A Sensory Integration Approach to Helping Hyperactive Kids
I am going to give you a profile of a child and you can tell me if this sounds familiar:
This child does not need a lot of sleep and often times wakes up wired and ready to go. This child is sometimes literally bouncing off of the walls engaged in constant activity. Even while sitting, they are moving by popping up and down in their chair or kicking their legs. This child bumps into people and cannot stop touching people or objects in his environment. If this child is in a large room or enclosed space, he will run to seek out the boundaries of this space. This child loves to crash into the couch or jump on the bed. This child's first word was "GO!"
I just gave you a profile of my own child who has always had issues related to hyperactivity. I am sure many of you can relate.
Although there are many explanations for hyperactivity out there, the one explanation for my son's behaviors which makes the most sense to me comes from approaching this from a sensory integration standpoint.
What is sensory integration exactly? I am sure you probably have heard this term by now but perhaps some of you are confused by what it means. As I understand the concept, it starts with the premise that we are all sensory beings. We take in information from our senses. In addition to using our five senses we also have a "vestibular" sense and a "proprioceptive " sense. Our vestibular sense is our balance and movement sense. This sense tells you where you are in relation to the ground and things around you. Our proprioceptive sense gives us information about how are bodies are moving in space. This awareness is what helps us to control and to plan our motor movements.
It is said that a child with sensory integration problems has some difficulty processing information coming in through these seven senses. Some children will have difficulty because they either under responsive to stimuli such as sounds, touch, or feeling their body in space. And some children feel the need to tune out stimuli because they take too much in. For example, the child who is overly sensitive to sounds may cringe or cry when they hear a car horn or leaf blower because to them these sounds are painful. An example of a child who is under responsive to information coming in through their proprioceptive sense might be the child who is purposefully bumping or crashing into things so that they can better feel where their body is in space.
I believe that so much of behavior is caused by the individual's seeking balance to feel "normal." If you look at things in this way it makes sense that my son sometimes bounces off of the walls. He is craving that sensory input in order in order to feel okay.
Sensory Integration is a method of helping the child who has such difficulties with processing information through their senses to better adapt to the world. In our case we went to an Occupational Therapist in order to get this type of therapy for my son. I would highly recommend seeing a professional such as an OT if you feel your child has sensory integration problems but there are things you can easily do at home as well. An OT will be able to give you many ideas but the real work takes place in the child's natural environment.
Okay so let's get back to my son's sensory profile. If you have a child like mine who is under responsive to some stimuli and overcompensates with frenetic movement and bouncing into people and things what can you do? I am going to give you some ideas for sensory integration activities which have greatly helped my son over the years to be calmer, become more attentive, and be able to process information more successfully.
- Swimming or Bathing: My son loves the water and I will tell you why. Being immersed in water gives us more awareness of our bodies in space. For my son, this feeling he gets while being submerged in water is calming. There are times if he is upset that he will go straight to the bath tub to soak and soothe his nerves.
- Pushing or Pulling Activities: The deep joint pressure caused by pushing or pulling can get your child that proprioceptive feedback they crave. Some activities which involve pushing or pulling can be to pull a wagon, fill up a suitcase with heavy items and have your child pull, play tug of war, push a vacuum cleaner, or do animal walks like be a crab or bear.
- Buy a Mini-Trampoline: This was probably one of the best purchases I have ever made. If you have a kid who is craving movement, a trampoline will help a lot! Ours is small enough for two people to jump but low to the ground so there is less risk of injury than for a large backyard trampoline. I bought mine at the sporting goods store. If my son has excess energy I send him to his trampoline where he can jump it out.
- Get a big therapy or exercise ball: This was another purchase I will never regret. You have probably seen them at the gym. They are big rubber balls that you can use to help you to do sit-ups. But in the case of your child, you can use it to roll him or her on their tummy, or to bounce them, or even to give them calming pressure to their body by rolling the ball over their back. The balls come in different sizes and you can find them in your sporting goods store or on-line. Here is such a store which carries many items you can use for sensory integration.
- Create a crash pad: If your child wants to purposefully bang and bump into things then he is telling you that he needs this type of sensory input. Give it to him by making a safe place to crash. You can put an exercise mat on the floor and cover it with pillows or you can buy several beanbag chairs. My son liked to be tossed over and over into his crash pad of pillows when he was small enough for us to lift him. Use your imagination to create a place where your child can bang and crash to his or her content.
I hope that these ideas will be of use to some of you out there. I know firsthand how difficult it can be to parent a child who is constantly in motion. These sensory integration techniques should help your child to become calmer and happier. If you have more ideas for activities to help with hyperactivity and sensory integration issues please share them here. You will undoubtedly help others in the process.