Home Information Links For Sponsors About Diane

Photos and Feedback
Articles and Stories
Workshop Schedule
Workshop Schedule
Online Order
Photo Gallery
Online Webinars



Monday, November 27, 2000 ; Page C04

Max fell out of his seat 37 times last week. He blames it on the chair. The excuse he gave for the fight in his sixth-grade math class was that somebody breathed on him too hard. When the school bus brakes screeched in his ears, he punched a hole in his seat the size of a grapefruit.

It could be crossed sensory circuits making Max cross.

Teacher Says: Have a pickle. Use sensory tools for calming and increasing his productivity and self-esteem. This means, however, trying a thing or two that would have driven old Mrs. Siddupstrait to early retirement or you to the corner to write 100 times you'd never do it again.

Kids like Max "can't depend on their bodies to give them correct information and that can make furniture and even people unsafe," says Diana A. Henry, a Phoenix-based occupational therapist specializing in sensory integration. If Max's senses can't receive, modulate, integrate and organize input, he lands on the floor, then goes through the roof.

Sensory integration dysfunction can exist alone or be "a part of other diagnoses like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Tourette's Syndrome or autism," says Henry. But, she adds, "It isn't only special-needs kids who can't sit still, can't follow directions, can't keep their hands to themselves, don't do their work and don't pay attention. Sensory integration benefits all children."

And even adults. "No one is too old for it. Neuroplasticity, changes in the way the brain receives and interprets information, continues until we die," says Henry, who travels cross-country with her husband in a fifth-wheel home called "ATEACHABOUT" conducting workshops for students, teachers, administrators, parents and therapists. Her "Tool Chests" offer over-the-counter sensory integration exercises, games and activities that can be tailored to fit a kid's specific needs.

She advises teachers and parents to "be a detective, watch their behavior. It tells you exactly what they need." You get an edge with kids Max's age. "The 11-to-13-year-olds can verbalize and tell you what their behavior is all about," she says. "Then, tell them they aren't clumsy, bad, dumb or lazy, and that they are not alone."

But what about that pickle? Some kids find sensory comfort and support in foods with a sour taste. "Big, sour pickles are great sensory tools," says Henry, who is quick to tell students, however, that "these are not rewards. They are tools to make your bodies work better."

Though the following ideas would shoot Mrs. Siddupstrait straight out of her sensible shoes, they might comfort, activate or calm Max's senses and derail any mounting frustration:

* Eat food in class. Find out what will help Max take the bite out of sixth grade. "Mouth tools provide oral stimulation that improves focus," says Henry. Any adult who has ever chewed a pencil, sipped tea or munched endless bags of dried papaya while working knows that "mouth tools" also relieve tension. Foods that are crunchy, chewy, salty, sweet, sour or spicy, or ones that can be sucked, bitten, pulled or licked provide good sensory feedback. Henry suggests popcorn, pretzels, string licorice, water bottles or carrots, "but beware of allergies," she adds.

* Stand up and wiggle around. Shaking and moving around will help Max "tune in, be ready to work and get those wiggles out," says Henry. Make learning syntax a moving experience for Max and his classmates or cousins. On a chalkboard or wall, post sentence parts in varying order: subject, predicate, direct object, indirect object, prepositional phrases. Then print nouns, verbs, objects and phrases on cards. Starting with a subject, Max and his buddies position themselves under the sentence part that their word matches. Once the sentence is properly formed, have them "activate" a sentence like: The waddling bird gave a wiggling fish to the trembling turkey on the table.

* Switch seats. "The brain forms maps not only on the basis of the scenery, but also from the body's relationship to the scenery," says Eric Jensen, author of "Teaching With the Brain in Mind" (ASCD, $21.95 at www.ascd.org). Build mind maps in spectators, too. Before each new sentence in the activity above, have groups switch from chairs to the floor to the top of their desks or across the windowsill. At home, cousins can move from chairs to a tabletop to perching along the arms of the sofa. To keep chaos to a minimum, intersperse sentences with having the whole group do "a slow stretch, long inhale and slow exhale," says Jensen.

* Jump up and down in your seat. If Max is in pre-school or the early grades, try the following exercise to take the edge off of his anger. Have kids pretend they are popcorn cooking in a popper. "This is a quick way to get going and then calm down," says Henry. Sitting on a chair, Max uses his hands and feet to push his body up and down. Use hand signals to direct him through the "cooking" process. Chair push-ups also strengthen little hands and arms for the hard work of handwriting. Add a mouth tool by sharing a popcorn snack.

* Send hand signals across the room. "Slow, rocking, rhythmic, repetitive movements are relaxing," says Henry. Borrow the classic military semaphore flag signaling system for calming, focusing and increasing visual skills. Letters and numbers are signaled across the classroom or the back yard using color and wide arm movements. "Make sure kids cross their hands across the midline of their body because it integrates both sides of the body," says Henry. Instead of the standard red and yellow flags, Max can wear two different colored gloves. "Heavy lifting is calming," says Henry, so have him use small hand weights when signaling. Max can take a spelling test, practice Spanish vocabulary or do math equations as spectators perch in ever-changing spots all around him. Find the semaphore alphabet at www.anbg.gov.au/flags/semaphore.html

Though some might dispute the theories of sensory integration, there will be days when nothing works better or faster than a pickle to dill-iver Max an upbeat groove. Simple sensory tools work because they appeal to the toddler in all of us--the cantankerous crybaby who could always be calmed by presenting us with two chocolate chip cookies, one for each hot little hand.

Diana Henry speaks tonight, 7:30, at St. Columba's Church, 4201 Albemarle St. NW; details, 301-652-2263. $15 admission. "Tool Chests" available at henryot.com

Contact Evelyn Vuko at evuko@teachersays.com, or at The Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

Return to Articles Index Page

Henry OT Services, Inc
4000 Pipit Place, Flagstaff, AZ 86004
E-Mail: rick@henryot.com


Home   Information   Links   For Sponsors  About Diana   Contact Us   Site Map


Copyright © 2008 Henry Occupational Therapy Services