All children, but particularly those with sensory processing disorder, can benefit from movement activities in the classroom that provide input to the proprioceptive receptors in the joints and ligaments. In addition to providing exercise, these types of "heavy work" movements make it easier for the child to focus and attend. For the child with SPD, it's vital to get proprioceptive and deep pressure input throughout the course of the day as part of what's called a "sensory diet" of activities. It is not enough to get plenty of exercise and calming input before or after school, or during one session of OT. Most children with SPD need to be encouraged and guided to get the input they need throughout the course of the day.
There are many ways to help kids get this input within an ordinary classroom and school building. The child who is a sensory seeker will likely eagerly participate and even find her own ways to get the input she senses her body needs (be sure to guide her in finding appropriate activities, though). In contrast, the child with sensory issues who is underaroused or a sensory avoider may have to be reminded to follow the sensory diet the OT has set up. In either case, while it is great to provide opportunities for input, a child who isn't disciplined or self-motivated enough to carry out a sensory diet on her own will definitely need guidance to ensure that it happens. Given that the alternative is a child who is unfocused, becoming more anxious and agitated, and moving toward sensory overload and a fight-or-flight panic reaction such as aggression or total withdrawal, implementing a sensory diet during the school day during the school day is crucial.
When you integrate these activities into the classroom routine, and other children may participate as well, it helps the child with SPD to not feel quite so different or singled out. If the child is the only one doing the activity, give it a positive spin. Let her be the "playground equipment monitor," carrying the balls and equipment to and from the playground, or the "whiteboard monitor" who erases the whiteboard at the end of each day. You might even have a team of kids, including the children with sensory issues, in charge of washing desks or helping the janitor, and give them an honorary name such as the "clean crew." All of these strategies will reduce the stigma for the sensory child who must have an in-school sensory diet in order to stay focused.
Remember, the child who is focused on the discomfort in her body and her urge to move may be polite and obedient, appearing to pay attention when, in reality, her mind is not on what the teacher is saying. By incorporating a sensory diet tailored to the sensory child's specific, unique needs by a sensory smart school or private OT, you make it far easier for her to focus on what we would all like her to focus on: learning! If the child is verbal, be sure to include her in the setting up of a sensory diet. What works for one child may not work for another.
And check in regularly to be sure that she's really getting the benefit of the activities set up for her, and make it a goal to have her advocate for herself and meet her sensory needs in a socially acceptable way.
Here are some easy ways to get proprioceptive and deep pressure input within a classroom and school environment (of course, the playground and gym offer plenty more activities during recess and gym time, too):
* Move stacks of books
* Deliver items from one classroom to another place in the building (especially if it requires carrying something and climbing stairs)
* Stack items, such as reams of paper, books, or storage bins
* Erase blackboards and whiteboards
* Move chairs or tables, put chairs on top of tables at the end of the day and take them down at the beginning of the day
* Wash desks or cafeteria tables
* Set up and put away folding chairs and tables
* Carry bins of lunchboxes into and out of cafeteria
* Empty wastebaskets, sweep, mop
* Sharpen pencils with an old-fashioned, crank pencil sharpener
* Assist gym teacher or playground supervisor with taking out and putting away equipment such as bags full of balls, mats, scooters, etc.
* Do laps around the gym or playground
* Climb stairs
* Cut cardboard and heavy paper card stock
* Do pushups against the wall
* Do chair push ups (holding the chair on either side as you sit, then pushing up to lift the body)
* Bounce while sitting on an exercise ball (loose or in a holder)
* Press legs against a lycra band stretched around chair or desk legs
* Sit on an inflatable cushion such as the Disc O' Sit
* Walk up a ramp or incline such as a wheelchair ramp or hill on the playground
* Hold open heavy doors, or open them for individuals entering or exiting the building
* Push or drag boxes, carts, or furniture across carpeted floor.
Nancy Peske is a professional writer and editor and the mother of a child diagnosed with sensory processing disorder and multiple developmental delays. She is the coauthor of the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues and has been active in the special needs community since 2002. She sends out a weekly newsletter of practical tips for parents and provides helpful information on SPD on her website at http://www.sensorysmartparent.com