Tactile defensiveness is a term used by our Cleveland occupational therapists to describe hypersensitivity to touch. Those who experience tactile defensiveness say they’re more bothered than others by different textures on their skin. This may extend to different textures of food, fabrics, flooring, certain self-care tasks and showing affection.
Those with touch sensitivities may be extremely averse to certain sensations in a way that impacts their daily lives. They may have much bigger reactions than one would expect to uncomfortable physical sensations. It might manifest in things like refusing to put on certain socks, shirts or underwear. Toothbrushing could be a battle. They may be extremely picky eaters. They may loathe messy play and playing barefoot outside.
Some of this might simply be chalked up to being “quirky.” And of course, all of us have certain aversions or preferences to sensory input. But when we’re talking about tactile defensiveness, we’re talking about hypersensitivity. And with that, there are ways in which tactile defensiveness can impede a child’s health, growth, well-being, development, and personal relationships. This is why our Cleveland occupational therapists intervene with treatment.
We don’t know exactly what causes tactile sensitivity, but it’s extremely common in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). (It can also swing the other way – sensory-seeking rather than sensory-averse. This means they exhibit a low threshold for registering a tactile sense, rather than the low threshold noted in those with tactile defensiveness.)
Why Our Sense of Touch Matters
Our sense of touch is one of the first sensory systems that develops in utero. As our Cleveland occupational therapists can explain, literal libraries of research that shows touch experience between parents/caregivers and babies is critically important for their cognitive, behavioral, motor, and social development. The appropriate tactile and proprioceptive responses are pivotal for achieving developmental milestones like grasping, walking, and social/communication skills.
Tactile defensiveness can interfere with a child’s ability to participate in regular, healthy routines and daily activities.
Whereas someone with “typical” sensory integration might not be keen on having an itchy tag on their t-shirt rubbing up against their neck, it doesn’t ruin their entire day. They’ll probably just get used to it and forget about it. However, a child who has tactile defensiveness may be so impacted by this sensation that they may not be able to carry out the tasks of daily functioning – potentially even having a full-blown meltdown until the tag is removed. And even thereafter, they may need some additional time to truly self-regulate.
We can also see this in areas like eating/feeding. A child who is extremely averse to eating foods of different tastes and textures may ultimately have a poor diet – and failure to thrive – because they’re only eating one or two things.
Lots of kids with tactile defensiveness also have major aversions to self-care tasks like brushing their teeth, combing/cutting their hair, or bathing. But not doing those things isn’t really an option. There may be some adaptations and accommodations that can be made, but kids also need to learn how to overcome some of these aversions to ensure they’re healthy, growing, and on the right track developmentally.
Ways Cleveland Occupational Therapists Help With Sensory Integration
We have lots of strategies to help kids with tactile defensiveness process sensory input, and all of it is tailored to their unique needs and goals.
Some of our tips and tricks:
- Build trust with exposure to certain stimuli being slow and gradual. A child with tactile defensiveness is going to completely melt down if you try to introduce too much at once or make demands that are too high. Yes, we want to challenge the child, but that takes time – going slowly and building trust. Also, we want it to be fun! Sudden, unpredictable changes can cause major anxiety and are ultimately setbacks. We want to set them up for success, so we go at a pace that works for them.
2. Incorporate deep pressure sensory input. This might seem counterintuitive, but lots of kids with tactile defensiveness have a particularly hard time with LIGHT touches. Tickling, brushes against the skin, rain, wind/air conditions, etc. Deep pressure can help calm them, especially if they’re overstimulated. Compression vests can be really helpful. (For bedtime, weighted blankets are great too.)
3. Removing other sensory stimuli. If we’re in a room that’s too loud/crowded or there are lots of visual distractions, it’s going to be really tough to get them to overcome a sensation they’re uncomfortable with. There’s too much else competing for their attention.
