Category Archives: Sensory

Saturday Seminar: Weighted Blankets and More

Kristi Langslet, OTR/L ended the 2017 Spring Saturday Seminar Series with her enlightening presentation: Weighted Blankets and More for Use in Your Sensory Room or Sensory Carts! She discussed benefits and applications of weighted, compression and fidget products in Sensory Rooms and Sensory Carts.

General confusion and misconceptions abound regarding the use of therapeutic weighted materials, which Kristi dispelled with her seminar. She is an experienced therapist, having worked in a variety of primarily pediatric settings. Kristi began designing and making products for her clients to meet specific needs related to sensory processing. With her sister, Heidi, she developed and launched her therapeutic products company Sommerfly, in 2005, with the goal of “Calm, Sleep and Focus for All.”

Kristi’s review of research findings regarding sensory rooms and weighted blankets was thorough. The research reviewed came primarily from studies in adult psychiatric settings, but was still applicable to broader settings and age groups. Sensory rooms have been validated as safe, effective, anxiety and distress reducers, with weighted blankets being particularly useful for decreasing anxiety. She emphasized the recommendation for the best way to use a weighted blanket is for the child to apply it on himself/herself. Research cited from Tina Champagne, MEd, OTR/L indicates that weighted blankets should weigh more than 10% of the wearer’s body weight to be most effective – with 15-25% of a person’s weight as the guideline for use. She cited studies that indicate the rise in pediatric admissions for behavioral health problems. This fact points to the need for treatment strategies that are accessible, powerful, sensory-based, and research supported.

Sensory rooms are defined as a voluntary, self-managed place to decrease stress; they empower people to care for themselves. In these rooms you might find a Sit Tight Weighted Lap Pad, a Relaxer Blanket, and a variety of other calming sensory materials such as a white noise machine, lava lamp, chewing gum, exercise bandsyoga position cardsnoise cancelling headphonescalming music CD, etc., depending on the child’s age and needs. Kristi referred to Karen Moore’s Sensory Connection books as a having a wealth of information for developing sensory rooms and carts.

In her discussion of compression garments and muscle work, Kristi reminded us that compression garments have a similar effect as deep pressure applied to the skin and heavy work on joints/muscles. Both compression garments and weighted products provide similar touch pressure sensation, with a rapid response time, but heavy muscle work response time varies. The guideline for weighted vests provided was 3-5% of the wearer’s weight is optimal with wearing times of between 15-30 minutes at a time throughout the day; accommodation occurs with longer wearing times.

Kristi reported that since the hands and mouth have a high density of touch and proprioceptive receptors, the perception of sensation in these areas is greater than in other body areas. This may explain why we naturally fidget with hands and mouth with activities like nail biting, smoking, doodling, hair twirling, etc. Hand fidget research evidence shows that distraction reduced anxiety and pain after surgery. She advocated the use of a fidget as a “tool” versus a “toy” with examples like a Wristful Fidget or a Fidgety.

In our stress-filled society, the popularity and use of mindfulness techniques has alerted us to the value of being calm and centered. Sensory strategies we employ personally give us a sense of well being and regulation. Kristi asked us to imagine what effect they might have on a child who is “at risk.” As occupational therapists, we understand the value of and can use self-regulation practices to help people function optimally. After Kristi’s presentation, we understood the application of weighted products and fidgets more thoroughly, particularly with the pertinent research cited by her. When caregivers are given tools designed to help with self-regulation, coupled with other cognitive-behavioral strategies, we can look forward to seeing the effects with our students/patients as they reengage in life occupations.

Take a look at some of the glowing comments attendees provided:

“Great to have research to back up findings. Simple facts and Ideas to pass on to school colleagues and administration.” – Fredda T., Occupational Therapist

“I tend to be relatively skeptical about these issues, but I found Kristi extremely knowledgeable and approachable, and her presentation very informative. Lots to think about!” – Maura K., Teacher

“I liked the trauma informed approach, evidence based and practical suggestions. Really appreciated the update on weight guidelines.” – Kim B., Occupational Therapist

“Great intro course for new therapist and/or parents, teachers, related fields. Most useful for experienced OTs was the research/weight & wearing prescription/demo of products. Organized, straightforward presenter. Warm, open, compassionate, available for questions and pertinent case studies. Thank you!!” – Bernadette W., Occupational Therapist

“Great answers to questions, great products, great suggestions. I like the non toy look for fidgets.” – Anonymous, Occupational Therapist

Thank you, Kristi!

Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L
May 6, 2017

Saturday Seminar: Sensory Differences and Mealtime Behavior in Children with Autism

Jeanne-Zobel-LachiusaEvidence based practice (EBP) involves the integration of:

  1. Clinical expertise,
  2. Scientific research, and
  3. Patient/caregiver perspective.

The goal of EBP is the improvement of patient outcomes. It holds us accountable for our treatment plans, strategies and outcomes among our peers and other health care professions. According to the AOTA, generating research in the field of occupational therapy is “critically important for advancing the field and ensuring the viability of the profession.”

Jeanne Zobel-Lachiusa, EdD, OTR/L was the featured December Saturday Seminar Series speaker, who shared her research on Sensory Differences and Mealtime Behavior in Children with Autism (AJOT September/October 2015, Vol. 69, No.5).  In summary, the study results helped to identify problem eating behaviors in children with ASD that may be associated with sensory differences. Children with ASD were compared with typically developing age-matched peers. The study concluded that children with ASD who receive occupational therapy that offers sensory strategies might result in less stressful mealtimes.  The findings supported the need for further research in this area of self-care with children who have been diagnosed with ASD.

