Sensory Development Activities – You can do at home
As a mother of a child who has a sensory processing challenge– I had no idea about how important ‘senses’ play in a child’s learning. All I could see was my daughter wasn’t able to move as much as other children and all I did was focus on getting her moving. This is definitely something I believe most parents do when faced with a child not reaching ‘developmental mile stones’. You see the physical challenge and it is seen as a ’physical’ obstacle.
My biggest lesson was learning there is a lot we can do as parents – to help them develop faster which is not just necessarily physio therapy sessions for your child.
I knew my daughter had a hearing impairment.
I knew she had eye an impairment.
Yet I did not make a connection between those difficulties and that they were hindering her ability to learn as quickly.
We spent hours (and a lot of money) taking her to a physio who was not proficient in sensory integration and so we ‘encouraged’ our daughter to do tummy time as she cried (She could not tolerate being on her front), we encouraged her to roll, crawl, pull up over many months – while she continued to cry and show real fear throughout her sessions. The physio would get agitated as would I.
Fast forward a year and a half later (to when she was 2years and 8 months). I took her to a new physio who had a different approach to physio, where taking a profile of her sensory habits were an intrinsic part of creating a tailored programme for her.
The main piece of information I learnt, was about the – Vestibular system – and understanding that my daughters system is very delayed. She needed a gentler approach, gradual and varied to work with her varied sensory challenges.
Once I learnt this and changed her physiotherapist within 6 weeks she took her first independent steps!
Below are a list of activities that I wish I had known were crucial in helping her vestibular system develop. These are things I still do today with her (Tailored as she is older and heavier) as she still has spatial awareness and balance problems:
** I am not a therapist and these are just suggestions based on what my daughter has done – always consult a professional**
Vestibular System Activities
Introduce gentle rocking/swaying
NB: THIS SHOULD BE GENTLE AND ONLY DONE IN SHORT INSTANCES. (1 -2 rocks/sways/ swings etc and STEADILY BUILD UP A PICTURE OF WHAT YOUR CHILD LIKES. Please also do one activity not all together as this could overwhelm.
Depending on the age you can incorporate into your daily routine in a variety of ways.
- Rocking and Swaying
** (0-8 months) Newborn / young babies – as you carry them you can rock or sway your own body as you soothe them, they will experience the same motions but feel the comfort and safety from being held.
** Whilst they are relaxing perhaps on your bed (Be safe!) or on the floor – gently half roll them from side to side. (Keeping them swaddled may make them feel safer than having arms and feet free to kick about). This is a great way to introduce the body to the concept of rolling. The sensations caused by this movement within the inner ear will stimulate the vestibular system. This is a great time to sing to them, or talk to them as you will be very close to them and they can track you, whilst feeling safe and relaxed.
** After half rolling keep them propped on one side (Maybe use a pillow or rolled towel behind their back) – again this side motion is great for spatial development, they will gradually learn to feel comfortable on each side.
** Bath time can be incredibly relaxing but can also be distressing to some babies so an opportunity to introduce gentle motion can be in the bath. Gently swishing them in the water backwards and forwards replicates the activities above but with the added water stimulation which is great for proprioceptor input. (I would only do this if they seem comfortable with the other rocking motions.)
Start the number of rocks/sways sparingly to give them the chance to be introduced to the motions – It may just be one rock/sway each time – but then gradually as they feel more comfortable you can increase the amount you do each time.
Backwards and forwards actions stimulate different parts of the vestibular system so I would try a bit of both motions when possible.
Bouncing is a great regulation activity, similar to being on a trampoline it causes the brain to have to work bilaterally. Both sides of the brain must work in order for both sides of the body to try and remain stable and coordinated. This is great for trunk strength, balance, spatial awareness, proprioceptive input and muscle control.
** (Upright sitting age) Gym Ball – my arch enemy at the gym, now a secret hero for my child’s development! This is great for the early introductions to bouncing. When your child is at an upright sitting stage, this is great opportunity to sit them on top and bounce away! The bounces again should be gentle. Singing a couple of nursery rhymes will definitely make it even more fun for them. On the ball you can bounce them, sway them gently side to side and gently back and forwards. As they are getting a lot bigger and heavier at this stage it’s great to ease your own back by using the ball.
On the ball you can also lay them on it and rock them back and forwards, encouraging them to have their arms out-stretched and laying hands on the floor with every rock. This is great to help them start taking their weight through their arms and shoulders.
** If you don’t have a gym ball, use the side of your bed! This will only give you the up and down motion but will still be fun, of benefit and easy to do.
** Baby bouncer – I am not even sure if this counts as bouncing but certainly it introduces movement and sometimes touch and proprioceptive input as some of these bouncers vibrate and swing!
(From birth) ** Well this is not technically at home – but something you can do without a therapist! Swimming can provide a whole host of sensory input and it is a great whole body strengthening activity. Your whole body will receive input and be reactive within the pool. Swimming provides deep pressure input all over the body as he or she is in the water. It encourages bilateral brain activity, it is a cardiovascular activity. It encourages ‘weightless’ moving as your child floats. Also by having fun in the pool can you can ease your child’s anxiety, increase attention and burn off excess energy.
This is another great activity where you can have fun and are moving your child’s body in different positions (front, back and each side) which benefits them beyond just a cardiovascular workout. Plus its free to under 3’s! (If your child is prone to ear infections check out these ear protectors)
Crawling is so under-appreciated! As soon as our child is crawling we push them to start trying to walk! But crawling is an amazingly important skill that we should nurture –it takes strength, coordination, problem solving, increases body awareness – (think about it, when on all fours more of your body is in contact with the floor so you get more feedback.) Crawling helps, neck, shoulder, arm stability which have far reaching implications for fine motor and writing skills in the future. Crawling is the next stage in learning about their environment as they are exposed to exploring. They feel different textures, surfaces and learn about space and distance. It is never too late to start crawling, even if they are walking now you can introduce games that make it fun on all fours!
** (From Birth) The skin is a massive receptor to sensation and an area that gets overlooked as a place to stimulate.
Massage is a brilliant way to introduce touch, pressure, texture, temperature, movement and feedback to joints.
Massage is probably the easiest and most positively multi-functional tool a parent can use. Massage has so many benefits. The act of massage stimulates blood flow to that area – which sends messages to the brain reminding it about that particular area. It detoxifies, relaxes the body and it also bonds parent and child. It is something that can be done from a baby up until you want to stop. (I know I still enjoy a good massage!). It is also something that can be done frequently throughout the day.
- Body Brushing
** Body brushing (Or Wilbarger Brushing Technique) is another great tool – I first encountered this with my daughters Physio and my daughter loves it. It’s a method of brushing the skin with a special brush (can be bought) on the areas of the body you want to stimulate – so for example my daughters hands, feet and arms get stimulated by this brushing technique. It is very quick – again its relaxing and it is another fun thing to incorporate into
nappy changing time/bath/bedtimes.
- Joint Compressions
Joint compressions sound awful and possibly painful – but I assure you they are not. They are a great activity to do before a major activity like physio or crawling/playing. I would suggest doing at the start of the day. Its another way to activate the receptors in the joints and remind the brain of that body part. This was extremely useful for my daughter who has a weakness on her left side, by doing the compressions on each of her joints (Shoulder, elbow, hand and fingers) reminded her brain to move that side. It is not painful and is extremely quick check out this video for a demonstration on joint compressions.
Since my understanding about senses have increased, I have made some changes to the activities we do at home and tried to incorporate as much of the above I can into fun activities.
What activities do you do at home to keep your little ones active? I’d love to know what others do! If you liked the above please do share.