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A Day in the Life of Alex : Sensory Integration Dysfunction and Activities

Sensory integration activities during a young boy's day.

By Dale Lips

I have a child whose thermostat doesn't work properly. That's right -- his thermostat! Another term for this is sensory integration dysfunction, but I find that thinking of it as a thermostat malfunction helps me to help him. Since he has trouble responding to stimulation in his environment, I help him out by organizing his day and anticipating his reactions so that he will stay on even-keel.

On a daily basis, I try to incorporate as much sensory integration as possible. For example, he snuggles on a big pillow in front of a heater in the morning when he is waking up. Sometimes I warm his clothes in the dryer right before he puts them on. He uses an electric toothbrush to provide oral stimulation. During the day at school, the teachers have been asked to provide proprioceptive activities at least every hour -- erasing the blackboard, carrying heavy books, taking a short walk. When he comes home, I make sure he immediately has unstructured time. He usually goes in the backyard and plays for at least half an hour. Then he goes on a bike ride or walk. Idea -- he still loves to ride on a big wheel which gives him a lot of proprioceptive feedback. He also has always enjoyed pushing a cart on the sidewalk. Then by dinner time he is pretty tired. Ideally, he relaxes in the bathtub while I get dinner on -- does a lot of running the water, draining some and then running some more (one of his narrow, compulsive activities that some "experts" advise against and some say he obviously needs). He can watch a little TV after dinner and then we try to do some fun educational things on the computer and/or we read to him.

I also try to anticipate how he will respond and what help he will need to integrate himself (adjust his thermostat) in new situations. For example, a trip out of town will really throw his system out of kilter. Therefore the whole trip and each day have to be outlined to him ahead of time so that he knows what to expect. I need to anticipate what will happen and how he will react and then to allow him decompression time.

Re homework -- I recently vetoed it. The teachers have told me he works very hard and intensely at school. So now I only review before a test, do computer things and read to him. He also has karate and we plan to add in piano lessons again and 4-H club.

Ideas that help with homework -- writing vocabulary, spelling and reading words on a dry erase board and/or a "Magna-doodle". I write it the first time, he erases and then writes it from memory. The bold black on white and the resistance of the marker on the board provide a lot of visual and tactile feedback.

When he was younger he traced in flour, sugar, bird seed, etc. I also made flash cards using brightly colored pipe cleaners. I shaped the letters with pipe cleaner and glued (Elmers) them on the card. Since Alex is visually impaired and reads large print, this was particularly helpful in getting him started on reading simple words. (Alex is also learning Braille this year.)

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