Updated: Apr 19
When we’re working with kids on the spectrum, it is so important that we know how to get them into a regulated state, because if they’re not in a regulated state they are not going to be ready to learn language.
One of the biggest myths that I hear is, “Just send the kid to OT first, then he’ll be ready for speech - then he’ll be regulated!” Or, “I’m just gonna start my session with a sensory activity and then he’s gonna be regulated for the whole session.” For a lot of our kids on the spectrum, it does not work like that!
A lot of these kids that we are seeing need sensory input consistently throughout the session - it’s not just a “one and done.”
So what I like to tell therapists is, instead of planning your sensory activities and doing one, and then doing a language activity…do it together. Here are some ways you can do that.
If the child is low arousal, give him spaghetti arms (shake his arms like noodles) when singing hello. If the child is high arousal, give him deep squeezes on his arms and shoulders while signing hello.
Five Little Monkeys:
Have the child jump on a mini trampoline (or in place) while signing the beginning of the song. When one monkey "falls off," have him jump off and take a felt piece to the felt board.
"Where" Questions Activity:
Hide animals around the room and put the child on your spinning office chair. Give the child 3 spins to the right, then 3 spins to the left, and then ask him where one of the animals is, e.g., "Where is the cow?" Now you're giving him vestibular input while targeting WH-questions!
Have the child sit in a chair and then give him an object in the room to go get. After you give the direction, tell him "Run! Run! Run! Go grab it!" Have him run back to the chair after he picks it up, and give him spaghetti arms. This is a simple way to target following directions while giving sensory input at the same time.
Think, think, think...
What we always want to think about is, what are ways that we can integrate sensory activities into our sessions? Because for most of our kids it’s not going to be enough just to do a sensory activity at the beginning of the session, or one in the middle, or one at the end. A lot of times our sessions have to have sensory activities throughout the whole session.
You don't need a gym to incorporate sensory activities into sessions! Even when conducting teletherapy sessions, parents most likely have some basic pieces of furniture you can use, such as using an office chair to give vestibular input, like this.
If you're wondering how often you need to incorporate sensory activities into your sessions, then make sure to grab my free download, Sensory Around the Clock. This helps you think about a child, and then figure out how regulated the child is at different points in the session. And based on that, you can determine how many sensory activities you need to include in your sessions, and when you should do them. After you reflect on that, you can start thinking about sensory activities that are going to help the child that you’re working with.
So remember, using sensory activities to get kids regulated in sessions is not a “one and done.” It’s not “Send him to OT and then he’ll be regulated for speech.” We have to think about how we can turn our speech sessions into sessions where the child is regulated - because it is possible to target sensory processing and language at the same time!
Jessie Ginsburg, M.S., CCC-SLP is the creator of the ASD from the Inside Out online course for therapists and founder of Pediatric Therapy Playhouse, a multidisciplinary clinic in Los Angeles.