Everything I Need to Know I learned in OT

Everything I need to know

Have you ever tried to run in a straight line after spinning in circles?  I vividly remember trying to dizzy myself with my brother and sister when I was little. We'd spin and spin and then fall to the floor and watch the room spin around us while we remained plastered to the floor. I loved that!  It was so much fun to be aware that I was not moving even though the world around me was telling me that I was. 

My oldest son used to spin a lot as well. But he never fell to the ground to enjoy the sensations. He didn't GET the sensations! He could spin and spin and then run straight away without loosing balance.  Simply amazing.

When Sage was diagnosed with autism, the service first available to us was OT (Occupational Therapy).  For a long time, I was sure that was all that was truly needed, because of how drastic it's effects were, and the fact that we learned so. very. much.

Our OT  was our introduction into the world of Sensory Processing. 

Did you know that there are tiny hairs in your ear that gives you the sensation of movement? And if they don't work properly, you don't process movement correctly? That is why Sage could run straight ahead after his wild spinning. That was why he kept seeking it out--to give himself the vestibular (sense of motion) input that didn't come naturally.  

His OT also told us that to give him that input, all we have to do is to stop him from spinning one direction and start spinning him in the opposite direction.  

I couldn't believe how quickly he got dizzy when we simply reverse directions!  (This is also the reason why ice skaters tend to spin in the same direction during their routines, otherwise, they would be too dizzy to skate straight and keep their balance--I learned that at OT too.).

Sage also liked to jump up & down, a lot. He jumped all the time, on everything. Uncontrolled, this is a big problem!  But by being intentional, we could help his body process the proprioceptive input he was craving, but not getting on his own.  

We started jumping up & down while counting, or saying the alphabet. We put him on a sensory diet of joint compressions and jumping, along with brushing every couple hours.  (A sensory diet is when you plan in your day, specific activities. So along with his diet of food through out the day, he would have a diet of sensory input throughout his day). 

A sensory diet was our life saver. Simply amazing was the change from a boy who could not get enough sensory stimulation, to a boy who could finally, sit still. 

Then his brother came along and also developed autism. But his kind is pretty much opposite from the "brand" Sage has. He was not a sensory seeker--someone who doesn't get enough sensory input and therefore seeks it out--but a sensory avoider--someone who receives too much input and therefore retreats. He was AFRAID to move. He was tactile defensive. He wouldn't eat food while his brother would eat everything & anything, including door knobs!  Ok, he didn't EAT the doorknob, but he sure did go around licking them all. the. time.

So for Stevie, we had to learn how to "ground" him so he felt safe. We had to give him lots of big squeezes and hugs to give him the deep sensations without the pain that comes from lightly touching him.  Light touch would send him into fight or flight mode (a.k.a. panic attack) and undo any of the calming safe-feeling effects of the deep pressure.   We had him jump to help him FEEL the ground he was walking on. If you can imagine trying to walk when you can't feel where your body is in space, then you can imagine a little bit of what it must have felt like for him. The more grounded he felt, the better he was able to move around while feeling safe.  

One of the other wonderful things we learned about in OT was that the vestibular system is connected to the language system. When you activate one, you activate the other.   Have you ever seen someone pacing back and forth while practicing a speech? Or someone who says they can't think in an organized way unless they are pacing?  It is all the same thing, just more extreme with sensory processing disorder. 

We found that when we had Sage jump on the couch cushions (we learned to LET him do this, because it is good for him!) he would suddenly come up with multiple new words he'd never said before!  It was truly amazing.  Because of this, OT and ST (speech therapy) were often combined into one joint session. OT opens the pathways for ST to work it's magic too.

Isn't that all amazing? Our God is so creative. When something goes wrong in our bodies, it just highlights the wonderful & intricate workings in how we were created. 



What sensory stories do you have to tell?  

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For those of you who would like to read more on the vestibular-language connection, here is an article that addresses the topic:  "The 'Magic Cure' For Childhood Communication Problems? Team Power! by the Child Success Center Blog.