4. Make it predictable. We create what we call a visual schedule or visual calendar for when we’re planning on introducing touch experiences that might be challenging. We create a picture chart that shows “first, then, next,” and exactly what we’re going to do. That way, there are no surprises, and they know exactly what is going to come next.
5. Heavy work. These are the kinds of activities that involve pulling and pushing objects that are heavy or create some resistance, which gives them some of that deep pressure impact that can be calming when they’re dealing with challenging sensory input. We’ll do this a lot of times on “break” from messy activities.
In all of these sessions, we think it’s really important for the kids themselves to maintain a degree of control. We give them choices, and control over what we do next, so that they don’t feel so much like this is “work,” but rather play. It also helps build trust between the child and therapist, which helps make the lessons we’re teaching more successful.
Best Sensory Strategies for Handling Tactile Defensiveness, Feb. 2, 2022, By Aditi Srivastava, MOT, PGC, Autism Parenting Magazine
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5 To-Dos After Cleveland Autism Diagnosis, May 13, 2022, Cleveland Occupational Therapists Blog
As Akron occupational therapists, we’re frequently working on things like handwriting, self-regulation, and executive functioning. But summertime play is a veritable goldmine of sensory activities that can help boost a child’s development.
We’ve put together a list of summer occupational therapy play ideas that can help kids offset screen time, and can be a great resource for parents, teachers, camp counselors, etc. Our Akron occupational therapists tried to keep in mind the fact that many parents right now are looking for fresh summer activity ideas that won’t break the bank. Many of these are activities the whole family can enjoy!
Make Kinetic Sand
Kinetic sand is something of a wonder, and it’s fun for kids and adults alike. It’s easy to clean, magically sticks to itself, and can be easily stored. It also doesn’t dry out, so it lasts a long time. Kinetic sand can be used to help with tons of fine motor skills, like cutting, shaping, mixing, molding, and digging. It can help with with social-emotional regulation because it’s calming and provides great sensory input. Kids can get creative with it – especially when they make their own! The OT Toolbox offers an easy, three-ingredient Kinetic sand that simply requires sand, shaving cream, and baking soda. Super simple, and lots of fun to make!
Make Ice Cream Crafts
SO many ways to tailor this, using different materials and ideas. But in almost all of them, kids are going to be exercising their executive functioning and fine motor skills, as well as their creative muscles. Here are list of 15 cool ice cream craft ideas, using everything from balloons & glitter to cotton balls & construction paper to paper mache and paint. (Making their own ice cream sundae can also be a fun, once-in-a-while activity, with a little mess to be expected.)
There are SO many sensory benefits that come with gardening. And, as our Akron occupational therapists can explain, kids can help with planning the garden, learning about the various plants and what they need to grow, documenting the growth as they mature from seedling to full bloom. Planting and weed pulling is great for proprioception. Plant herbs, flowers, or vegetables – and let kids touch, taste, see, and hear. Add some wind chimes or a water feature for extra sensory input. Read more about the benefits of sensory gardening here.
Have your child make their own snack!
Maybe it’s not something you’d expect them to do every day, when the school year is in full-swing. But the summer can provide a great opportunity for kids to practice their independence and put together their own snack. This helps with fine motor skills, sensory input, executive functioning and (if they’re working with a parent or sibling) communication and social skills. Some easy recipes might include things like honey crispy treats, mini fruit pizzas, fruit kabobs, ants on a log, and fruit and yogurt parfaits. You might even consider pre-making a healthy, self-serve snack box and maybe some pictures with ideas to help them out.
Make an obstacle course in chalk.
This is going to help them work on motor planning, executive function, balance, and creativity! Set up in the driveway or nearby sidewalk, give them chalk and help them get started: Lily pads for frog hopping? A bridge to tip toe or balance over? An animal walk on a wavy line? A square for dancing? It doesn’t have to be complicated. There is a great example of a chalk obstacle course here!
Write a friend a letter.
