Everyone knows how important exercise is. For a child with sensory processing disorder, the benefits are many more. Besides for staying fit and keeping healthy, exercise helps “sensory kids” stay in control and cope with their surrounding environments. How so?
A) Exercise- specifically sit-ups, push-ups, and the like- provides proprioceptive input by using the muscles near the joints. Just like joint compressions done in occupational therapy. Not only will the child be learning the sense of where his arms and legs are and how heavy he is, but he will also be building muscle- so extremely important for these kids!
What’s also terrific about these exercises is that the proprioceptive input is supposed to be very calming. So you get lots more bang for your buck.
B) Physical exercise is great for the brain too. There was a study done on rats who grew more brain cells after doing aerobic exercises for a certain amount of time. Children with ADHD do much better in the classroom after playing sports games or an intense workout. Exercise clears the mind and allows cognitive processes to flow smoothly.
Children with sensory processing disorder are similar to children with ADHD in that they can both be hyper and compulsive. Many children with ADHD also have sensory processing disorder. What works for ADHD, works for SPD as well, much of the time.
After much searching for a good children’s workout on DVD, I bought Denise Austin’s Fit Kids. Thank goodness for all that research I did because Fit Kids keeps my kids on the move and interested until the last second. The exercise goes for a perfect amount of time- not too quick, not too long, and Denise makes it really fun. The moves aren’t too daunting to scare my kids away and at the same time challenges them at right above their level. The best and funniest thing is that sometimes when the video is over, they want to start it all over again!
C) Deep breathing. Deep breathing is a skill learned with physical exercise. Deep stomach-breaths bring more oxygen to the brain, allowing for optimal functioning.
Children who have learned the skill of deep-slow-breathing can be taught to use it when stressed, anxious, upset, or angry. It is a very valuable tool.
I’ll never forget the time I brought my son who was then two years old to the ENT, on recommendation of our pediatrician who said my son’s tonsils were enlarged. The ENT told me he was going to clean my son’s very blocked ears with a strong stream of water. It was a very uncomfortable procedure and my son was nervous and crying, and all I could do besides hold him down was to keep saying to him: “Deep breaths, keep taking deep breaths.” My son immediately started taking these huge gasps for air, audible to all the nurses and assistants in the room, and they were really impressed with his skill! I was as well although I knew he could do it because we’d practiced so many times before, but it really calmed him down. Before we knew it, the appointment was over, and we were able to leave. (We never ended up needing to get his tonsils out but that’s a story for a different time.)
D) Many children with sensory processing disorder have a bit of a hunched posture. Their core balance may not be strong and they don’t stand up straight. As they get used to an exercise regiment, their bent posture should improve, straightening not only their backs, but the position of their lungs also, enabling them to get more oxygen to their brains.