Therapy for the Senses
Imagine that every bite of food feels so foreign and uncomfortable that you can’t swallow it. Imagine not being able to wear socks and shoes because you can’t tolerate anything being that close to your skin. Imagine having little or no control over your impulses, and the slightest inconvenience makes you hit and scream. For most of us, we can’t even “imagine” these scenarios. But for some students enrolled at the Delrey School, these unimaginable circumstances are very real.
“Some of the students who come to Delrey have serious sensory integration problems,” says Terri Clark, former vice principal and occupational therapist at the Delrey School. “Certain sensory experiences—like where you are in space and bearing weight—aren’t processed by the brain normally. These kids need more stimuli than others in order to feel things.”
Clark explains that there are sensory integration therapies to treat these sensory processing disorders. One of these therapies is a sensory integration room, which Delrey recently opened and is part of the school’s growing sensory integration program. The room is filled with tools to awaken and stimulate all the senses, from the typical five to secondary senses that most people take for granted, such as feelings of movement, spatial relation and bearing weight. Some of the therapy tools you might find in a sensory integration room include vibrating toys, weighted blankets, aromatherapy machines, rocking horses, balancing disks, rope lights, sit-and-spins, and other simulating toys and tools.
“If we can develop the students’ motor and sensory skills, we can develop other skills a lot faster, and children will be able to learn, develop and live in a normal society,” Clark says.
As for the effectiveness of sensory integration therapies, Clark points to one of her students, Sutton, as a prime success story. Sutton came to Delrey with a severe sensory disorder. She wouldn’t tolerate shoes and socks, she wouldn’t bear weight, she “flipped out” over the simplest things, she didn’t recognize the space around her, and she didn’t speak, among other problems interfering with her daily life function and learning. As part of her treatment, Sutton was assessed by a sensory integration specialist and prescribed a sensory diet, which included regular sessions in Delrey’s sensory integration room. Within months, Sutton’s therapists saw improvement in her sensory function. After one year of treatment, Sutton was talking, engaging in activities, walking with a walker and feeding herself—activities she couldn’t or wouldn’t do before.
While the sensory integration program at the Delrey School has produced a number of success stories like Sutton, the program is still in its early stages. “As research and our own experiences show the effectiveness of sensory integration, Delrey is expected to further expand the program,” says Clark. “Eventually our program will be able to accommodate all of the students in need of these important treatments.”