It could be a friend. Or Grandma/Grandpa. Or maybe simply to someone in a nursing home who might be lonely and could use some cheering up. Have them work on their letter formation and draw a happy picture!
Tie dye a shirt.
This one requires some adult oversight, but it can be a lot of fun – and the results can be very cool! Check out these simple instructions for tie dying here.
These are just a few ideas! If you’re looking for some thoughts more tailored to your child’s exact skill-level and OT goals, just ask one of our Akron occupational therapists! We hope everyone is enjoying a wonderful – and safe – summer!
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Summer Development Activities for Kids, May 8, 2020, By Heather Greutman, GrowingHandsOnKids.com
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Does My Child Have Sensory Processing Disorder? Feb. 12, 2022, Akron Occupational Therapy Blog
Historically, children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) have been treated with medications like Ritalin, Adderall, and Dexadrine. But while these medications can be effective for some kids, they can also have significant adverse side effects. For many kids, occupational therapy can be an effective, holistic alternative, if not a complement, to the use of medications for kids with ADHD. (As always, it’s important to talk to your child’s doctors before making any decisions pertaining to medication.)
Specifically, research published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy found that kids with ADHD who were treated with alternative interventions such as a method known as “Cog-Fun” were effective in helping them to lead functional lives in school, home, and other environments of daily living.
What is ADHD?
If you’re reading this, you’re likely aware that ADHD is a condition diagnosed when there is a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity interfering with function or development. It’s generally considered a neurological disorder, impacting a person’s executive functions (cognitive skills), emotions, and behavior – impeding developmental progress, academic success, and relationship building. People with ADHD struggle to remember, plan, and regulate their emotions.
It is often (but not always) diagnosed in childhood and lasts into adulthood. There’s no “cure,” but there are treatments – which will differ for children compared to adults
How is ADHD Treated With Occupational Therapy
Early intervention for kids with ADHD requires inter-disciplinary collaboration from parents and caregivers, teachers, and therapists. Cognitive behavioral interventions -treatment that involves efforts to change thinking patterns – is recommended, the earlier the better. That’s because children’s neuro pathways have yet to form and/or become rigid.
Despite its prevalence, there remains some confusing about what it is, what the symptoms are, how it can impact a person’s daily life, and how it’s effectively treated.
Sensory processing disorder, or SPD, is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information delivered through the senses. In addition to trouble processing sensations from touch (tactile), taste (gustatory), sound (auditory), sight (visual), and smell (olfactory), SPD includes sensory integration issues with the proprioceptive and/or vestibular systems. Proprioception is the perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body, while vestibular system is the sensory system that provides us a sense of balance, spatial orientation, and coordination of movement. Deficits with sensory processing can adversely impact a child with learning, movement coordination, reading/writing, behavior and social function.
Interestingly, sensory processing disorder can look different for different people. Some are overly sensitive to their environment. We call this hypersensitivity. Light touches on their skin may feel chaffing or common sounds may be overwhelming or even painful. Alternatively, one may not be sensitive enough to certain stimuli. They might be what we call “sensory-seeking,” or hyposensitive. They seek sensory input that others might think of as strange or even painful.
Like autism, it exists on a spectrum and is typically identified in children, but impacts adults as well. The exact cause is unknown, but research has indicated there is likely a strong genetic component.
Symptoms of Hypersensitivity Among Children With Sensory Processing Disorder
Those who are hypersensitive may have some combination of the following symptoms:
- Withdrawing when touched
- Overly sensitive to temperature of objects, water, food, or air
- Refusal to eat foods of certain textures
- Dislikes having their hair or face washed, hair cut, fingernails/toenails cut, etc.
- Overly ticklish
- Avoids messy play, including glue
- Overreactive to unexpected touch
- Overly sensitivity to temperature including air, food, water, or objects
- Uses too little pressure when coloring or writing
- Poor posture, poor balance, poor body awareness (sometimes described as clumsy)
- Resists activities like slides, swings, escalators, elevators, etc.
