The JumpTherapy Blog:
Sensory Processing, Motor and Social Skills Resources
for Parents of Special Needs Children

Playing to Their Strengths: Developing Sensory Skills

The best results come when therapy is fun!

Part 1 of 5: An overview of fun therapeutic activities

Integrating fun with sensory therapy
We’ve discussed fun sensory activities you can do at home and in your own surroundings with your kids. Now let’s talk about some programs that are available in therapeutic — and fun! — environments: play therapy, movement therapy, art therapy, and music therapy. 
These therapy/play programs help children with autistic spectrum disorders, sensory processing difficulties, ADHD and any motor or social skills delays develop their sensory processing, gross motor and social skills. Play, movement, art and music all build a child’s ability to respond appropriately to everyday stimuli rather than be over- or under-sensitive to the auditory, visual and tactile information in their daily environment. 
Having fun, building skills
The perfect motivational tools, play, movement, art and music therapy programs combine a stimulating, child-friendly natural play environment with the expertise of a trained occupational therapist. Your child will gain skills without even realizing it’s therapy, because s/he will be having such a good time.
The playlist
Play is such an important part of occupational therapy. After all, what’s a child’s primary “occupation?” Play! It is through play that children develop the physical and emotional coordination to navigate the world. Your child’s OT will evaluate the sensory, motor, social, and other difficulties that are affecting your child, and devise a play therapy plan to address them. S/he can suggest toys that will build your child’s skills in particular areas, help you adapt toys and games to your child’s developmentally-appropriate level, and show you how to build on your child’s abilities. The OT also will guide you on playing creatively with your child — modeling behavior and role playing will help your child learn how to handle real-life situations.
Getting a move on
When children are moving their bodies while playing, they are strengthening many of their sensory systems: vision (seeing); auditory (hearing); tactile (touch); vestibular function (balance); proprioception (sense of muscle and joint movements). They are also physically building up their core muscles, which are responsible for their balance, holding themselves upright, and sitting. A sensory gym will focus on all these areas, with your children acquiring these skills while having a good time in spaces filled with fun equipment.
State of the art
The processes of drawing, painting, and sculpting improve cognitive and sensory motor skills. Working on art projects strengthens the visual system and hand-eye coordination, which is also important for writing. Children practice, in a fun, relaxed way, integrating the two hemispheres of the brain, which is an essential part of reading. It allows us to pay attention to the print while also comprehending what is read. Additionally, they learn to move their eyes separately from their head in order to draw, and to read. 
Let the music play on
Music and movement routines help children focus and add joy to learning. Lower, rhythmic frequencies such as drums will get your child moving, while higher, melodic frequencies such as flutes and singing will engage your child’s attention. You can use different music in different ways to calm (music with a steady, rhythmic beat) or to alert (fast tempos, variety) your child when s/he needs help regulating. There are also personalized music-based programs, such as The Listening Program™, available for daily use via headphones.
Playing your part
Therapy works best when it’s reinforced at home. Your child’s occupational therapist will design an individualized therapy plan for your child, addressing the areas s/he is having difficulty mastering, and updating the plan as your child meets challenges and advances to the next level. The OT will explain to you how you can follow this plan. We’ll discuss how you can incorporate and reinforce the different therapies at home.
Looking ahead:
In the next post, we will discuss play therapy in more detail, as well as how you can best integrate it into your child’s home life. 
Is your child currently participating in any fun therapeutic programs, or has s/he in the past? What changes have you noticed? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Also, let me know there or via email what topics you would like to discuss or hear more about. 
Feel free to share or quote from this blog (with attribution, please, and if possible, a link), and to repost on social media.
I look forward to hearing from you!

All the best,

About Miriam:
Miriam Skydell MS, OTR/L is a pediatric OT with 30 years experience and a strong commitment to empowering every child and every family with the skills, confidence and emotional stability necessary for a meaningful, independent life. In addition to her Masters degree from NYU (1986) and membership in the AOTA (American Occupational Therapy Association), Miriam is a licensed Interactive Metronome®,  HWT (Handwriting Without Tears®), and TLP (The Listening Program®) provider.

Miriam performs preschool screenings, contracts experienced OTs, PTs and STs to schools, helped implement the HWT curriculum, and lectures extensively for parent and support groups and at teacher conferences for public and private schools throughout New Jersey. Through her private practice in Fair Lawn, Miriam Skydell and Associates, established in 1995, Miriam has helped countless children with a wide range of diagnoses improve functional living skills, manage the impact of sensory processing dysfunction, and meet their individual potentials.