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Sensory Integration: We All Have Our Limits

In California, there are endless activities to do. Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags Magic Mountain, SeaWorld San Diego, the San Diego Zoo, Knott’s Berry Farm, LEGOLAND, and of course, Disneyland. You may be thinking, “Oh I love these places, all the wonderful smells of fried food, the excitement of the people around you, the flip my stomach makes when the ride drops.…”

But, there is another group of you who may be thinking, “Places like this make me anxious, the mixture of smells makes me nauseous, not to mention the rides and the crazy way it makes my body feel.” How can the same things elicit such opposite experiences for people? One of the main factors is sensory input, and how our body processes it.

Each person is unique in how their brain and body integrate sensory information around them. There is a sweet spot called a threshold. Like the analogy of looking at the glass half full or half empty, the threshold for sensory integration is the same. The sensory threshold can be seen as the spot that puts us over the edge. Crossing that threshold puts us into stimulus overload where we can’t process anything. The flip side is, the threshold can be seen as the amount of sensory that gets us going. Or,  the stimulus we need to be able to be engaged. Thus, we all have our sweet spot between the sensory input we need to function and the amount that shuts us down.

Sensory Integration in the Pool

The pool is no different. For some kids, the water in their ears may put them over the edge. They just can’t seem to get past it. While another kid, the water blocks the noises from the environment and does not allow for the stimulation they need to participate. It is important to find the balance for each. Some kids benefit from being pulled into the water in a straight line or circles to raise the vestibular input to meet their sweet spot so they can swim.

You may see the coaches giving tactile input by assisting or tapping the child’s legs or arms to help them use these parts of their body. For overstimulated kids, deep pressure such as a bear hug with gentle and slow pulses of pressure can help calm their system. We can give stimulus visually by demonstrating or doing it next to them. We may draw a picture, or talk it out with one word or many words, etc. As coaches, we need to find what works for each kid.

It is important to remember that kids with different health conditions, such as autism, may process sensory input in different ways. What may seem like a few people talking, or a basic sentence can be overload. We often try to overcome this by repeating ourselves or adding in motions. Remember we all have that threshold line.

Sometimes, that means adding more to help us participate. Other times, it means giving us a quick, one-word direction. These are things as coaches we work on during each session to know how best to teach each client. As parents, we know you have figured out ways that work best for your family to ensure positive outcomes. As coaches, we are working to do the same. So if you have any suggestions for things that work for your kids, please let us know!. As always if you have any questions feel free to contact me at mariahandersonot@gmail.com

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Molly Huggins

Molly is a member of our creative team, mom of four water-loving babies, and a fierce advocate for CPR training and really early swim instruction.

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