- Gets car sick or motion sick easily
- Refuses to participate in gym class or dislikes trying new playground equipment
- Oversensitivity to light, colors, sounds
- Hums to block out background noise
- Easily distracted by background noise
- Strongly dislikes mixed textures (cereal in milk, chunky soup, etc.)
- Resists trying any new foods or different textures (extremely picky eating, preferring bland foods)
- Intolerance to teeth-brushing
Symptoms of Hyposensitivity Among Children With Sensory Processing Disorder
Kids with hyposensitivity may display some combination of the following:
- High pain tolerance
- Regularly bumps into others
- Seeks out tactile sensory input
- Stuffs food into their mouth
- Licks items on their own skin
- Tendency for self-abuse or injury (biting, rubbing, heavy pressure, head-banging, pinching, etc.)
- Tends not to notice messy hands, face, or runny nose, etc.
- Fails to recognize others’ need for personal space
- Needs to touch everything
- Unintentionally rough with pets, siblings, other kids
- Trouble with fine motor tasks
- Craves touch
- Writes or draws with heavy pressure on the pencil
- Trouble with fine motor tasks
- Trouble sleeping unless being held or hugged
- Can seem aggressive
- Grinds teeth
- Chews on toys, pencils, shirt, sleeves, etc.
- Stomps their feet when walking
- Seeks out wrestling games
- Poor balance
- Constant fidgeting
- Loves spinning, rocking, etc.
- Hypermobile (constantly getting up from their desk at school, etc.).
- Constantly hums
- Makes silly/inappropriate sounds constantly
How Occupational Therapists Treat Kids With SPD
Lots of these symptoms can mirror other conditions, but as mentioned before, it can be a wholly standalone issue – even though it’s not currently recognized as a distinct medical diagnosis.
Because sensory processing disorder can impact kids in all kinds of ways, our Brecksville occupational therapists work regularly to help them integrate these senses. Treatment depends on the individual’s needs, but the general goal of sensory integration is to challenge the child in a way that is fun and playful so they learn to appropriately respond to sensory stimuli in a way that is considered more helpful/functional.
There are different models of treatment, but one of the most popular is the floor-time method. This involves multiple play sessions in which we start out with the adult following the child’s lead (even if the play isn’t typical). In essence, the therapist “enters the child’s world.” From there, we use the play sessions to create various challenges for the child, pulling the child into what’s known as a “shared world.” The challenges are opportunities for the child to master important skills for thinking, relating, and communicating. These are tailored to the child’s specific needs. For example, if the child is hyposensitive to stimuli, then we’ll be more energetic. If they tend to be hypersensitive, then our approach will be more soothing.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides occupational therapy to children in Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Cleveland, Akron, and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Sensory Processing Disorder, Feb. 7, 2021, By Brenda Goodman, MA, WebMD
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A Child’s “Occupation” is Play – A Brecksville Occupational Therapy Perspective, Dec. 8, 2021, Northeast Ohio Pediatric Occupational Therapist Blog
Those first introduced to the world of early intervention therapy are often confused as to why children would need occupational therapy. After all, kids don’t have “occupations,” right?
Actually, they do!
As our Brecksville occupational therapy practitioners can explain, children’s “occupations” involve the business of growing and developing. That means picking up fine and gross motor skills, learning to communicate and socialize, grasping self-care, feeding, and emotional regulation, and overall navigating the world around them. Play is the means through which kids master their neurological and biological development. Engaging in activities that are both fun and creative helps kids to ultimately become independent adults.
That is why play-based occupational therapy is so effective. As noted by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), it is often through play that kids learn to make sense of and engage with the world around them. Occupational therapists help children who are struggling in certain areas – most frequently with neurological, muscular, and social/communication skills due to a developmental delay, disability or injury/illness. We do this through sensory-rich play that offers opportunities for them to develop/master those skills while also having fun. We never want sessions to feel like work, even if that’s ultimately what they are.
