Near the beginning of my (Audrey) internship I had the opportunity to go to the Guitars in the Classroom AMASE conference, with Julie Guy, who presented on using Music Strategies for Sensory Integration in the Classroom. This was such a great experience for me, as I got to get out into the community during my first week of internship, connect with others, network, and help present on music therapy, all while learning more skills to use in my own music therapy sessions!
The challenge of presenting at this event, was that there was such a wide range of skills, settings, and challenges for the attendees with their students. When asked what challenges these teachers experienced in their classroom or facility they worked at, there was a huge list of behaviors such as biting, distracting noises, hiding under tables and desks, running or jumping, rocking, or scratching. Despite the wide variety of people attending this session at the conference, there was an overwhelming amount of difficulties related to sensory seeking behaviors. Almost all of the behaviors that these individuals noted were related to this. I got to hear all sorts of suggestions and ideas for how to handle these behaviors, and I thought it would be helpful to compile them all in one place!
The first thing to understand is that many of these behaviors that come across as aggressive, mean, defiant, or chaotic may directly relate to a sensory processing disorder. These individuals may not be intentionally disruptive, they may just be trying to get the input they need. Clients may be over or under stimulated, and need something to help calm them down or alert them. Below I have listed many different ways to help clients to receive the sensory input that they need.
First, clients who bite or frequently put objects into their mouths, may benefit from using a chew tubes (often called “chews” or “chewies”) which are usually small rubber items. Chewies can be chewed or sucked on when need sensory input to the jaw. Some styles can be put on a necklace so they are always accessible for a client to help calm them down and provide tactile sensory stimulation.
Next, vibrating pillows. I have seen these used in a session before when a client was exhibiting aggressive behaviors, such as throwing things and hitting the floor and wall. The therapist brought the pillow to him and pushed it against his feet as he was laying on the floor, and this immediately helped the client to calm down. These pillows vibrate when pressure is put on them, so a client can squeeze them, sit on them, put in their lap, lean on them, or any other positioning to create the vibration effect.
Lastly, any variety of rollers for sensory input can be very effective! You can use foam rollers, ones used for muscle relaxation, or anything that can provide sensory input for clients who are sensory-seekers.
Using instruments that may be calming to a client, or provide sensory stimulation that they may be seeking is a great tool. Examples of sensory instruments include tactile egg shakers, which have bumps on them which provides tactile stimulation and the sound of the shakers can provide auditory input.
Cabasas are also great source of tactile and auditory input. The cabasa can be rolled along a client’s hands, arms, legs, back, as it may provide a calming sensation for them.
An ocean drum provides auditory stimulation, as the balls roll around inside the drum, providing a louder sound for clients who may be seeking that. Clients also may enjoy the way that the balls look (visual input) when they roll around in the drum.
Other items or ideas that may help clients to receive sensory input and stimulation:
- Ice cubes or ice packs
- A bag filled with sand or rice (can be put on clients lap, or clients can push/pull/lift it)
- Squeezes along client’s hands, arms, or legs
- Squeeze balls
- Bear hugs
- Yoga balls
There are so many more ideas out there for sensory stimulation for clients who may be seeking this! Do you have any other techniques or tips? Let me know in the comments!!
Click here to access presentation handouts for more information.
See you next time!
PS The Out-of-Sync Child is a great resource to learn more about sensory regulation!