Making Sense of Our Sensory Experiences
At Aaron School, Occupational Therapists understand the importance of exposure to a wide variety of sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and activities for maximal sensory exploration. There are endless opportunities for movement, mess, and fun in Occupational Therapy! We love to incorporate a multitude of sensory based experiences into our students’ school day, as a way to foster and reinforce their learning and enrich their school experience.
Anyone who has ever lived in New York City has learned that it can be a very stimulating, and oftentimes over-stimulating, environment. Between the bright lights, loud noises, and large crowds, we constantly experience sensory overload. This bustling city provides us with a lot of expected and unexpected sensory experiences. For example, we expect the streets to be busy during lunchtime, or subways to be crowded during commuting hours, but do not always expect the sudden fire engine or police car siren to start blaring down the street. In addition, subconsciously we have learned how to compensate when we feel dysregulated. If we are seated for a long time, we know that we may need to stretch or walk around to increase our arousal. If we are having trouble focusing we may have a cup coffee, chew gum, gnaw on our pen caps, or tap our foot on the floor. As adults with typically developed sensory systems, we navigate through these experiences in ways that fit our specific sensory needs.
For students, this navigation can be challenging at times. Children are often unsure of what to do when they feel over or underwhelmed by the environment. Oftentimes, when unexpected sensory information is picked up by their sensory systems, they may react adversely and feel “overloaded.” Their immediate response may be to run, escape, act silly, scream, or “shut down.”
One of the jobs of Aaron School Occupational Therapists is to help children make sense of their sensory experiences. Students are introduced to new and novel sensory experiences and environments as we work to expand their bandwidth for tolerating various sensory input. We work with students to increase their independence in assessing their body’s needs and determining what strategies would be most appropriate to use. At Aaron School we introduce students to a wide variety of sensory tools and strategies, not only in the sensory gym, but also in their classrooms. Opportunities for movement throughout the day, OT developed body breaks, and sensory tool boxes are all strategies students are taught to use in order to address their sensory needs. Students are encouraged to develop their own “sensory smart” strategies and become the “boss of their own bodies!”