Why has the CHILD GROWTH SOCIETY opened up a Sensory Gym?
Sensory play is critical to a child`s development. Critical periods of brain development are very much impacted by a child`s exposure to sensory exploration and experiences. Sensory input includes:
And visual input.
Infants first start to show us how important their senses almost as soon as they are born, with their sense of smell and touch. They soon start to explore their worlds in a sensory-based way, by touching, smelling, oral exploration, and moving through their environments. With the importance of sensory input on a child`s development, it is important to know how to bring sensory strategies and activities into a regulated environment, as well as understand what a specialized sensory gym entails and can offer for your child`s development.
So how does this link with special needs or autism?
Swinging, jumping, spinning and rocking are important to children not only for fun and exercise but also to help their bodies organize and to regulate their sensory systems. Vestibular input is one of the core elements of sensory integration therapy. Our bodies` vestibular system is the sensory system that provides the primary input about movement, balance, spatial awareness and positioning. It helps us prepare our posture, maintain our balance, properly use our vision, calm ourselves and regulate our behavior. These points are all the more important for children on the autism spectrum, children affected with sensory processing disorder, children with down syndrome, Fetal alcohol syndrome, developmental disabilities and many other challenges and disorders. The amount of vestibular input varies depending on the child. Some children crave movement, while others may be motion sensitive. It is important that the sensory needs of the child being monitored to determined what is right for them. Some children may start to "stim" after a point and can become more aggressive or hyperactive offsetting any calming effect the swing may have had on the child. Controlled vestibular input under the direction of a qualified monitor such as interventionists, occupational or physical therapists is recommended for children with sensory processing issues. Because of its role in movement and space, vestibular stimulation works hand in hand with the auditory and visual systems in order to provide us with a sense of our three dimensional spatial envelope, the foundation for visual spatial skills, and the awareness of our surroundings that compels us to move and explore. This collaborative system is often referred to as the vestibular-visual-auditory triad.
We depend on sight the most. Colors, visual patterns and natural light reflection in our Sensory gym provide a variety of visual experiences for children of all abilities. Auditory receptors are in the ear. Children often hear a broad range of sounds that can enhance or hinder their play experiences. The idea of Open Sensory Play provides a variety of sound opportunities for children. Visual and auditory stimulants incorporated throughout the sensory gym help with a need or general tolerance in sight and sound; there is still a need for Gustatory (taste). While Gustatory (taste) doesn`t play a big role in our Sensory gym design, use of natural elements-proximity to plants, hay, shavings and flowers, for example-will stimulate the sense of smell, which is very closely related to the taste sense; making play a more enjoyable and engaging experience for children.
What about coordination or the need for pressure and spatial awareness that don`t fit into what has been mentioned above? The proprioceptive system refers to components of muscles, joints, and tendons that provide a person with a subconscious awareness of body position. When proprioception is functioning efficiently, an individual`s body position is automatically adjusted in different situations; for example, the proprioceptive system is responsible for providing the body with the necessary signals to allow us to sit properly in a chair and to step off a curb smoothly. It also allows us to manipulate objects using fine motor movements, such as writing with a pencil, using a spoon to drink soup, and buttoning one`s shirt. Some common signs of proprioceptive dysfunction are clumsiness, a tendency to fall, a lack of awareness of body position in space, odd body posturing, minimal crawling when young, difficulty manipulating small objects (buttons, snaps), eating in a sloppy manner, and resistance to new motor movement activities. Another dimension of proprioception is praxis or motor planning. This is the ability to plan and execute different motor tasks. In order for this system to work properly, it must rely on obtaining accurate information from the sensory systems and then organizing and interpreting this information efficiently and effectively. Fine motor activities, coordination building and core strengthening are activities which can facilitate in gaining a more efficient proprioception system. So while vestibular, proprioceptive, auditory, visual and gustatory senses are being appropriately addressed; there is still one more area to report and include. Tactile sensory integration is managed through many experiences throughout the gym. Sensory receptors for touch are found in our skin. They tell the child where their body ends and the rest of the world begins. The entire gym has a wealth of tactile experiences for children to explore including a home-made tactile table with buckets full of varied textures to explore.
Covering all of the senses in our 1000+ Square foot room is a great beneficial addition to any home program but it is also a unique way for children to have fun and explore their world in many avenues. We hope your child not only flourishes and grows in their sensory, motor skills and emotional regulation; but also thoroughly enjoys themselves while they attend the sensory gym.