Sensory integration is a naturally occurring process that is occurring even as you read this article, yet this may be the first time that you are consciously considering it! Sensory integration occurs as you receive, process, and respond to sensory information: sights, sounds, smells, textures, or tastes. If a child has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or sensory processing disorder, their sensory integration may differ from that of a child who is typically developing. Children with sensory issues may experience the world in a unique way, as they may be either hypersensitive or hyposensitive to select sensory input.
If a child is experiencing challenges with sensory information, a therapeutic preschool program may help to improve their sensory integration. A therapeutic preschool program targets pivotal developmental skills, including behavior, speech, language, motor skills, social skills, sensory issues, and more. In order to address the unique needs of each child, these programs will typically maintain a low student-to-teacher ratio. The daily routines in a therapeutic program are usually highly structured, which is helpful for children with autism who face challenges with unpredictable schedules.
To address sensory integration issues, therapeutic preschool programs may have a pediatric occupational therapist (OT) work directly with students. After determining the specific sensory issues of the child, the OT can use different activities and exercises throughout the school day. For example, if the child is hypersensitive to tactile input (different textures), the occupational therapist might spend time exposing the child to sensory bins, water beads, or finger painting. The goal of these exercises would be to decrease the sensitivity level of the child when presented with this sensory information.
In addition to helping children become more comfortable with sensory input, a therapeutic preschool program might work with a child to improve their reactions to sensory information. For instance, some children who are hypersensitive to tactile information may become aggressive if their classmate bumps into them. In a therapeutic preschool program, the teachers (or therapists) may work with the child to regulate their behaviors and create more positive reactions to sensory information.
Therapeutic preschool programs may also incorporate other strategies to improve sensory integration, such as creating a sensory/calm corner. This space would include a cozy place for children to sit and self-soothe, perhaps by listening to calming white noise sounds or by wearing noise-cancelling headphones. The classroom may also use dim overhead lighting, lamps that emit a soft glow, or have curtains over the windows to limit the visual sensory input.
There are many ways for therapeutic preschool programs to tailor the classroom environment and daily routines to meet the needs of children with sensory integration issues. If you think your child could benefit from this type of program, contact CST Academy at 773-620-7800 to schedule a tour of our therapeutic preschool program in Chicago!