Help for Hyperactive Kids? A Sensory Integration Approach

Help for Hyperactive Kids? A Sensory Integration Approach

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Updated on May 15, 2014

In the past several decades, child development specialists have discovered a lot about how the brain and body develop. Due to increase study in this field, there's a new phrase that's fast becoming a household name: sensory integration.

Occupational therapist Lynn Horowitz, MHS, OT, and physical therapy Cecile Rost have dedicated their careers to the practice of pediatric sensory integration. Their book Helping Hyperactive Kids—A Sensory Integration Approach (Hunter House, 2004) discusses sensory integration as it relates to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other similar conditions.

What does sensory integration mean? Sensory integration, or SI, refers to the processing of information that our eyes, ears, skin, muscles, joints, mouth, nose and sense of balance deliver to the brain. The processing takes place in various sensory systems. Sensory integration therapy, then, is a way of treating children who have problems processing sensory stimuli, called sensory integration disorders. Horowitz and Rost provide the 411 on each of the main sensory systems:

The Vestibular System: The Sense of Balance and Orientation

Thanks to our vestibular system, our bodies can adjust during a physical change, such as shifting our balance forward, backward, to the side, up, or down. The vestibular system answers three of life's most important questions:

  1. Where is up?
  2. Where is down?
  3. Where am I?

Tip: After your elementary-aged child comes home from school, it is better to let him first go outside to play, bike, or take part in a sports activity. In this way, your child gets enough equilibrium stimulation to be able to sit quietly and concentrate on homework later.

Between twelve and eighteen years, teenagers pursue means of inducing dizziness or thrill seeking, such as sports or roller coaster rides. All of these activities are normal for teenagers. Music and dancing are especially important to teenagers. When they dance to loud music, they may move their bodies and heads in a certain manner that helps develop a finer sense of equilibrium.

The Touch System: The Sense of Feeling with the Skin

Thanks to the touch system, it is possible to feel people, animals, objects, and materials in our environment.

Tip: Children with problems processing tactile information can become calm when deep pressure is used. For example, deep pressure can be experienced by the children by holding the child against you in a firm but friendly way. Placing a full hand firmly on a child's diaphragm, in the middle of his body just below his ribs, and breathing slowly with the child can be very calming.

The Auditory System: The Sense of Hearing

We know that hearing sounds is different from understanding and processing words and turning them into meaningful information. Listening can be very difficult if your child is hyperactive.

Tip: Hyperactive children often become calmer as they listen to classical music, especially by Mozart. Other kinds of music can also be soothing.

If your child can hear a book being read aloud by a parent, caretaker, or teacher at the same time she is reading it, the child may find it easier to absorb and assimilate the words. If your child can first think about a text and then hears her voice repeat the information, the child's comprehension can improve. This works well with homework, too.

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