EVERYTHING begins with sensory input. ALL learning occurs only through our senses. So if our child has sensory processing deficits, the learning that would naturally occur via that sense is either not happening or is being learned in a dysfunctional manner.
Although diagnosing and treating a sensory processing disorder is OUT of our scope of practice, we as SLPs MUST work collaboratively with OTs in understanding our child's sensory needs. The OT is a very busy person and cannot always be available for every student so we MUST take the initiative to understand how we can offer possible sensory activities (under the guidance of the OT) to help our students regulate their emotions and behaviors.
"That's not my job!" you say? Well I would have to challenge you to think a bit differently. If we are attempting to elicit verbal production from a child who is unable to regulate his own behaviors due to sensory issues, we will never improve language until we address the sensory issues first!
"Well I have my box of fidgets, so I'm providing sensory input already." The truth is your child may need more intense sensory input to self-regulate. I've had many clients where playing with a squishy ball or fidget is NOT going to get their bodies regulated. I've had them jump on trampolines, run around gyms, use a scooter to scoot down the hall to the therapy room, carry heavy books, pull a heavy Tupperware container of rice down the hall on a scooter, perform pushing and pulling exercises, bounce on a big exercise ball, play on the playground, etc. all to reach that moment of equilibrium where their body was finally in sync. And do you know what happened? They started talking!!!! Sometimes, it really is that simple! (So if you've never co-treated with your OT, I recommend you do so and learn all about your child's sensory needs)
When do I attempt to provide sensory input to a child I'm working with? Here are just some of the times I provide sensory input:
- If the child's schedule was affected that day.
- If the child's has had a change in the home or school.
- If the child appears to be anxious.
- If the child seems non-responsive to me.
- If the child is exhibiting more stimmulatory behaviors than typical.
- If the child is typically very verbal but is very quiet that day.
- If the child's progress has plateaued.
So the next time you are feeling stumped because your student with ASD does not seem to be progressing or seems completely oblivious to you, try providing some sensory input to the child and just see what happens. You might just be surprised!!!