The seminar attendees were from varied backgrounds, including occupational therapy, speech therapy, special education, social work, psychology, child care, medicine, and parents. They engaged in a lively brainstorming session on sensory strategies in the different sensory domains that might provide mealtimes with less stress for both the child and family. They shared innovative as well as tried and true ideas with the group.

Just a few examples of the many suggestions include ideas for tactile and oral sensitivity:

Hush BuddyFor auditory sensitivity Jeanne suggested:

For children with sensitivity to fluorescent lights that flicker and glare in the cafeteria or classroom, Fluorescent Light Filters, which are magnetic were recommended. Another suggestion was for the student to wear a visor to reduce vision sensitivity.

Jeanne suggested a number of resources for the group including the book, Autism Interventions, and recommended the AOTA website for its user-friendly handouts on mealtime and feeding.

Producing research is essential for validating assessment and treatment strategies. Jeanne shared that her research was motivated by the question of whether interventions are actually effective.  Her current research demonstrated that there was a statistically significant difference in sensory differences and in mealtime behaviors between children with ASD and the typically developing group she tested.  This groundbreaking research paves the way for further studies to investigate specific treatment strategies discussed today for their effectiveness in helping make mealtimes a pleasurable experience for children diagnosed with ASD and their families.

To view Jeanne’s PowerPoint slides, click here.

Following the seminar, attendees provided feedback about the seminar.  Please see a few remarks below:

“It provided an opportunity to review recent literature and share strategies with other therapists.” Kristyn S., Occupational Therapist

“Loved the topic and the format. Jeanne was great!!   Diane H., Occupational Therapist

“Informative, interactive, insightful. It was interesting listening to other OTs experiences and suggestions.”  Sylvia K., OT student

“Helpful to organize sensory treatment with a food tolerance/mealtime behavior perspective.”  Anonymous Occupational Therapist

Thank you, Jeanne!

Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L

Saturday Seminar: A Sensory Perspective on Helping Adolescents and Young Adults Learn to Deal with Difficult Emotions

Karen_MooreKaren Moore, OTR/L presented a superb seminar on Saturday entitled: A Sensory Perspective on Helping Adolescents and Young Adults Learn to Deal with Difficult Emotions. Working in the area of mental health has been Karen’s passion and career focus.  She is a highly respected and renowned therapist in her area of practice. In her seminar, Karen shared information from her most recent publication of The Sensory Connection Program called The Sensory Connection Program: Curriculum for Self-Regulation, which teaches self-regulation skills through the use of sensory strategies and social engagement. It was evident from her creative and heartfelt approach that her clients benefit greatly from her knowledge and experience. Today she focused on the emotionally charged years of middle and high school, when students benefit from learning fun and engaging strategies to help them deal with emotions. She described how to teach adolescents to recognize signs that they are having emotional difficulty, how to teach them to seek help, and how to help them learn to use effective self-regulation skills.

Karen’s discussion of the value of mastering self-regulation made good sense; when an individual is able to cope with emotions, he/she is able to “tune back in” to the self, which in turn results in being back in control and greater self-confidence.  She emphasized that without mastery of self-control, it would be difficult for an individual to explore new adventures including higher education, travel, or entering the job market. When applied to adolescents, whose pre-frontal cortex and cerebellum are still developing, the need for learning self-regulation strategies is crucial.

Sensory Connection ProgramWhen Karen reviewed the evolution of the stress response, it was easy to see that the vagal level of “freezing” when confronted by a stressor is not a useful response because it results in being overwhelmed by fear.  In the next level in the hierarchy she explained how the sympathetic “fight or flight “ response is more effective than the “freeze” response, but has a long recovery time.  The optimal response to stress involves appraisal of the situation and communication, which promotes a calm state. She shared research evidence that shows that adolescents who have experienced trauma respond with more primitive responses, have difficulty with communicating verbally, and are more reliant on sensory responses than cognitive strategies for coping. Teaching adolescents self-regulation skills prevents them from resorting to the dangerous lower levels of the hierarchy when responding to stress.

Karen employed some of techniques for calming with her audience today, including several different ways of using deep breathing as a group activity, resulting in a feeling of socialization and engagement.  The pneumonic “Pause – Connect – Engage” helps adolescents to “short-circuit” fear by signaling them to stop and think what made him/her upset, make a social connection by reaching out to someone trusted, and then do something positive that helps, which may be tool-based or non tool-based, i.e. squeeze a ball, do deep breathing, exercise, use a fidget, etc. The group tried out several calming strategies, but one called “seaweed” which involved rooting the feet on the floor and swaying gently and slowly with body and arms, was simple and effective immediately.

Karen guided us in learning how to avert a crisis by helping adolescents gain self-control with the use of a variety of sensory strategies that can be personalized.  The strategies are highly effective for the teen population, but can be valuable tools for any individual who is in a state of emotional distress.

Here’s what attendees had to say about Karen’s seminar:

“As a pediatric OT at elementary school level, learning about sensory curriculum at adolescent level guides me in treatment.  Really enjoyed Karen’s stories/real examples to associate to curriculum.” Jen M., Occupational Therapist

“This topic is relatable to everything I do as a COTA. It ties emotions and sensory input. Every student I work with will benefit!” Beth M., COTA

“Very informative.  Wonderfully explained with explanations in brief & practical exercises to experience.”  Rajini K., Parent

“I would recommend this seminar to a colleague because of the scientific/physiological information, therapeutic activities, and hands on demonstrations.  Very knowledgeable speaker.  Excellent examples.” Joann W., Occupational Therapist

“Useful information for sensory techniques to calm/alert children effectively. New concept/less traditional routes for sensory strategies.” Megan Z., OT student

Thank you, Karen!

Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L