Therapy and Intervention

Occupational therapy enables people to participate in activities of everyday life

Supporting a child or young person with sensory processing difficulties

It is important to have an assessment from a therapist who is qualified to an advanced level in sensory integration therapy.  The training develops an in depth understanding of sensory processing difficulties and expertise in assessment and intervention.

The assessment uses different methods to determine how sensory processing impacts on a child or young person’s motor skills, self-care skills, play and learning.  Recommendations vary depending on the child or young adult’s age and their needs.  For many, small adjustments to their routine, a task, the environment, or how they are supported make a difference.  Some children need more input, such as a sensory diet or sensory integration therapy.  Recommendations will be discussed with you after the assessment.

Sensory integration therapy

Sensory integration therapy is a specialist therapy that is provided by a trained therapist.  Not all children will need 1:1 therapy.  It depends on the setting and the difficulties that the child has.  Some children make good progress when people understand them, they follow a sensory diet, and tasks or routines are altered.  Others need more intense input.  

Sensory integration therapy uses activities that provide proprioceptive input (pressure), tactile input (touch, textures) and vestibular input (movement).  In addition to these a therapist will use other activities and sensory inputs, e.g. sound, visual input.  Many therapists use suspension equipment (swings).  If this is not available, other equipment can be used, e.g. peanut ball.  This has advantages as it means that parents and staff can use some of the techniques.  Sensory integration therapy aims to improve sensory processing so that the child can adapt and respond appropriately.  A large part of it focuses on the interaction between the child or young person, the therapist and the environment.   Activities are challenging but set at the right level, i.e. not too difficult, not too easy.  This helps develop skills and confidence. 

The number of sessions is different for each child.  Sessions are usually weekly, on a 1:1 basis, and last for approximately 45 minutes.  Over time the effects of therapy should carry over into activities at school, home and in the community.  Therapy sessions address issues with modulation (over responsive or under responsive), motor difficulties (problems with posture, muscle tone, balance and coordination), sensory discrimination (identifying subtle differences or giving meaning to sensory input), and praxis (planning and carrying out movements).  In addition to the sessions, a child or young person will follow a sensory diet.

Sensory diet

A sensory diet helps a child stay focused and regulated so that they are ready to learn or cope in situations.  It includes a range of activities to help a child or young person feel alert, calm or focused at different times of the day.  Parents and staff who work with the child or young adult will be given a programme to follow.  The programme may need changed as sensory processing difficulties can be affected by how a person feels, life events, change and their age.  Other issues may be feeling poorly, tired, hungry, in pain, if tasks are too difficult, and specific times of the day, week or year.  What works for a young child will be different to an older child and will depend on the situation or setting.  The aim of a sensory diet is to improve participation in activities and prevent sensory overload.  Some children needs lots of support, but others will learn to use activities with more independence.  There are lots of tools to help this.