How Brecksville Occupational Therapy Practitioners Use Play-Based Therapy
As occupational therapists, we use play not only to address the child’s goals, but also to help motivate them to challenge themselves.
Some of the ways we work with children during play-based occupational therapy include:
- Helping to modify toys or the environment so that the child can get just the right of sensory input without being overwhelmed.
- Recommending to parents activities for play and toys that can offer just the right amount of challenge for a child so that they are learning/working on a skill set, but also still having fun. We can also incorporate play into a variety of exercises that are geared toward helping build on the child’s abilities and strengths.
- Crafting our sessions around play opportunities that encourage social skills like turn-taking and neurological skills like problem-solving. We’ll take in the unique priorities and routines of your family when formulating strategies you can use to incorporate this kind of play in your everyday life.
Some examples of toys and activities that we frequently use to work on certain skills:
- Manipulative play with toys like board games, play dough and LEGOs. What we’re looking for here is boosting the child’s dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
- Sensory-rich play with things like finger paints, magnets, kinetic sand, water toys, balls and beads. Lots of kids we work with struggle with sensory dysregulation. Playing with toys that incorporate sight, sound, tough, smell, and movement helps them work on sensory integration and regulation.
- Imaginative play with things like dolls, puppets, phones, stuffed animals, etc. Pretend play is an excellent way for kids to practice key social skills.
It’s important that whatever toy or activity we use is appropriate to both the child’s age and maturity level. Toys and activities need not be expensive to be effective. Although our occupational therapists can conduct sessions in the home, at school, or in other settings, one benefit of in-clinic sessions is that we have a wealth of tools and toys within arm’s reach.
Our occupational therapy team works with kids with a broad range of disabilities, delays and challenges. If you’re interested in our play-based occupational therapy services in Brecksville-Broadview Heights, our team would be happy to connect with you!
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – is a pediatric therapy center providing occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and ABA/behavior therapy to children in Northeast Ohio. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email. Serving Brecksville, Akron, Cleveland and surrounding communities in Northeast Ohio.
Learning Through Play, American Occupational Therapy Association
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Fun Fall Activities From Our Akron Occupational Therapists, Oct. 8, 2021, Brecksville Occupational Therapy Blog
Our Akron occupational therapists are big fans of autumn here in Northeast Ohio – brightly-colored leaves, brisk air, bulbous pumpkins, and crisp apple cider. Plus, there are so many ways we can incorporate season-themed activities into our OT sessions: Crafts, games, and even food!
Here, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite fall-themed favorites you can do at home with your child for some fun – and extra OT practice!
Construction Paper Trees
This is a craft that helps with a child’s fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination skills and hand strengthening. You need some fall leaf colored construction paper (think brown, red, yellow, and orange) and maybe a larger poster board if you want to make your trees bigger.
Have your child gather up a few of their favorite fall leaves outside. Then have them trace the leaf on the construction paper before carefully cutting them out. Set them aside and create a trunk made of construction paper. Then glue the trees on top of the trunk and have them sign their name!
Our Akron occupational therapists love this activity because it can be adjusted based on your child’s skill level. They can cut out printed or pre-drawn leaves or just do free-form cutting. Depending on how into it you are, you can even make a giant tree for decoration on their bedroom door or wall. Smaller master pieces will find a great home on the fridge. When they’re finished, make sure to tell them how proud of them you are!
This one helps your child practice pre-writing lines and visual motor skills. Just grab a bunch of fall leaves (or acorns, seeds, and other small seasonal stuff). Have them draw one pre-writing line or shape on a piece of paper. Then have them trace that line with a glue stick and then tack on the tiny leaves, seeds, etc. This is great practice for hand-eye coordination too! Any leftover leaves, you can use for an autumn leaves crayon-rubbing craft.
