Monday, November 27, 2006

removing the road blocks -- Sensory Integration

So our number one road block -- school, the eater of time to work on RDI -- was removed. It was time to address our number two road block, Jacob's rather significant Sensory Processing problems. Here's a typical picture of him looking anxious about a baking project -- he's worried about going near the oven because it is warm. Anxiety due to sensory issues was a pretty big part of Jacob's life when this photo was taken in late March, 2006.

I wrote previously about our early attempts at Sensory Integration Therapy. For over a year since that time, I had been wishing we could find the right Occupational Therapist (OT) to work with Jacob on his sensory issues. Part of our problem was locating someone, the next part was finding a way to work with them -- the closest I could find were an hour or two away. Hard to work that in when the child is in school. But once we pulled Jacob from school, it made us a lot more flexible. I immediately called the therapy group that a fellow RDIing Mom reccommended and set up an appointment for an evaluation.

The OT immediately identified Jacob as severely Sensory Defensive (certainly no surprise to us!), and laid out a massive Sensory Integration Therapy plan before me. I was completely bowled over. In reading her assessment of him, pinpointing all of his areas of difficulty, and her vast plans to repair the problems, it was a wonder to think that this child functioned as well as he did! And I nearly did backflips of joy to think that FINALLY we were addressing this!

The weekly one hour sessions were expensive, and our program was projected to take two to three years, but I was allowed to watch the OT work with him and learn how to work on Sensory Integration with Jacob at home, so we decided that between the sessions and the education I was getting, it was worth taking out yet another credit card to pay for them. Other than RDI, this was the best investment of time and money we've made to date.

I spent the first month of weekly visits in tears, thinking about how badly the vast majority of kids with Autism NEED this sort of therapy -- the tears were because I know that most kids aren't getting it. Even just in that first month, Jacob made progress with his sensory issues, and within a few short months, he'd made noticable improvements in the following areas:

Vestibular System: this is one of our "base senses", which simply put is our sense of balance. Our vestibular system is what makes us feel dizzy when we spin around. A child with an underactive vestibular system will spin themselves around so that they can get that vestibular input. Jacob's OT uses an "astronaut board" (sort of a big lazy-susan that the child sits and lays down on) to stimulate Jacob's vestibular system in a controlled manner. At the start of his sessions, Jacob refused to turn upside down (his vestibular system was hypersensitive), but now he readily hangs upside down from the monkey bars at the playground and does headstands and summersaults at home. The way he holds his body has become much less rigid, and he no longer has that "perfect posture", the stiffness that made him "look" different than other kids when he moved.

Proprioception: this is another base sense, which allows your body to know where it's pieces are and how to get them to work together. Many kids with Autism are Sensory-Seeking types, that crash into things regularly, bang their heads or limbs on things -- these kids are looking for that proprioceptive input that most of us get in more subtle ways. In other words, in the case of a head-banger, unless they crash their head into something, they don't know it's there. In Jacob's case (and with any child that is Sensory Defensive), he had hieghtened proprioception -- he was overly aware of his body, and even the slightest touch caused him discomfort. For example, he used to move away from touch, turn away from us when giving us a hug, scream when a drop of water fell on him. This is the area that has been most vastly helped by our Sensory Integration program -- he no longer shrinks away from being touched by others or things. Not to say we're anywhere near our end point with this -- his problems in this area were pretty huge, it's going to take awhile to completely rid ourselves of them. But as soon as we made progress in this area, we finally started making progress with potty training (which I'll address as a seperate topic at another time) -- prior to this he just couldn't handle all the proprioceptive input that using a toilet entailed.

Tactile: this is somewhat related to Proprioception. Being Sensory Defensive, this was an obvious problem area for Jacob -- he refused to touch just about anything. It took years for me to get him to touch sand, and even then it was just to touch it, not to run his fingers through it or dig in it. (As opposed to the sensory-seeking child who is constantly covering themselves with all manner of dirt and goo for the sensation of touching it.) At first he would tentatively climbed into a ball pit and carefully picked up balls and moved them about when directed to search for things hidden within the pile. Now he jumps in without hestitation, sinks into the pile of balls, and roots around with hands and feet searching for hidden treasures. Now he reaches out to explore new textures, digs through the sand with his hands, and no longer screams when he gets a little dirt on his clothes. (Water is still a major issue we're working with -- so far he's OK if he touches it, but not OK if it touches him.)

And a major perk about Sensory Integration Therapy is that it provides an outstanding framework for working on RDI Stage objectives. The vast majority of the activities that we video tape for our RDI Consultant are OT activities, spotlighting our RDI objectives.

I personally think that Sensory Integration is not only compatible with RDI, but a neccessary component of a rounded Autism Remediation program. It makes sense right? How can a child's brain learn to proccess the world normally if their bodies are physically unable to?


At 10:12 AM, Anonymous dianne said...

how is this different than brain gym or some of the movements in the Enki education? Thank you for posting.

At 10:27 AM, Blogger Harvest Mom said...

Diane, some of the activities the OT is doing with him are brain gym activities, but I believe there's more to it than just that. (I'm honestly not all that familiar with Brain Gym, but the OT tells me when it's a brain gym activity.) I'll post tonight about the specific things she's doing with him so you can judge for yourself.

As for Enki Education, I started working with the OT before I started working with the Enki materials, but I think this is more "ramped up" than what Enki suggests. Remember, Enki was designed for typical kids, not kids with Special Needs. For Jacob, I feel that the weekly professional involvement is neccessary.

At 12:07 PM, Anonymous dianne said...

Dear Harvest mom,
Thank you for taking the time on this blog. Yes, the right professional help is a must for our kids. Thank you for the advice. Sincerely, Dianne

At 2:28 PM, Anonymous kyra said...

i love that you have that great sensory therapist! i can't wait until we move closer so fluffy can go to the same one! one day...


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