrepancies on a cognitive level. We know dishes have to be washed or we have to sit through a boring class and while it won’t be the most pleasurable activity, we will still do it. Kids who have more severe sensory deficits will not be able to do that. They will only be seeking the needed stimuli or trying to avoid the stimuli they are overly sensitive to. What do you do when you get out of the house in summer – you cover your eyes or squint for a bit until you adjust. So, when you see a child throwing a tantrum over a glass of orange juice, check why that is happening (hint: pulp / temperature / sourness).

Thus, when you see that somebody does not understand when you tell them about your child’s sensory needs and behavior, try asking them some of these questions: do you bounce your leg after sitting with one leg over the other; do you mind the loud noises in the evenings; do you mind the mix of smells in the shopping malls; is the sun too bright for you when you come out of the dark room…They will feel much closer to the topic when they see that sensory integration is something within themselves, too but were never aware of it. They will comprehend the issue and its intensity / severity much easier.
Let me know if this was helpful!


Activities in a shopping center

verzija na hrvatskom jeziku (in Croatian language)

First of all, how does an entrance to a new place, especially a big, shiny, loud, crowded place such as a shopping center affect your child? Does your child rush into it or has a meltdown as soon as your car makes a turn to the shopping center’s parking lot? Take your answer to this question as a guide to your shopping center experience.

If your child does not like going into the malls, you don’t have to avoid it. Do it gradually and observing child’s reactions. If your child starts screaming at the parking lot, try making that your goal – safely parking the car, but not exiting from it. Next time, try exiting the car but not going inside the mall, but perhaps until the main entrance. What is important is that you always tell your child in a calm voice (whisper to those overly stimulated to sounds) what is your agenda. You want your child to be in a control over the situation. When the child feels they are in control, things will get a lot easier. If they feel activities are too fast for them, if they are loosing that control, they will become upset, anxious and perhaps even have a tantrum. So, just comment on your plan to your child no matter how old they are and no matter how much you think they can comprehend; “we will park in the spot right here on the left and then mommy will turn off the car. I’m doing it, look, 1…2…3… car is off”. You can use simpler sentences, or break it apart in more smaller ones or if your child is bigger, you can add more details. If your child is verbal, you can have them count or choose the parking spot. Engaging your child in these simple activities gives them confidence and control they badly need to stay regulated.

Once you slowly get inside the mall, take a moment to see what is around you to make your anxious child feel better and back in control. You can take your child in your arms if they are small and tell them what you see around them; lights, coffee places, ornaments, music playing in the background, shops, carts, people, etc. Give a minute or two to your child to comprehend what is going on around them. When you see the moment is right, continue to your chores. Most likely next time you will not have to go through this process again. If you do, that’s ok, too. Give your child the time they need. If you are not able to take those few minutes extra, or start early, and let’s be realistic, we are sometimes on a very tight schedule, rather leave your child with somebody else and not “drag” them into a place  where they will feel uncomfortable.

Nowadays, most of the larger malls have some sort of playground for children to play at while parents are doing their shopping. Some have rules about leaving your child unattended, some are paid, some are free but most of them are a good source of sensory input. Larger playgrounds have all kinds of climbing equipment, ball pits, slides and tunnels. Use it! See if your child is overly sensitive to sounds. If it is, then choose a moment when there are less loud children around. Same goes with children who are overly sensitive to moving visual stimuli. If there is a lot of running children around, your child might freeze and not enjoy this fun playground. At first, I would choose some activities there that your child is familiar with, just to get some confidence in the space and its own possibilities. Once you feel your child is ok with the environment, you can propose going to an activity your child is not very thrilled about. Slowly and gradually. It’s always good to leave it up to your child to do it first so they use their own creativity and motor planning on how to achieve the goal of that activity, but if you see your child needs some encouragement, you can do it yourself first.

Girl in a tunnel. Permission acquired from the parents.
Girl in a tunnel. Permission acquired from the parents.

If you have no time for the playground or there isn’t one at your mall, try engaging your child in the chores you need to do. Children who need vestibular input can enjoy a ride in the shopping cart plus they can easily put the groceries into the cart itself. Let them choose out of the two products that are relevant to them; e.g. which juice or cereals to buy. However, limit your options to two or three to choose from for smaller children, especially those that do not use verbal language.

If your child likes changing activities very often, try to do your shopping chores quickly because we don’t want to overstimulate the child. You do not have to leave the store right away, try prolonging the period for one activity, but do not go overboard. You will see the signs from your child: not engaging in your activities anymore (“getting bored”), looking tired, dragging themselves on the floor, asking you to leave, “nagging” and everything else up to a tantrum. Sometimes children go through the spectrum of signs very quickly, and some children skip to crying right away. I’m sure knowing your child, you will instinctively know what is the right thing to do in that moment; leaving or staying – but the right thing is not always easy or possible, I know.