This is a fun game that you and your child can do together, maybe with some fun, fall-themed music in the background. It helps with core strength, balance, and gross motor coordination. Just grab a couple bean bags, mini pumpkin, and a jump rope (or other long, thin string). Simply walking along the “balance beam” (rope) without stepping off can be good for posture and core strength. Add to the fun of it by putting on some fall-themed tunes. If they master that, have them do it carrying a small pumpkin If they pass that one, have them do it with a beanbag on their head. If they can do that too, have them try it while balancing the little pumpkin on their head!
Fall Sensory Bin Scavenger Hunt
Spend some time exploring in nature and make it fun with a scavenger hunt. There are tons of fall scavenger hunt printouts you can find online, but a few ideas of things to look for:
- Smooth, shiny leaves.
- Red leaves.
- Crunchy leaves.
- Smooth rocks.
- Jagged-edge rocks.
- Bumpy pinecones.
- Bendy twigs.
When you fill your bucket, have a seat and stop to feel all the textures. Draw or trace the objects or turn them into art on a piece of construction paper or cardboard.
Making Apple Sauce
This one is great for executive function, following directions, fine and gross motor skills, proprioceptive input, and upper body strength. Plus it’s just a lot of hands-on, memory-making fun!
If you can start, take your kids apple-picking! Then find your favorite easy apple sauce recipe, and have your kid help step-by-step. (Applesauce stays fresh in the fridge for a week or so and freezes really well too!) Make sure to talk your child through every step of the process, especially if they also struggle with speech-language delays or disorders.
If you’re looking for more ideas on fall-themed OT activities for kids, our Brecksville occupational therapists are happy to help!
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – is a pediatric therapy center providing occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and ABA therapy to children with special needs in Northeast Ohio. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email. Serving Brecksville, Akron, Cleveland and surrounding communities in Northeast Ohio.
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Does My Child Need Occupational Therapy? Sept. 15, 2021, Brecksville Occupational Therapy Blog
Frustration tolerance is the ability to successfully manage feelings of frustration. It’s a tough skill to master, and it’s something with which a lot of kids struggle. As our Cleveland occupational therapists can explain, having low frustration tolerance can make completing even the most basic tasks an uphill battle.
Frustration is an emotional response occurring when something goes wrong or what we desire doesn’t come to fruition. Teaching kids to cope with frustration is essential to helping them become adults who are patient, decisive and capable.
Kids with low frustration may:
- Get easily upset.
- Have difficulty accepting or moving on from defeat/not winning at a game.
- Have trouble solving things easily or right away.
- Give up easily.
- Have trouble concentrating (unable to listen to a full story/focus on their school work).
- Struggle with reduced social skills, uninterested in playing with other kids (which becomes cyclical in other kids’ response to them).
Of course, ups and downs are a normal part of childhood – and of life! Children may experience stress and discomfort when faced with new situations or environments (and the beginning of a new school year is a good time to talk about this!). But parents, caregivers, and occupational therapists can respond with care and understanding, while still teaching them how to appropriately respond to frustrating situations.
Attention is a necessary component for children’s development and academic success. But helping kids maintain attention and focus has undoubtedly gotten tougher in recent years. We’re confronted with increased screen time, compelling animations and other constant distractions. It’s especially tough when the child has an additional challenge such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism and the task is something non-preferred. As our Akron occupational therapists can explain, one of the best ways to improve attention for an important task or just throughout the day is exercise!
Research over the last 30 years has boosted our understanding of the benefits of exercise, confirming that it:
- Boosts biological chemicals essential for brain cell growth.
- Stimulates the birth of new neurons.
- Mobilizes genes believed to enhance brain plasticity (the brain’s ability to alter neural pathways).
Pediatric occupational therapy is a broad discipline focused on helping children gain independence while also strengthening development of sensory motor skills, fine motor skills and visual skills needed to help kids function, socialize and participate in daily life.
