This is the third and final post in a three-part series on school-based occupational therapy for sensory integration issues. You can read part one here, where I provide an overview of sensory integration issues, and part two here, in which I describe working with a little girl and her mother.
Working with a child who has sensory integration needs is not so very different online as it is onsite. As occupational therapists, we need to listen to school teams and parents to learn the types of inappropriate behaviors that are preventing a child from performing to their fullest ability in school. With this information in hand, we can then educate school staff and families on sensory integration and make suggestions on what to try when the student exhibits those behaviors.
Let’s say a teacher’s chief complaint about one of my OT students is his constant falling out of his seat or a significant need to move around. If I was working with this student online, we would work on several different activities together, and over the course of our interaction I would pay close attention to when he starts to crave extra movement, perhaps even falling out of his seat. At this point, I could show the student a strategy such as getting up to do 10 wall push-ups before returning to the task at hand. I always do all of my activities with the student, so if I’m instructing him through how to do a wall push-up, I’ll be doing the same push-up right on camera.
If the wall push-ups help him to focus for a few minutes, I would share this strategy with his teacher to try in the classroom. That is really what we do for sensory integration issues: observe, educate, and make and tweak suggestions, and this holds true regardless of the delivery method.
I’ve heard some people question how online OT can help a child with sensory integration needs so severe that he or she needs to be in a special sensory room or therapy gym to get their needed sensory input, through activities such as swinging on equipment or playing in a ball pit. Because it is unrealistic for most students to have consistent access to these types of special rooms in schools, as school-based OTs, we should teach students the strategies to address their sensory needs using the resources readily available in their school. A child who rocks in the classroom rocker, climbs across the monkey bars, or swings on the playground swing can get the same needed sensory input as a special sensory room can provide And these simple, easily-accessible, strategies can be shared with students and school teams whether a student is working with an online or onsite OT.
Again, our job as a school-based occupational therapist is to educate parents and school staff on what sensory integration is, and then to make realistic suggestions on how to help a student most successfully get through the school day.
Elizabeth Haas, MS, OTR/L is a Clinical Practice Director, Occupational Therapy for PresenceLearning