Most professionals compelled to the field of occupational therapy have big hearts and desire to help people. When it comes to hiring pediatric occupational therapists, our team at Therapy and Wellness Connection prioritizes compassion and dedication to patient care above all else. Simply put: Every therapist MUST care about these kids. We can provide additional training for those newer to this evidence-based field, but genuine care for each and every client is an imperative.
If you’re searching for a pediatric occupational therapist in Cleveland, we know you have your choice of therapy clinics in Northeast Ohio. As you weigh your options, here are some of our thoughts on what we think makes a great OT.
Social skills don’t come easily to many kids with disabilities and delays. But music is a language we can all speak! Music literally moves us and brings people together. It’s uniquely its own kind of therapy, and we love using it in occupational therapy when we’re working on social skills.
At Therapy & Wellness Connection, we offer music therapy because it is a research-based practice in which we use music to actively support people working toward improvement in their health, function and well-being. And it’s so versatile! Music is powerful and a very effective way to help children with special needs meet their occupational therapy goals, including improvement of:
- Motor skills
- Speech & language skills
- Cognition/neural processing skills
- Self-regulation/reducing anxiety
It’s common knowledge in the music community that regular music lessons can help improve academic performance, increase IQ scores and reduce the risk of depression. Still, many parents aren’t aware that music – especially when used in an occupational therapy setting – can help encourage so many important life skills.
Researchers Tout Benefits of Music for Kids With ASD
One recent study specifically had the potential to improve the development of social skills among children with autism spectrum disorder. Further, researchers wanted to know if the effects were long-lasting.
Researchers noted that children with autism often have difficulties with direct social engagement, and that musical activities in the social context can provide them with valuable opportunities for interacting with their peers. They also pointed out prior studies that found even though children on the spectrum have difficulty processing and controlling their emotions, they can identify the rich emotions that are embedded in music as well as any typically-developing child.
Dozens of kids in the study were given pre- and post-music therapy social skills tests. Kids were categorized as having mild to severe autism and social scores that were ranked active to passive. What they found was that social skills was one area of distinct improvement for kids who had undergone musical therapy intervention, and that it was most effective when it was controlled in an occupational therapy setting.
Study authors said the results were encouraging, and called for more research examining the benefits for different age groups, populations, levels of ASD and skill focuses (motor skills, communication skills, etc.).
How We Use Music in Occupational Therapy
Just like a conversation, musical activities usually require body awareness and understanding of nonverbal cues. We can plan lots of fun games and activities around these goals. Specifically for social-pragmatic skills, we can target language objectives, joint attention, eye gaze and cooperative play with games like musical chairs or “musical statutes,” or animal dances.
One we’ve had a lot of fun with is “musical clothes,” where we have a pile of props/costumes in the middle and music is played and each child has to choose one prop/article and quickly don it before the music stops. In summer camps, sometimes we’ll have the kids team up, choose a theme song and create a dance routine with it – with a performance at the end (it’s SO much fun and a great team-building/communication exercise!).
Music can also be used before an occupational therapy session to help prepare the patient emotionally/induce the appropriate amount of arousal (or calming/regulation). It can also be used at the end of a session to help prepare for a transition.
Often in OT, music can be used to help keep kids focused and on-task. Sometimes we’ll listen to a combination of binaural (two-tone frequencies) and classical music, either on headphones or from a speaker. This has been shown to promote alpha brain wave and keep kids calm. For some kids, this music combo or ambient music helps improve dizziness during vestibular training.
If you have questions about occupational therapy or music therapy, our team at Therapy & Wellness Connection can help.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides occupational therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, homeschooling, tutoring, vocational services and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Using Music Activities to Teach Social Skills to Children with Autism, April 17, 2018, ASHA
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Best Occupational Therapy Board Games for Kids, Oct. 15, 2020, Cleveland Occupational Therapy Blog